Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Zlata Wears Prada

After writing yesterday’s blog I have come to the conclusion the MO/UO dialectic is becoming too intense and convoluted even by my hyperbolic standards. This heart-felt intensity wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I got started. I was thinking more along the lines of trying to write Seinfeld style pieces about nothing in particular plus some philosophical kibitzing on rabbinic politics. It was going to be easy, LSFIAB (=like shooting fish in a barrel). It didn’t turn out that way. I need a few days to think. I offer as a sorbet, a few blogs about nothing very much, unrelated and not sooo intense. I will return to RW MO and LW MO and RW UO and LW UO aka SO in the next week or two.(LOL= laughing out loud at all the acronyms) .

There used to be a joke in the fifties that there was an old woman in Jerusalem by the name of Zlata that determined the religiosity of the entire Jewish world. Zlata was the end of the line. There was no one more frum than her. Compared to little old Zlatala, everyone else could claim to be a moderate. ‘You’re calling me a fanatic? Look at those guys to the right of me .They are fanatics. Me, I’m middle of the road, more than some, less than others.” And in fact most everyone, no matter how religious, thinks of themselves as being in the middle. When have you heard anyone describe themselves as ‘over the top’, ‘off the wall’? Anyway, when Zlata pulled to the right, she shamed Edah Hacharedis who then pulled the Agudists who tugged away at the Mizrachi Modern Orthodox who influenced the Conservatives who challenged the Reform. In this chad gadya style, (“Then came fire and burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat…”), one old woman, Zlata was Queen of Israel.

The ‘Zlata effect’, as we may call it, occurs not just in Jewish life, but in other religions as well. One can think of Arab fanaticism as an example of the same movement, but with different players. In this blog I want to apply the ‘Zlata effect’ to the well known issue of the ideal female body

Asian teenage girls are frequently a natural size 0, 1, and 2.They are built in such a way that without any special effort they fit into the smallest sizes without a visit to a tailor. As a result of increased immigration from Asia there are many such teenagers’ everywhere. Normal American teenage girls who were a size 4 and 6 watched with envy what can be accomplished with Kate Moss types of anorexia. They began thinking of themselves as overweight and did what they could to lose weight: dieting, weight watchers, gym 7x a week and all the rest. We are now in a situation where there is an increasing incidence of teen eating disorders, even in the most charedi of communities. Soon older women with sizes 8-12 were following suit. All this left the women who were bigger than a size 12 in some isolated limbo with no hope of getting with the program.

Our physical standards of beauty have changed to the disadvantage of many Jewish women. Jewish men, especially the segment of Jewish men that are both overachievers and show offs have internalized this new ideal of womanhood. Zaftig is now out; thin is in. Normal Jewish women are subject to three serious challenges. The first is the paradigm of ideal body type has changed. The second is that there are significant numbers of women who can realize this new ideal without any difficulty, the most prominent being young Asian women. The third is the vast amount of capital that supports this new ideal. I have often thought the cable channel E! is implicitly anti-Semitic. Since it is always useful to project our discomfort onto others, I “blame” this paradigm shift on the ‘Zlatas’ of fashion, Asian teenage girls.

At some point in life, say past 55, because of a lower metabolism it becomes almost impossible to lose weight. When the woman is short, there is no place to hide, there is nothing to drape. The weight does not come off very easily even with monthly visits to Canyon Ranch. Single overweight older women are not in an enviable position. It is not unreasonable to think as many as a 100,000 Jewish women in America fall into this category. Many of these women feel it is hopeless and are no longer looking for a male companion. They have resigned themselves to being alone. They are the shiduchim crisis no one talks about.

Young people who don’t marry by 25 are not considered in jeopardy of lifelong unhappiness except by the Orthodox. The average age of the bride and groom in the Sunday N.Y. Times is somewhere in the mid thirties. Most everyone marries by the time they are forty. A crisis begins to develop only when there is a race against a biological clock, and even there medicine has accomplished wonders. In the case of older women that have thrown in the towel, that’s it!

Postscript: I could rework the entire blog but this time singling out older schluby, overweight Jewish men. Here my candidate for blame, since I am opposed to the ideology of self improvement would be buff gays. Ever since gay men started going to the gym, life has gotten a lot tougher for fat older guys. I would need a new title, some new jokes, a paragraph on gays and the ideal male image displayed in the fashion magazines, all of which should not be too difficult. My general point is that the real shiduchim crisis is with the over 55 set whose bodies are below average.

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