Gail Bendheim
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Fingers with shoes on

Our problem is how to get the extra pounds off those seminary girls so we can marry them off. But wait -- do the seminary girls even have a body?

A picture in an ad in Mishpacha Magazine for the “Slim Trim” weight-loss program for girls spending their year in Israel is making my blood boil. The picture epitomizes the fear, sexualization, and denigration of the female body that has taken over the Haredi world. Its sickening substitution of perversion for religious observance distorts the spiritual life of our community, fuels the pressure of the matchmaking process, harms our young women, and fails our young men. And this one picture says it all.


At first glance, this picture seems to be of three sets of disembodied bare legs running in different colored sneakers. But what are bare knees and legs doing in the modest precincts of Mishpacha Magazine? On closer examination, it turns out these are not legs at all — they are fingers with shoes on!! Oh — well that makes it all better. You get to THINK you are seeing something provocative — even risqué — suggesting the forbidden sight of women’s legs, but your deliciously forbidden fantasy is completely absolved because all you really saw were a bunch of fingers with Nikes on! You got your cake, and you ate it, too.

Unlike those poor seminary girls, who seem to be having too much cake, causing them to “grow in more ways than one.” Nourishing their brains is so dangerous — it might lead to overeating, which could lead to those fingers getting a little too big to accommodate the ring that needs to be on the fourth one by next year.

Significantly, we can’t see the faces or the bodies of these poor seminary girls, because that would imply personhood — rather than digithood — and might give us a clue as to why they might be overeating. Maybe they’re homesick, or depressed, or anxious. Or maybe they’re just hungry. But we’re not actually very concerned about any problem they might be struggling with, because OUR problem is how to get those extra pounds off of their invisible bodies so that they can get back to a size 4 and win their man.

But wait — do they have a body, or don’t they have a body? If they do — where is it? And if they don’t — where are they losing weight from? It’s all so confusing…and so distracting. Thinking about them as whole people with faces and bodies and feelings and thoughts might actually require some integration and complexity. It’s actually so much simpler to think of them as fingers — and fingers are part of the body, right? Then we don’t have to think about those pesky things like emotions or sexuality or the struggle to reach a balanced adulthood. Instead, we can concentrate on getting them married off and out of the way, so they can have babies…presumably through their fingernails.

About the Author
Dr. Gail (Giti) Bendheim is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice.
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