Sisterhood Blog

On Jewish Mothers Who Teach Their Daughters To Diet

By Elissa Strauss

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Talk about the new Jewish mother has bubbled up in recent years. Goodbye to the neurotic, ever-doting figure of the past. Hello the “I need some freedom, and you kids should have some too” variety.

Of course, stereotypes are never as potent as we remember them, which was something I thought about upon reading this essay by Olivia Lichenstein and her daughter, Francesca, in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. In it, the elder Lichenstein writes:

It rings true when I think back to my own mother, Leonie. Sadly, she has since passed away, but she was always the antithesis of the stereotypical Jewish mothers, famous for forcing food on their children.

She policed my intake and when serving dinner would pause when she came to me and said: ‘You don’t want any potatoes, do you?’

Rebelling against her desire to control me, I would often insist that I did. I felt that she watched hawk-eyed everything I ate and was always the first to tell me if I looked plump.

My own mom never forced food on me. Instead she had me counting carbohydrates at age 14. This was a distinct departure from my grandma who considered rye bread slathered with butter a condiment.

Most Jewish mothers I knew were like my mom, all with relationships to food that went way beyond chicken soup. Maybe it was a San Fernando Valley thing, but these women wanted nothing to do with the zaftig generation before them. They prized their WASPy thinness, and wanted the same for their daughters.

Long gone were the days when plump meant well off.

Thankfully, I have been able to avoid any eating disorder myself, but really because I spent the bulk of my teens and 20s surrounded by them and saw just how terrible they are.

But I can still understand what these Lichensteins are talking about. I am 30, and even though I have been the same pretty-slender size for years, my mom always notices when I have gained or lost one or two pounds.



Comments
Leah Tue. Dec 1, 2009

I saw that Daily Mail article and also identified with it. It's a tricky balance between wanting your daughter to be healthy and attractive, but not to give her a complex about weight - one that my mother and I struggle with daily. I think most women struggle with the mixed messages of "love your body" and "be thin" that we see and hear every day, no matter what we actually look like.

That is why I found the idea of "Fat Talk Free Week" so exciting. It's a week in October where you pledge not to engage in "fat talk" of the "You look great, have you lost weight?" or "This is going to go straight to my thighs," variety. I wrote about it here: http://jwablog.jwa.org/fat-talk

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