ABSTRACT To explore the impact of religion on the development of disturbances in body image and eating behaviors.
78 Orthodox Jewish women were compared with 48 secular Jewish women.
Participants completed the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ), the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire Version (EDE-Q), and the Figure Rating Scale (FRS).
Despite a similar body mass index of 22.2 +/- 2.8 SDs, the secular women scored significantly higher on the BSQ (P = .005) and the EDE-Q (P = .004) than the Orthodox women. The secular women also had greater eating disorder symptomatology: more laxative use (P = .02) and a trend toward more vomiting (P = .06) and diuretic use (P = .06), although not more binge eating. They were twice as likely to have a fear of becoming fat (P = .05) and were four times as likely to be influenced by their shape and weight (P = .001). Also, despite increased media exposure, the secular group chose an ideal body size on the FRS similar to that of the Orthodox group, suggesting that their greater body dissatisfaction on the BSQ was related, instead, to greater cultural pressure for thinness (P = .007) and more shame about appearance (P = .04).
Our findings show that membership in a strict, insulated religious group such as Orthodox Judaism may protect women, to some extent, from developing body dissatisfaction and eating pathology.