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The weight issue

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2003-12-05

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Newsweek recently reported that between Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, Americans consume more than 14 million donuts per day. Now, given that about half of that is eaten by New York city cops, that still leaves a good few million to be eaten by women, especially housewives.

If I had a dollar for every e-mail I've received over the last few months from husbands who complain that their wives are too fat – and they have no idea how to tell them diplomatically that they should lose a ton or two – I might be making as much money as Dick Grasso.

These husbands write to me in order to contest my assertion – made principally in my book "Kosher Adultery: Seduce and Sin With Your Spouse," but repeated in many of my essays – that their loss of attraction to their wives has little to do with their wives' appearance and everything to due with too much familiarity and a laziness on the part of husbands who don't strive to bring erotic playfulness into their marriage.

"Oh yeah," said one writer, "nothing would make me happier than for me and my wife to have a passionate sex life again. But let's get real. When we married she was a size six. Now she has trouble squeezing into a size 18." Another husband echoed the sentiment: "Being married to my wife, I feel like a polygamist. She's so large, it's like I'm married to two women. She was half this size a few years ago."

There are other comedians out there like Stan, who wrote to me: "Don't lecture me Shmuley about how I am to blame for not feeling attracted to my wife. While some guys get to see their wives in bikinis, I am afraid to take my wife to the beach for fear that she'll get harpooned."

Other husbands write to me with a more reflective approach:

I partially agree with you, Shmuley, that the lack of passion in our marriage results from a man's – or in this case my own – tendency to be uncreative and allow ourselves to fall into a routine. But there is the real problem of my wife's having put on a lot of weight. I have tried everything to encourage her to diet, go to a gym, and generally take care of herself. I have even suggested we diet together. She takes offense at each suggestion and kicks me out of the bed, which is OK since I barely fit in anyway. Added to that is the increasing growth of her facial hair, about which she does next to nothing. So on the rare occasions when we make love, I find myself thinking about other women.

The generic term for a wife who doesn't take care of herself is a woman who "let herself go." Husbands who are married to women who let themselves go use it as ample justification for either their indulgence in pornography, affairs or having little or no sex with their wives. It's a convenient way of passing the buck and blaming the wife for the loss of marriage's most important ingredient: attraction.

But before we get all cozy with this notion that wives have decided to indulge their maternal instincts by appearing permanently pregnant and devouring even the wood of the kitchen cupboards, let's delve a little deeper.

First, there is something just a little hypocritical in the contemporary contention of husbands that only their wives need appear sexy while they can have endless folds of whale blubber hanging down their stomachs. Sorry guys, but just as you don't want to be married to Aunt Jemima, she doesn't want to be married to the Pillsbury Dough Boy. You complain that it is challenging making love to the Goodyear Blimp, but having the Michelin Man climb on top of you might not be the most pleasurable experience either. It cuts both ways. If you want her to get rid of her thunder-thighs, then perhaps you should consider taking a chainsaw to your love handles.

Added to this unjust double standard is the number of husbands who forget just how grossed out wives are with men's peculiar deficiencies in matters of personal hygiene. Eating ear wax might be your idea of a wholesome meal, but it might cause your wife to regurgitate her lunch. And wives don't find flatulence as entertaining or savory as their husbands believe. You wouldn't break wind in front of your boss, so maybe you should think twice about doing it in front of your wife.

Second, and much more important, is the question of who or what is to blame for the burgeoning size of the American wife. Some would say it's the fact that after having children her misshapen belly can often not throw off the added weight. But that's a spurious argument because there are plenty of women who return to their normal weight even after triplets.

Blaming the kids for being bloated is an unfair burden to slam on your children. Somehow I don't think that telling your kid, "Mommy and I used to have great sex and I was wildly attracted to her until she had you and started to look like a hippo" is going to do wonders for your child's self-esteem.

Still others attribute a wife "letting herself go" to the enormous responsibilities of women who have to balance family and career, leaving them little time for a healthy diet and exercise. No doubt there is much truth in this assertion. And yet, these same wives who have little time to look after themselves in their marriage suddenly find a huge amount of time to beautify themselves when and if they decide to have an affair. Indeed, studies show that one of the biggest giveaways of a wife having an affair is when she suddenly begins exercising, dieting and wearing silk undergarments instead of cotton.

Which leads me to the following controversial, yet, in my opinion, unassailable conclusion: When wives put on a lot of weight, it is almost always the fault of an inattentive or distracted husband. When their looks no longer mean anything to them, it's because they're married to someone who they don't think would notice anyway.

Women love being attractive. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, like body-building she-men or tomboys for whom overalls and armpit odor is heavenly. But, by and large, even brainy career women who wish to be appreciated for their minds rather than their bodies still wish to be physically desirable. What woman doesn't want to be regarded as beautiful? How much more so a married woman who revels in her husband's attention. And when a wife suddenly starts growing a beard and doesn't go to a beautician, or puts on an extra load and doesn't run to the dietician, she is behaving unnaturally and we have to ask why.

The blame lies with her husband who long ago stopped noticing her when she did get dressed up, so she concludes: "Why bother? With all the responsibilities I have with the kids, my job and running the home, why put time into my appearance when he never looks anyway."

The healthiest diet for a woman is to feed off her husband's compliments. When told by the man she loves that she is beautiful, a woman is given the incentive to live up to the compliment. Silence and indifference, however, bloat her up and make her fat. Indeed, marriage runs on what I call the football-fat equation. Every one hour he puts into watching mindless TV sports equals one extra pound on his wife's backside. Pretty soon, his wife starts looking like a linebacker.

A man from Los Angeles wrote to me about how his wife grew faster horizontally than their 2-year-old grew vertically. He told me he was disgusted by her weight, but chose to say nothing because he didn't want an argument. "There is no easy way to tell your wife she's fat," he wrote.

"Yes," I agreed. "But there is a very easy way to prevent it from happening in the first place. Did you tell her how beautiful she was when she was thinner? Did you compliment her when she did up her hair? When was the last time you took her to the mall to buy clothes, helped her try it on, and told her what she looks best in?"

He admitted that he had not done any of these things in years. Is it a puzzle why she gave up? Would a woman who lived alone on a desert island get dressed up every day to please the coconut trees? And if she lives alone in the solitary island of a lonely marriage, will she not console herself by indulging in the sensual pleasure of food when she is bereft of the sensual pleasure of touch and sex?

While husbandly apathy is the main cause of a wife's weight gain, telling her she is beautiful even when she is overweight is a better weight-loss program than the Atkins, South Beach, and Dr. Phil diets combined. If your wife has grown too wide, encourage her to trim down – not by telling her she's fat, but by telling her she's gorgeous. Her feeling that you watch her beauty will inspire her to watch her weight. This might sound simplistic – and it is. Simply stated, it works.

Last summer, I bumped into a couple with whom I was friendly more than a decade ago. I remembered the wife as a woman of great beauty and sparkling eyes. But now her body was bloated, her face was shriveled. While she still smiled brightly, she otherwise looked horrible. As I subsequently discovered, her husband had gone through a rough financial period.

Unable to support his family and falling increasingly into debt, his self-esteem plummeted as well. He would come home every day in a depressed state and offer his wife monosyllabic responses to her questions. Whereas once he had been attentive, he now came home and got straight onto his computer for hours on end. A week turned into a month, a month into a year, and soon he was barely noticing that his wife was alive.

True, he had lost a lot of money, but he still had life's greatest blessing: a young and beautiful wife who loved him. But unable to appreciate her, she became as unhappy as him, and her looks went out the door along with their credit. When I saw her, I told her she looked beautiful. It wasn't a lie. Her beauty was still there, covered over by all her misery. It could still come out, if only her husband would unearth it with laser-like focus. There is a direct correlation between a husband's attention to his wife, and a wife's attention to her looks.

The next time you notice your wife has added a couple of pounds, perhaps it is you, rather than she, who should be looking in the mirror.