In a unique, first of its kind study, Latzer looks at the connection between levels of religiosity, self-esteem, self-image, and eating disorders.

The study findings showed that as long as the level of religiosity is unified and high, the desire to be thin is lower. On the positive side, self-esteem and body image are higher, as is the extent of satisfaction with one's body. The result, the researcher states, is that there is less preoccupation with food and weight.

A total of 320 Jewish religious girls in grades 9-12 (16-18 years old) in Israel participated in the University of Haifa study.

Dr. Yael Latzer, Haifa University
According to Latzer, Western society sees thinness as an important value, representing beauty. It is also an expression of self-control, independence, and high social status.

On the other hand, she continues, religious society expects women at a young age to fulfill some roles of mother and wife. In the religious world, importance is focused on the woman's activities in the house and less so on her external appearance and activities outside the house.

Professor Lazar commented that Jewish religious girls tended to emphasize and focus on traditional values, such as simplicity and modesty, more than on beauty and external appearance.

"The important uniqueness of the woman, as is written in Halacha [Jewish law], is her inner qualities and moral principles, and not beauty," the University of Haifa researcher commented. "Instead of controlling their body and their weight, young religious girls focus on a modest life style and observance of the commandments." She cited the maxim: "The dignity of a king's daughter is on the inside."

The younger in age and the lower the level of religious belief of religious girls, Latzer found, the greater was the connection with eating disorders. "Young girls (age 12-13) still immature and unclear about their identities, become confused in respect to their religious identities, values, and the division of roles in the home between the sexes," she explained. "The confusion is expressed both in a lower self-esteem and in a poorer body image." She emphasizes that a similar phenomenon of confusion with identity also exists among peers from secular society.