The more religious a Jewish girl is, the less likely she is to suffer from poor self-image and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, according to a new University of Haifa study. The more religious the girl, the less her drive for thinness, the higher her perceived self-esteem, the more satisfied she is with her body and the less her concern with food and weight. Prof. Yael Letzer of the university's School of Social Work, working with Shira Gefen and Prof. Ora Gilber, based her findings on interviews with 320 religiously observant Jewish girls in ninth through 12th grades in state-religious schools for girls. The researchers' main explanation for this finding was that Western culture glorified thinness as an important value representing beauty and an expression of self-control, independence and high social status. But religious Jewish society directs girls from a young age to succeed in their tasks of being wives and mothers and puts much stress on their functioning inside the house and less stress on their appearance and what they do outside the home. "Sex roles are much more defined, and this constitutes a type of protection for the teenage girl and prevents her from being dissatisfied with her body and, developing eating disorders," said Letzer. She added that observant girls are taught to internalize traditional values such as modesty and simplicity rather than beauty and appearance. "Jewish tradition praises internal characteristics and traditional principles and not beauty," said Letzer. "Instead, religious girls focus on a strict lifestyle and observance of the commandments."