deena chanowitz, What's Underneath
An Outcasted Hasid Finds the Courage to Live By Her Own Beliefs

Growing up a “perfect” straight-A student in her Lubavitch (a branch of Hasidism) community, Deena Chanowitz had to basically conceal every part of her body (from her ankles to her elbows) least a man catch a glimpse of her bare skin and be lead to “sin.” As Deena tells it, “There is so much fear of inappropriate sexuality that it breeds all kinds of other forms of sexuality.”

Deena suffered that perversion herself when she was sexually abused by a rabbi at camp at age 13. After telling her mom, she was deemed a liar and cast out, leaving her literally homeless at age 14. “I felt contaminated and uncomfortable with what was inside of me and outside of me.” Her feelings of self-disgust ultimately manifested in being serially sexually abused and a bulimia so extreme that, by her mid 20s, she would eventually have to swallow a toothbrush to force herself to throw up.

But, by confronting her pain with unquantifiable resilience, Deena has pulled herself up to a catering business (where everyone is fed like queens), the valedictorian of her graduating class at Hunter, and acceptance into med school at 34 years old. “Of course, I’m a worthy human being.” Deena now says today. “I don’t have to do anything to deserve it. I exist and, therefore, I’m good enough.”

Elisa + Lily

Follow Deena on Instagram: @chefdeenanyc
Her video was edited by Andrea Cruz and Naomi Ranz-Schleifer

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  • gabi

    wow! What a wonderfully inspiring woman you are xx

  • Stylista

    the words were pouring out...literally pouring out...she'd been silenced for so long that listening to her felt like i was bearing witness to her ability to finally give a voice to all the fear...all the pain...all the rejection...all the self hate...and finally to the clarity that gave way to self love...a difficult but nonetheless beautiful journey in which we can all find some truth

  • Sophia

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for being such a inspirational warrior. I have battled with multiple eating disorders for the majority of my life, and used my body as a tool to consume the pain and trauma that suffocated me for years. Although I am on my way to recovery and a brighter enlightened day, your journey and tremendous courage has inspired me to be the warrior I know I am and continue on my path of recovery.

    love and light xxx

  • Ten

    That was one of the most insanely inspiring stories I've ever heard!

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What's Underneath
What's Underneath