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The Tyranny of Beauty: Readers Have The Last Word

Editor’s Note: Yitta Halberstam’s article “Purim and the Tyranny of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim” (Family Issues section, March 16) ignited a firestorm of reaction, both pro and con. Hundreds of letters and e-mail responses poured in to our website (JewishPress.com) and the print edition, along with several article-length responses. We published a couple of letters about the article in the March 23 issue, along with a response from Ms. Halberstam. Last week we devoted a full page in Family Issues to some of the e-mails and website comments. The responses keep coming, and so this week we’re letting several more readers have their say – and then we’re turning the page to other matters. Some of the article-length responses can be read on our website.

Facing Reality

I truly regret that Ms. Halberstam was so misunderstood. For starters, the name of the article was “The Tyranny of Beauty.” Anyone who knows anything about Ms. Halberstam knows she is a sincere yiray shamayim who writes with her whole soul. She does not believe the most important quality a female can have is her looks. She believes inner beauty is the lasting beauty.

However, she is also a realist and she is well aware of the shidduch crisis. She knows how many resumes grind themselves out of fax machines and how most of them go unanswered. She knows how it is with shadchanim who try but are limited.

Anyone who is up in arms at the thought of trying to make oneself more attractive – and, needless to say, it is the rare case where a nose job is the issue – should look around and see what is going on today.

I recently tried to set up a family member with a boy learning in kollel, and after I told his mother how brilliant and kind and full of mitzvot the girl is, and the special family she comes from, the mother had two questions for me: Is she pretty and is she blond. This from a kollel mother who fully plans to support the young couple.

Yitta Halberstam in her article lamented the fact that so much emphasis is placed on looks. But if that is the unfortunate reality today, a word to the wise should be sufficient.
Nicole Levy
New York, NY

Blatant Generalizations

In response to cogent criticism about her article by reader Tova Ross (Letters, March 23), Ms. Halberstam asserted that she only wrote the article after years of imploring young men to consider inner beauty when selecting a mate. Again, she emphasized that her article was put forth publicly to help. This is specious at best.

Ms. Halberstam’s blatant generalizations about young women fixing their appearance is an oversimplification of the shidduchim issue. Cosmetics, nose jobs, and hair treatments are not the end all and be all to securing one’s life partner. Further, where in Ms. Halberstam’s article did she direct men to fix their attitude and outward appearance as well?
Barbie Kona
(Via E-Mail)

What About The Boys?

Ms. Halberstam begins her article lamenting the power imbalance in today’s shidduch scene. Boys (really their mothers) are inundated with resumes and girls sit tsitering at home. She presents her advice as the magic solution, yet anyone who takes a second to follow it to its inevitable conclusion would quickly realize it would do nothing but greatly exacerbate the current “crisis.”

In a world where girls are getting plastic surgery left and right because they are pressured to (first by their mothers, as the article suggests, then their friends who are doing the same, then via a shadchan by the boys they date who have come to expect it) they are stripped of any power they once had. Their self worth has been trod upon and they have been relegated to a role of literally doing anything they can to “get a guy.”

Let’s not forget that all of this is the foundation for a marriage. Is this what we want frum Jewish marriages to be based on? The husband should expect his wife to go to extreme measures at his whim? And for those of you who think I’m taking my reasoning too far, I am talking about a world where it is expected that a girl undergo plastic surgery to fix anything and everything that “needs to be” in order to date successfully.

Now let’s flip it around here. Ms. Halberstam is the mother of a dating boy. She presents herself and her son as the pictures of perfection. I get the impression that, as the old cliché has it, no girl is good enough for her baby. Instead of assessing the shidduch world and figuring out what she can do as the mother of a son to alleviate the pressures, she points at mothers of girls and tells them how to make their daughters good enough for her son. It seems to me that mothers of sons, instead of pointing fingers because the girls aren’t “pretty enough,” could stand to sit their precious boys down and discuss realistic expectations.
Kate Davis
(Via E-Mail)

Importance Of A First Impression

I am very involved in shidduchim in my neighborhood and try to help others outside the neighborhood as well. We run a shidduch group locally where we get mothers – mainly of daughters – from all walks of life trying to help their children. I try to be extremely sensitive to these mothers as I once walked in their shoes. I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with Yitta Halberstam’s article.

When a girl goes on a date or out to a simcha, she should equate this to going on a job interview. Would you ever think of going out to meet a prospective employer with unkempt hair or clothing that is not so attractive? It is hard enough to find a great shidduch when you really try to make yourself look your best.

Without belaboring the point, when a single girl goes out of her house, she needs to make herself presentable. What happens if she goes out to buy milk and happens to run into a shadchan or perhaps a family member of a boy who might be a potential shidduch? You never know where you will be seen, so it is very important to put your best face on. Yes, it is just not fair that men aren’t judged by the same standard, and that’s something we’d love to change. But in the meantime, mothers and daughters need to do whatever it takes to make it work.

Someone once told me that when a boy opens the door, in that instant he makes his judgment on a girl’s looks. Yes, a boy or girl can learn to look at people differently once they get to know them, but essentially it is the very first impression that is so crucial.

In sum, please help your daughters do what they need to so that they will be most presentable at this important time of life.
Gail Hochman
Fair Lawn, NJ

Confidence Is Key

What makes a girl beautiful/pretty/cute? Two things stand out when I meet someone: self-confidence and individuality. I know a lot of women who, when you take them apart feature by feature, are not that pretty but they exude a self-confidence that elevates them above their actual looks.

If you think you are amazing, it shows! I am more wowed by someone who “dares” to wear her hair curly or who wears glasses to a chassunah than I am by the cookie-cutter bland good looks of the masses. Don’t get me wrong. I love accessories , fashion and makeup, but I am more proud of my accomplishments than I am of my looks or my wardrobe.

I have two teenage daughters and I think the greatest gift I can give them is self-worth and the knowledge that they are cherished no matter what their real or imagined physical flaws may be. We are so much more than the sum of our parts; take what makes you unique and embrace it instead of hiding it.

As trite as it sounds, we have a shidduch crisis because the system is flawed, not our girls.
Dr. Chani Miller
Highland Park, NJ

The Financial Component

Yitta Halberstam’s discussion of the role that looks play in shidduchim, including her suggestion that young women even undergo plastic surgery if warranted, has generated a huge response. However, her article does not mention another component of shidduchim that plays a key role – namely, money.

Several years ago one of my elderly neighbors stopped me, apologized for what he was going to say, but said that he had to say it. He then proceeded to tell me he had several granddaughters who were either presently or would soon be looking for shidduchim. Their Bais Yaakov educations had emphasized that they should marry learners, and this is what they were looking for. However, they were having trouble finding a suitable young man because the first question asked by the boy’s side is how much support the girl’s side is willing to give.

“One hundred thousand dollars over three years is what they want at a minimum,” my neighbor lamented. “Where are people, particularly those with a three or more daughters, supposed to get this kind of money?”

Indeed, I have heard parents with daughters in the market for a shidduch say, “You have to buy the boy. There is no other way.”

So, while looks are indeed important, I fear that without money even the best-looking girls will not be able to marry a good learner.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Brooklyn, NY

Editor’s Note: Dr. Levine writes The Jewish Press’s popular “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” column that appears the first week of each month.

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