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Gila Manolson: A Response to Yitta Halberstam’s Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim


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Don’t worry, Yitta, I’m not going to crucify you, as you feared. I actually agreed with the gist of your article, which was obviously heartfelt and well-intended. I just want to point out where you crossed a line, a problem that you unwittingly reinforced, and something crucial that you overlooked—all of which I suspect pressed a lot of people’s buttons.

First of all, a confession that should make my endorsement of your basic idea more meaningful: I’m an unabashed proponent of the “natural look.” I wore (gasp) absolutely no makeup when dating my husband, and not even when I stood under the chuppah with him. (In fact, the only time he has seen me in makeup has been on Purim.) Miraculously, he managed to find me attractive enough to actually marry me. One reason I foreswore makeup (and have, in fact, since age 16) is that I have a distinct allergy to fake things—I dislike makeup for the same reason I dislike plastic plants. The other, more compelling, reason is that I needed to know that, beyond our spiritual connection, my future husband would be attracted to the real, unadorned, physical me.

Having said that, I realize I’m an anomaly, and don’t expect the majority of women to follow my lead. While I’m a big believer in inner beauty and how much it can transform one’s appearance, I’m also a big believer in living in reality, and the reality is that purely physical looks count for a lot in this world. So I will wholeheartedly agree that a girl should make the best of her looks, especially when meeting a prospective mother-in-law (or his son)—including wearing a flattering hairstyle, flattering clothes, and yes, even a tasteful amount of makeup (if she has no ideological objection). And if she needs a total makeover, I’d say go for it.

In principle, then, you could say we see eye to eye. So what bothered me about your article?

First of all, your big blooper, in my opinion, was advocating not only cosmetics but “surgical procedures” to improve a girl’s appearance. For once we start surgically “improving” our appearance, where’s the end? Is cosmetic surgery called for only to “fix” a glaringly unattractive feature (which is all you may have had in mind), or to “upgrade” and “recreate” every possible part of ourselves that doesn’t look like what we see in women’s magazines?

Let me share with you two emails I received from young women approaching shidduchim age. One was from a girl who was seriously distraught about her large, hooked nose and wanted to “fix” it, but worried that this made her “superficial.” I wrote back that if her nose was objectively unattractive and it really bothered her, then I did not believe having a “nose job” made her “superficial,” and she should do it.

But then there was the 17-year-old girl who was unhappy with her small chest and wanted my opinion on whether she should get implants. Here was a girl whose body failed to meet some “ideal” but was probably perfectly lovely in its own way. I told her I knew many small-busted women who’ve gotten married, and that she should work on appreciating her own body’s beauty rather than surgically alter it.

The difference should be clear. Anyone in their right mind would advocate, as did the Satmar rebbe, that a girl who has no teeth should get dentures. But once you get beyond fixing a flagrant physical fault and talk about achieving some purported physical ideal, we’re in dangerous waters.

This blunder contributed to another likely reaction on the part of many readers: the disturbing sense that shidduchim are becoming increasingly unnatural and artificial, and that pressing for more emphasis on externalities is not what we need. Definitely, a girl should put her best foot forward. But when she has to pay a professional makeup artist and hair stylist before each date as if she were going to her sister’s wedding, haven’t we gone way overboard?

Furthermore, as we all know, our appearance affects our feelings and behavior. On the one hand, looking good can make us feel and “behave” good. On the other hand, looking not like our real selves can also make us feel and behave not like our real selves—and it’s pretty important to feel and behave like your real self on a date with a potential marriage partner.

But the biggest mistake you made was overlooking male responsibility in viewing women. Yes, the male brain is hardwired to be visual, meaning that men will always be stuck on looks more than women are. But who’s teaching boys that real, enduring attraction results from a potent mix of looks plus character and personality, and that to see if it can exist, you have to get to know a girl? (I address myself to males on this topic at the end of my book Choosing to Love.)

About the Author: Gila Manolson is the author of "Outside/Inside: A Fresh Look at Tzniut" and "Choosing to Love: Building a Deep Relationship with Another Person—and with Yourself.". Gila is also the author of the contemporary Jewish classic "The Magic Touch: A Jewish Approach to Relationships" and "Head to Heart: What to Know before Love and Marriage."


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37 Responses to “Gila Manolson: A Response to Yitta Halberstam’s Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim”

  1. Aaron Hollander says:

    You write "men will always be stuck on looks more than women are," that is wrong! It is women who look amongst themselves to see how another woman looks. Men generally don't care as much.
    I suspect that is precisely why Yitta Halberstam makes a big deal about it.

  2. Florence Broder says:

    I would like to add my two sense to the mix. I am 32 -yrs-old and not married. I am ok with that because soooo many other people I know got married for the wrong reasons and are now miserable or divorced. It's true that the "good" med are flooded for shidduch requests. But there are so many other men who I have met who also need a makeover so they can be suitable for the dating pool. Yet, no one ever focuses on then. I am not even referring to the looks department. Some guys are nebuchs, some have lived with their mothers too long and aren't independent, and then are others who don't have basic table manners. And I wonder to myself how mothers could have raised so many boorish men that no one wants to date all.

  3. Benji Lovitt says:

    Jeez, you live with your mother one time (till you're 35) and they never let you forget…. And, oh by the way, she tells me that elbows ARE allowed on the table so nya nya nya. (Now if I could just post this only on your FB wall and not on Jewishpress.com.)

  4. Florence Broder says:

    I would like to add my two cants to the mix. I am 32 -yrs-old and not married. I am ok with that because soooo many other people I know got married for the wrong reasons and are now miserable or divorced. It's true that the "good" med are flooded for shidduch requests. But there are so many other men who I have met who also need a makeover so they can be suitable for the dating pool. Yet, no one ever focuses on then. I am not even referring to the looks department. Some guys are nebuchs, some have lived with their mothers too long and aren't independent, and then are others who don't have basic table manners. And I wonder to myself how mothers could have raised so many boorish men that no one wants to date at all.

  5. Hashem has made us all. Hashem made us in His image. When I was younger I was made to feel awkward about my being overweight in peoples eyes. Two and a half years before I married my Husband I was in a horrible accident and my left leg has looked pretty awful ever since. It is swollen daily and one third of it is covered in a rather ugly skin graft. Soon after my soon to be husband and I started dating I needed to know how my husband, or not, would react to my leg. He saw it and said SO! We married after being together for six months, had our daughter less than ten and half months after that. My husband saw beyond that wound and loves me for who I am. I think that people should be pleased with what Hashem has given them. The right person will do that. I am not saying don't get a nose job if your nose is hooked but pure cosmetic surgery or overdoing dress, makeup or things artificial NO! I always thought that when the Jewish women all dressed in white and you couldn't tell anyone's wealth. The Jewish men got to see these women as they were and that nobody really had a better chance than the others. I wish everyone looking for a Shidduch the blessings of Hashem. 'SheYizku Kulchem Livnot Bayis Neeman BeYisroel'!

  6. Ari Roth says:

    Sadly (or happily, depending on your perspective), I think this is less of a problem for men because of the amount of available women (Hence the "Shidduch Crisis"). I'm a pretty big shlub, but I'm happily married. Thank G-d for my wife :-)

  7. Ari Roth says:

    Agreed. My wife loves to get all dolled up, and I don't mind it if her makes her feel better, but I tell her every time this comes up that if it were up to me, she wouldn't wear any makeup.

  8. Lynn says:

    I think that Yitta is being blamed unfairly. She states again and again that external beauty is not everything and that she is unhappy that men and their mothers are using external beauty as a barometer for the success of a potential shidduch. She rails at a system where large numbers of women clamor for dates with small numbers of men. She acknowledges the inequity of the age situation where as men get older, they are still dating younger women but women don’t have that option of dating younger men. She questioned and felt uncomfortable with a shidduch get-together where young women would be presented to potential mother-in-laws. She was astounded at the sheer numbers of the girls. She acknowledged that they were competing where the stakes were high so that is why she questioned the lack of attention to the appearance of some of the girls. Her comments about plastic surgery were from her own personal experience. She was also trying to point out that it is not a sin and probably is a mitzvah for a woman to beautify herself in order to get married. She also confessed that her own son was not looking for a Plain Jane. That he felt that way does not in any way mean that he had been raised by her to look at women that way. She had tried to influence him to look beyond physical appearances. His views of beauty were probably influenced by outside society the way that many of ours are.
    Even if the “judges” of the girls’ beauty was the mothers of boys, this is the way that these girls and their mothers have chosen to find husbands. Women see other women at simchas, shul, and other places. If a girl does not look “put together” she will not make much of an impression on other women. Yitta tried to point that out.
    The problem with putting these articles in The Jewish Press is that this paper is not just read by RW Orthodox Jews who subscribe to a mother-driven shidduch system but it is read by all types of Jews and even non-Jews who would not possibly understand why women would judge girls by the amount of make-up that they wear. There is also the need for a disclaimer when something could impact health or halacha such as plastic surgery. Yitta was not poskening halacha or acting as a medical advisor. She was merely stating that plastic surgery worked for her and urged women to consider the possibility if it would be indicated for them. Obviously rabbonim as well as competent medical professionals need to be consulted when undergoing any kind of surgical procedure. Such procedures should be regarded as permanent and may not always bring about the desired results.

  9. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    YES! Not ALL guys prefer women with globs of make-up & many prefer natural beauty over fake enhancements! Kol hakavod to Gila on her great response!

  10. Daniel Leeberbomb says:

    Aaron, while i agree with your comment, i believe her statement was meant to point out that men place more emphasis on a woman's physical appearance, than women place on a man's appearance. that being said, in my opinion women are more critical of each other's looks than men are women's looks.

  11. I think both discussions are missing an important point:

    Men may very well be superficial and guilty of overvaluing physical appearance. But assuming, for the sake of argument, that the number of men and women is equal, then the only possible result of men setting their sights too high, is that the top men get the top women, and all the lesser men who are pursuing the top women, end up with nothing at all.

    Now, how likely is this? Are men really choosing to forgo women *altogether* for the sake of pursuing only the most attractive women? Are men issuing an ultimatum that they will accept nothing less than large breasts, and that they prefer no breasts at all (i.e. forgoing women altogether) to small breasts? This seems extremely unlikely.

    Again, assuming the number of men and women is equal, then the only way that women can go unmarried, is if an equal number of men goes unmarried. This seems extremely unlikely, just from the interests of the males alone, disregarding the females. Furthermore, it is contrary to the data: as far as I have seen, the shiddukh crisis is affecting predominately women, not men.

    The only way this is possible, is if the women outnumber the men. How can this be? Halberstam hits the nail on the head, but she seems oblivious to her own accomplishment: "As a friend recently told me: 'When my nephew was 19 and started shidduchim, he went out with 19-year-old girls. When he turned 20, he still went out with 19-year-old girls. He kept getting older, but the shidduchim that he was 'redt' continued to be 19-year-old girls. Now he is 24 and baruch Hashem just got engaged –to a 19-year old girl.'" There may be an equal number of men and women, but this is within a single generation. Given population growth, there will be more 19 than 24 year olds. And so, if 24 year old men are marrying 19 year old women then there will be more women than men, and every man will get married, with women left over. Bingo, the entire shiddukh crisis diagnosed!

    Now, it may also be that within the Modern Orthodox community, singles are remaining unmarried for longer periods, just as is happening in the non-Jewish population at large, but again, if the number of men and women is equal, then the crisis will affect both sexes equally. If the age of marriage is rising, that may indicate a crisis of some sort, but one of a totally different sort, than when every man gets married with surplus unmarried women left over.

  12. To add onto my last paragraph, I think there is another possible problem, which might cause a *delay* in marriage, but *not* a shortage of men relative to women:

    Namely, that frum men may be pathetically unable to talk to women. A friend of mine is doing a conversion, and she said the rabbi came up to her and said that some of the young men in the congregation are asking about her, and that she needs to make it known publicly that she is not Jewish yet.

    She was extremely hurt, and said that she feels she is being treated as a sexual object, as something posing danger to the men around her. It is the opposite of tzeniut. She is a person, not a sexual object who needs to protect the men around her from herself.

    I said she was absolutely correct, but I added that it is outrageous that the men are asking the rabbi about her, rather than asking her herself! I quoted Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, "What We Can Learn From Chazal About Dating" (http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-we-can-learn-from-chazal-about-dating/2011/07/07/?print): "The Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) cites the pasuk 'When a man takes a woman [in marriage]' and explains 'darko shel ish l’chazer al ha-isha,' it is the way of men to pursue women [in marriage]. It is not the way of men, or shouldn’t be, to enlist a band of agents, intermediaries, and attorneys to do the work for them. By infantilizing and emasculating our males, we have complicated a process that should be simpler and made a joyous time into one of relentless anguish and hardship for many women."

  13. Rivka Mordechai says:

    Gila: You go girl! That's all I have to say :)

  14. Lynn says:

    Shoshana, I saw many on that site objecting to:
    Women doing anything “unnatural” (including make-up) to attract shidduchim
    Mothers of boys having anything to say about who their sons meet and marry
    Frum men being shallow enough to allow physical appearance to be a dealbreaker
    Had the objections only been to cosmetic surgery, there would have only been about a third of the objecting comments. I do think that there is a vast difference between allowing a teenager to have a nose job and the example of a 40 yr old woman who is finally getting married due to surgical intervention. Possibly at a later point in a woman’s life, when all else has been tried and the woman desperately wants to get married, if a serious appearance or weight issue can be dealt with surgically, it might be worthy of consideration (if a rav agrees). We have to look at medical technology as a gift of knowledge given by Hashem that can be used when needed. It might be worth talking to a psychiatrist before doing anything that cannot be undone.

  15. Chani Slurzberg says:

    dito!!!

  16. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Ms. Manolson, I applaud your article as an articulate and respectful rebuttal to the Halberstam piece. You eloquently said what so many of us have felt.

    However, I have to disagree with your distinction between the two cases of women seeking plastic surgery as a means of improving their chances in the shidduch market. In both cases, a very young person is unhappy with her appearance and is considering altering it surgically to make herself more marketable. I would argue that caution is advised in both cases, for medical as well as psychological reasons. I think that encouraging either of these women to go under the knife is leading down the slippery slope that brings us to Jocelyn Wildenstein and Heidi Montag.

    Hashem made some women with small chests, and others with large noses. Who's to say that the first woman should learn to be happy with a "less than ideal" body, but the second one should fix an "objectively unattractive" feature? Should we leave it to an insecure teenager to determine what is "objectively unattractive"? Many commenters have referred to the case of a young frum woman who died from complications during a rhinoplasty, and said that her nose had been fine before. Please, no more karbonos.

  17. I believe that looks goes both ways and before crucifying men on there shallowness maybe we should look at the shallowness of 90 percent of Jewish girls when its comes to materialism and looking for wallets that goes way beyond just looking for security, its a world of how big of a diamond I could get to out do my friends and the fanciest car to show thier friends I'm better then you, believe me Gila and Yita ( may u both get clarity and insight) that men just not liking a crooked nose or other minor issue should be their worst problem ( overweight and other self indulged problems not included), for the selfishness, ignorance, greed, narcissistic and chauvinistic attitude of most of these girls (hence their insecurities) are a way bigger issue you could discuss. Most of them hide behind the phrase "im looking for security". wake up and realize that G-D decides what security u get long term even if u think u have landed the jackpot. I rest my case :)

  18. I believe that looks goes both ways and before crucifying men on there shallowness maybe we should look at the shallowness of 90 percent of Jewish girls when its comes to materialism and looking for wallets that goes way beyond just looking for security, its a world of how big of a diamond I could get to out do my friends and the fanciest car to show thier friends I'm better then you, believe me Gila and Yita ( may u both get clarity and insight) that men just not liking a crooked nose or other minor issue should be their worst problem ( overweight and other self indulged problems not included), for the selfishness, ignorance, greed, narcissistic and chauvinistic attitude of most of these girls (hence their insecurities) are a way bigger issue you could discuss. Most of them hide behind the phrase "im looking for security". wake up and realize that G-D decides what security u get long term even if u think u have landed the jackpot. I rest my case :)

  19. Joe says:

    I’m a 25 year old male, and I think that when women have bright red lips and unnaturally white faces with red splotches on their cheeks they look more like clowns than anything else. Normal men are attracted to the average female without makeup.

  20. Avigail Gordon says:

    It also seems to be a trend that women's idea of "ideal body" and men's idea of it are very different. Most cosmetic procedures are in pursuit of the women's ideal. I've never actually met a man who cared if a woman was a size 6 or a size 2. But maybe I've just been lucky in the men I've known.

  21. drz says:

    Michael, I totally agree with your assessment that this shidduch process, when mothers vet prospective girls and make choices for their sons, infantilizes these young men, or should I say boys. If a guy is old enough to get married, then he’s old enough to go out and meet a girl and make the decision for himself, without his Mommy.

    And I hate the term “best boys” or “best girls.” As if “best” means those who get married the youngest! That is so not the case. Some of our best young men and women are smart and educated and waiting until they finish a degree (or two) before dating. Or, because they are intelligent and not following some prescribed convention, they are waiting until they feel ready choose a mate and to make that all-important decision of whom to marry.

  22. Rachel Rosenzweig says:

    Gila, you are insightful as usual! Thank you!

  23. Aliza Arbesfeld says:

    Well said! Gila addressed my exact concerns and thoughts.

  24. Aliza Arbesfeld says:

    I agree with you, but it is more common, appropriate AND safe to get a nose job than breast implants. Because we hear of a new driver dieing from a car accident, we should no longer allow new drivers to drive? Obviously not.

  25. Grace Acosta says:

    Now THAT is real beauty! I've always loved the story about how you and your husband met. You two are real role models for a happy marriage, and I wish you all the best. <3

  26. "Yes, the male brain is hardwired to be visual, meaning that men will always be stuck on looks more than women are." Scientific fact? Where is this coming from? This is a dangerous way of thinking.

  27. Jonny Finkel says:

    not sure why having a large nose is in the same category as having no teeth…

  28. I do believe that women should wear flattering clothes, hair, and makeup, but when it comes to anything beyond that, I get nervous. Too many women go under the knife and wind up with other issues because they didn't understand the risks involved. Other women go under the knife and are fine, but wind up looking exactly like everyone else. I believe in the words of the eternally fabulous Miss Piggy- "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye." If it's reached the point that women feel the need to get surgery for shidduchim, then it's time to rethink our priorities.

  29. I couldn't agree with you more

  30. rochel says:

    Lynn,
    I think at this point you can rest. No need to keep trying to defend Yitta. We didn’t misunderstand her. When one writes an article, they can’t be upset at people for not knowing what they “really meant”.

    By the way, haven’t you noticed you don’t have much company in your defenses?

  31. Florence Broder says:

    Ari Roth thanks for you comment. From my perspective, it does appear that men actually DON'T have dating problems. They don't have to put much effort into anything because most women know they have to settle. It's competitive to be a woman. You have have your hair and make up just so. You have to be dressed to the nines all the time. You can't eve let your appearance fall. You know that if something is out of place there is always another woman waiting for the chance to snatch the man. The dating world truly is a microcosm of Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest for women. And again, men know this and don't put any effort into anything.

  32. Gila – for you it absolutely made sense not to where makeup on shidduchim – to do otherwise would have been an abdication of an important life value of yours. I doubt that is the case with most other young ladies. If they would get dolled up for a friend's or sister's wedding, for instance, then I'd say that it make sense to make a similar effort for a courtship. Certainly everything is a matter of degree and reasonability. Personally, I think that 99% of women (or men) that seek cosmetic surgery would do much better to invest the money in therapy and work towards raising their self-esteem. It the girl has a warm and confident smile on her face, then her suitors will indeed notice her!

  33. michael says:

    What about “Taqanath Ezra”that requires stores to sell make-up for the girls and women?

  34. Mindy Schaper says:

    Agree perfectly with the thesis.

  35. Tim Lieder says:

    Yep. Pretty much what I expected. An endorsement of institutional sexism without much thought behind it. Great that the author found a way to make money off this shtick. Mazel Tov for finding someone even more insane and pathetic to dispute on the rightwing "Girls need to get married" spectrum.

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Don’t worry, Yitta, I’m not going to crucify you, as you feared. I actually agreed with the gist of your article, which was obviously heartfelt and well-intended. I just want to point out where you crossed a line…

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/gila-manolson-a-response-to-yitta-halberstams-plea-to-mothers-of-girls-in-shidduchim/2012/03/26/

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