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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776
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Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim



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Some women who are deeply religious or intellectually inclined may delude themselves into thinking that their male counterparts will only see, appreciate and cherish their inner beauty, and that will (or should) be their overriding priority. All other surface qualities will be secondary, subordinate to the place where their neshoma stands. Truly, it is an ideal that I passionately share with them–the yearning to be seen in a soulful way, visible to the heart but not necessarily the naked eye– but unfortunately we are not living in an ideal world.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with Georgie, the internationally renowned hair stylist and sheitelmacher, who brought a certain new aesthetic to the frum world when she first launched her business. Georgie told me then that she wished she could persuade young women in shidduchim to participate in “make-over” sessions with hairstylists, cosmetologists and wardrobe consultants, who would help them achieve their best possible look. “I am often shocked by how little these girls do for themselves,” I vividly remember her saying. “How will they ever find a shidduch?”

Surprisingly, a well-known story about the Satmar Rebbe t”zl drives home this point. During his incarceration in concentration camp, the Rebbe refused to eat the meager provisions that were customarily doled out to the inmates–the proverbial crust of bread and watery soup–because of kashrus concerns. He subsisted solely on the portions of raw potatoes that Hannah*, a young woman working in the kitchen smuggled out to him daily – at great risk to her own life. The Rebbe tzl had tremendous hakoras hatov for her sacrifice, and always publicly acknowledged that she had saved his life. Later, they were both placed on the Kastner train, and found refuge in the safe haven of Switzerland. When the urge to re-embrace life asserted itself, and young refugees started dating and getting married, no one courted Hannah, who had lost all her teeth during her years of privation. One day, the Rebbe summoned his Rebbetzin, and handed her a large wad of cash. “Please give this to Hannah,” he said, “and instruct her that she should use the money to pay for dentures. And after the dentist has repaired her mouth, please tell her that she should use the rest of the money for makeup.” Soon afterwards Hannah became a kallah.

If the Satmar Rebbe t”zl – a tremendous Torah giant who resided in such lofty realms –could perceive what the obstacles were to Hannah’s attainment of a match, surely we (l’havdil) who dwell in far lower spheres should confront the need to make our daughters as shidduch-worthy as possible, no matter what it takes.

Mothers this is my plea to you: There is no reason in today’s day and age with the panoply of cosmetic and surgical procedures available, why any girl can’t be transformed into a swan. Borrow the money if you have to; it’s an investment in your daughter’s future, her life.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine reported the happy news that her first cousin had become a kallah for the first time at the tender age of forty. “She wowed her chasan with her beauty,” she said. “That’s what gave her an edge over the other women her age.” Then she paused. “Let’s see…she had a nose job….gastric bypass …botox injections….her teeth were capped…..and she wears violet-blue contact lenses…There’s practically nothing about her that’s real!” she laughed. “But…guess what? She’s getting married next month!”

I grew up a homely teenager. My weight and my frizzy hair were just two of my issues. I still cringe when I think of the pain that was my constant companion. Even though I excelled in school, and my writing had been published from the time I was eight, nothing could ameliorate my self-consciousness, the terrible ache of knowing that I was not pleasing to the public eye.

One day, when I was 19, and a particularly angst-producing dating situation had ended in disaster, Dr. Jean Jofen z”l, an extraordinary woman whom I was privileged to have as a mentor, turned to me during a discussion, and apropos nothing at all, suddenly asked me why I hadn’t done anything to make myself look and feel better? I was speechless. She was right, what she said was simple and obvious, yet no one had ever asked me before. I just thought you had to take what fate dealt you; it never crossed my mind that you could change things or eliminate them altogether. (I don’t think pro-active was even a word then, or a concept, either).

Jean urged me to take some cosmetic steps that changed my life: a diet, hair-straightening, and most significant of all: a “nose job.” The resculpted nose gave me newfound confidence and spurred me to continue along a path of self-improvement. I lost 30 pounds and found Ollies, a hair-straightening salon in Queens that actually managed to tame my unruly locks. And my dating situation got much better. Although I have never trumpeted this part of my personal history in such a public way, I am doing so in order to hopefully give chizuk to the multitudes of young women who struggle – unfairly – in this very frustrating shidduchparsha.”

Yitta Halberstam

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