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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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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.”

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851 Responses to “Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim”

  1. Sara Weiss Davis says:

    Oy Oy Oy. Talk about focusing on the wrong thing. Holy moly. Yes, they should brush their hair, but nebach on Am Yisrael if this is the criteria. And please reread the Megilla. If all you got out of Megillat Esther is the beauty regiment, again, nebach.

  2. this has to be a purim shpiel, right?

  3. Avi Ganz says:

    "I implore you….to get a nose job" :P

  4. Daniela 'Dani' Weiss-Bronstein says:

    It's funny to think that we spent so much time in school talking about midot instead of eye color, nose size, body shape, and hair texture. I guess we were doing it wrong.
    I actually thought that this article was a Purim joke at first, but I think maybe it's a response to the recession – an appeal to get more work for the plastic surgeons and psycho-therapists who serve the frum community.

  5. Vivi B says:

    ick.

  6. Pnina Shields Eilberg says:

    Really sickening to read!!! And I know people who have collections of these "resumes" It makes my stomach turn.

  7. Maya Carni says:

    While I understand the negative backlash from everyone regarding this article, I can’t say strongly enough that I couldn’t agree more! I have been to many many singles events where the girls are obviously there to meet their potential match, and they show up looking like they just left the gym, or still in costume from a play rehearsal for lLittle House on the Prairie.I am a girl and therefore I am able to look past the exterior and appreciate these girls for their wonderful personalities, kind Midot and great sense of humor. But we expect a guy to look past the long frizzy hair, glasses from the 80s, and bare faces? So many times I just want to shake a girl and tell her “put on some makeup, blow dry your hair, shop in store that sells up to date clothing and tweeze your eyebrows for goodness sake!!! I dont think that’s too much to ask. And I think everyone is lying to themselves if they say that the “good guys don’t care”. I dated a full time learning yeshiva guy who dumped me because I had brown hair instead of blond! Can you imagine what he says to the girls who don’t put on a dash of makeup?!!?? Something needs to be done. There is a reason girls put on makeup on Shabbos and make themselves look the best they can, and the girls who don’t have anyone at home to teach them why need others to do so. No is telling them to make themselves into a model, to completely change their look, to focus solely on the externals, and to judge your self worth but your appearances. What we are saying is that looks matter, and guys, no matter how frum, appreciate a girl who take the time to look her best.

  8. Cheryl 'Chani' Dym says:

    Dear author, I can see why you wrote this. You don't want women looking yuck and feel it will help them land a man. Got it. You have a point and boys and girls should generally put their best foot forward when dating. But there's a limit. Endorsing surgery? People can die during surgery. Even routine, elective surgery. Also, have you ever thought that your particular taste in women is not the same as your son's or other men out there? I know many guys who prefer the "little makeup" and "natural" look. I think one of the problems in the "crisis" is that the girls can't get past the mothers' idea of what's attractive – when in reality, a boy may have found that girl to be pretty. PS. the story about the Satmar Rebbi actually horrified me. The fact that he would allow this woman to risk her life to provide the Rebbi with kosher just seems really horrible. What if she was killed for him? Also, in the story of Purim – Esther applied the minimum of cosmetics that was given to her and requested nothing extra as compared to the other ladies. So the comparison doesn't really work in this scenario.

  9. Tom Dratler says:

    To the author:
    May I suggest a simplification to your solution?

    Let the overwrought prospective mothers-in-law stay home and let the kinderlach mingle amongst themselves (Perhaps you will find this scenario more acceptable if you think of it as a play date?).

    Thus the male children will be able to experiment with their under-developed (or non-existent) social skills in a safe and supervised environment. (I’m sure one could find a few kindergarten teachers available to supervise. As they will be dealing with adult children, tasers can be issued to prevent any improper activity).

    At the end of the evening, the male and female children can indicate their preferences to each other and (gasp!) exchange phone numbers. Once some common interest has been established, the prospective candidates can submit their resumes for parental review.

    As an added bonus, you should send invitation to all of the local plastic surgeons and make-up artists. Let them set up booths offering their services, but charge them for the privilege. That should help fund the gathering.

    Just a thought.

  10. To the author: You are part of the problem.

    I know you'd like to think you're a part of the solution, and I give you credit for trying to help within the framework of your understanding. But once a person is neat and clean and dressed properly, it should be enough to go forward. People should get dressed up for Shabbos. People should even get dressed festively for a simcha. It's not necessary or even desirable for someone to get fully decked out for a date. I assume most people make themselves presentable when going out in public. I even understand if people take a little extra care in preparing for a date. But don't go overboard!

    In married life, do you expect the women to spend lots of time preparing themselves before their husband gets a glimpse of them for the first time every day? No? Then when does he get his rude awakening? During the first week of marriage? After the first year? The first baby?

    I think a better approach would be to educate the young men to not expect girls who they date and marry to look like models. This is artificial. No one looks like that in real life, and trying to look like that can be dangerous both physically (ever hear of anorexia?) and emotionally. For all that we protect our young men from seeing unclean magazines, movies, and television shows, often their concepts of what is beauty are shaped by what they see in the outside world as well as what we teach them to expect. This is unfortunate and damaging. The answer should be more along the lines of us teaching our young men and women to appreciate people for who they are rather than what they look like.

    I don't mean to look down on girls who choose to follow that path, as long as it's a personal choice and will make her feel better about herself. But to presume that girls who do not are somehow lacking is wrong and is not a fault of either the girl or their parents, and their choice should be respected.

  11. First "cosmetic and surgical procedures available" SURGERY?! you're out of your mind. I think eyebrow plucking is extreme. Plastic surgery has no place in the shidduch scene. Second, many frum girls are taught that it's immodest to wear make-up – it's not allowed in schools – they're going to show their middos to their future mother-in-law, not to a job interview at Hooters.
    I would expect a mother to be concerned that the woman her husband marries takes care of the house, the kids, has a good head on her shoulders, etc. She shouldn't be a Barbie doll.

  12. Melissa says:

    I married the cream of the crop when I was nineteen – and he met me at camp – no make-up, no nose job – I couldn’t be happier!

  13. I think it's OK to look down on girls who follow this path.

  14. While everyone should consult her own rav before embarking on surgery, there are poskim that allow plastic surgery if the cosmetic "defect" is significant enough to prevent a shidduch from taking place. Poskim who oppose plastic surgery do so on the grounds hold that the person should find a someone who accepts her as she is. The halachic decision is often dependent on the psychological stress that the person undergoes as a result of the appearance issue such as a large nose. All surgery carries the risk of infection, hemorrhage, and problems related to anesthesia. The benefit must outweigh the risk.
    As far as the rest of the suggestions, no one was ever harmed by wearing a bit of make-up and some jewelry. It is definitely not an new suggestion that women who are looking for shidduchim need to put effort into their appearances. Physical beauty has always been a desired quality but in different times and places, beauty was defined differently. Also, women have long been suffering in order to look beautiful. High heels are not new but at least today's foundation garments are not as uncomfortable as the corsets of hundreds of years ago were. Rabbonim have been cautioning men for centuries, not to choose wives based on beauty but to weigh in piety as well.
    Every woman has a choice in how she wants to look but if she chooses to look unattractive, why are we blaming men for not being interested?

  15. Tom Dratler says:

    That article cried out for a sarcastic response…

  16. Tom Dratler says:

    That article cried out for a sarcastic response. I was happy to respond:

    To the author:
    May I suggest a simplification to your solution?
    Let the overwrought prospective mothers-in-law stay home and let the kinderlach mingle amongst themselves (Perhaps you will find this scenario more acceptable if you think of it as a play date?).
    Thus the male children will be able to experiment with their under-developed (or non-existent) social skills in a safe and supervised environment. (I'm sure one could find a few kindergarten teachers available to supervise. As they will be dealing with adult children, tasers can be issued to prevent any improper activity).
    At the end of the evening, the male and female children can indicate their preferences to each other and (gasp!) exchange phone numbers.
    Once some common interest has been established, the prospective candidates can submit their resumes for parental review.
    As an added bonus, you should send invitation to all of the local plastic surgeons and make-up artists. Let them set up booths offering their services, but charge them for the privilege. That should help fund the gathering.
    Just a thought.

  17. Rachel Furman Stern says:

    Dear Yitta, I am not a 20 something girl looking for a shidduch. I am a widow in my 50's. I KNOW that I look at least ten years younger (when I am wearing my sheitel and make up and dressed nicely). But I am frequently passed over by men in their 50's who prefer to date women who are at least 10 or more years younger than themselves. The men who are interested in me are at least 10 or more years OLDER than me and I find them TOO OLD for me — they frequently look and feel like my FATHER! Interestingly enough, a man close to my age told me that I should spend money and time on my appearance — neither of which I have. Perhaps, if I had surgery, a nose job, a lap band, dental implants, botox, liposuction, and could invest in a month at a spa, perhaps I would find a husband! May I send you all the bills? My regular bills will need to be paid too — after all, I will be too busy beautifying myself to work. Please email me your address so I can send you my bills.

    Rachel Stern

  18. geula says:

    It is demeaning to reduce a girl to a few sentences.”
    Kol HaKavod for saying this – It is a shame belittling and seems contraindicated to everything Torah Judaism is all about

  19. Rachel, I couldn't make it past the first page (via the web site). This is all just too too weird

  20. Jere Finer says:

    Maybe something is wrong with the whole shidduch system. A very well known, VERY frum rav met his wife in the 1950's when he (from a very religious family) was a lifeguard and she (from a very religious family) was swimming at the pool. I can't imagine people going to that "extreme" these days, BUT MAYBE YOU FOLKS SHOULD LIGHTEN UP A LITTLE! Take the corks out of your bottoms and let young men and women meet in a natural setting such as weddings, shabbos tables and the like instead of keeping the Berlin Wall up between them. Sheesh!

  21. David Heller says:

    The streets run both ways, in parallel, though not on the same roadway. There are plenty of women who choose which men to date not based on character and other intangibles, but on criteria such as income, height, etc. If a person doesn't meet the criteria of a potential match, then the potential match doesn't meet the criteria of the person in question. Both should move on and not take it personally.

  22. Andrew Lillien says:

    The main problem is that the mothers are reading the resumes. The boys should read the resumes and mothers should butt out. There is no shidduch crisis. Just picky parents with ridiculous standards.

  23. Becky Ricklis says:

    Rachel (and Valerie), I made it to the end of page 3, but I just couldn't take it any longer. It was making me sick.

  24. David Heller says:

    Pnina Shields Eilberg Such resumes are no different from profiles on SawYouAtSinai, Frumster.com, Jdate, etc. From the guys perspective: when all the profiles sound alike, a guy will pick based on superficial criteria like the picture. If they all go to same or similar cheder, summer camps, universities, and they all do chesed and come from them same communities, and all want guys who learn, then the the only remaining distinctions are physical and superficial. Perhaps the real problem is not the guys, or the gals, but the frum mindset and peer pressure to conform in lockstep to social/communal conventions and that condemns women over 24 to the status of old-maid. If you want to marry a stereotype, then date stereotypes. Ignore the converts, the BTs, the kids who remained shomer mitzvot while enrolled in a unique educational program at a a Big 10 or small liberal arts school instead of YU/Stern. Ignore the guy who can make only a little time to learn while he's pursuing a professional career to afford the yeshiva tuition for your many future children. There are ways to happy marriage other than pursuing merely the things that make your parents and Rav happy.

  25. Sara Wolf says:

    Very superifical society

  26. Many years ago, someone I know married a very beautiful woman – always did her makeup, always looked great. Shortly after their wedding, she was in an accident, and her face was wounded. I'm glad her husband married her for the woman she was, not for her looks. I'm sure that during the time that she was swollen and bruised and cut up, he was glad that he hadn't only married an attractive woman, but a kind, loving, intelligent woman too.
    B"H – she healed completely, but it took a very long time. Thank G-d, he could look past her cuts and bruises and see a wonderful woman.

  27. Rebecca Levitan says:

    Unless we've started promoting some new-fangled lifestyle where the mother AND her son marry a girl, I CAN NOT understand why the mother would have anything to do with picking out the girl. If these 'boys' are not mature enough to pick out who they're going to date themselves, then perhaps they should not be dating.

  28. Rebecca Levitan says:

    Additionally, WHY does it have to be the GIRL who changes everything? Are you going to start promoting that boys get hairplugs if they're balding? Start dieting if they're pudgy? Tanning if they're pasty? Classes on ironing and laundry so they don't dress like a schlump? A relationship is a TWO-WAY street. If guys cant put the effort in for the girls, WHY do the girls need to put in all the effort for the guys?

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