A recent article in The Jewish Press (Purim And The Tyranny of Beauty, Family Issues, March 16, 2012) written by writer and author Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum generated, and continues to generate, quite a buzz.
Many people agreed with her observations and conclusions – others were indignant, even furious.
Yitta wrote about a rather unique social gathering that she was invited to – as a mother of an “eligible” boy. A gathering whose concept I personally found rather disconcerting. I would best describe it as being a meet/”meat” market, where mothers could shop around for a spouse for their son.
Yitta accepted the invitation that had been extended by a woman whom she respects and admires, and, like any journalist worth her salt, reported on what she saw.
While she greatly admired what she viewed – the courage of these would-be future wives of Israel putting themselves in what she felt was a potentially uncomfortable situation (I know this event was launched with the best of intentions, but I cannot help but see it as a marketplace where hapless “older” singles were to be appraised like merchandise by potential “buyers”‘ – at least on a date it’s a two way street) – Yitta nonetheless opined that many of these young women came to the event dressed and coiffed in a way that did not enhance their looks. Many she observed seemed to be wearing no makeup at all.
Yitta expressed her shocked dismay that quite a few of the young women seemingly did not attempt to do what they could to look their best that evening – or any evening for that matter, as they were overweight, had unflattering hairstyles, etc.
Yitta suggested what to many people were extreme measures to turn an ugly duckling into a swan – including cosmetic and plastic surgery.
While some in the community agreed with her assessment, many others skewered her; aghast that she felt erliche bochrim and their pious, righteous mothers would focus on the superficial. They were upset that Yitta was suggesting that mothers of learning boys would be so shallow as to not see past these bnot Yisrael‘s crooked teeth, size 14 waists, etc. and be dazzled by their inner beauty.
But Yitta was just being the messenger – she was telling it like it is – and the fact is looks do matter and this reality cannot be made to go away despite vehement protests to the contrary.
Time to take the head out of the chulent pot! It’s not a secret that many middle aged women, mothers of shidduch age daughters, fanatically exercise and diet themselves into size 4’s, knowing full well that as they open the door to the bochur taking their daughter out, his eyes will be looking her up and down as he tries to get a glimpse of what his potential wife might look like 25 years into the future.
How this would be mother-in-law looks could influence the length of that first date. The bigger the double chin, the shorter the date – even if the girl herself is rail thin.
Yitta, motivated by genuine ahavas Yisrael, bravely “walked the walk” on an unpopular highway, and offered valuable, but difficult to hear, advice. She did not create this situation – and having herself “been there and done that” she honestly shared her informed opinion on a possibly remedy.
But Yitta’s “tough love” approach is not what motivated me to write about her article.
Her “unorthodox” (pun intended) but meritous suggestions should not have generated controversy – rather the meeting itself should have.
Has getting a shidduch in our community really come to this bizarre state of affairs, what can only be described as speed dating between mothers-in-law and potential daughters-in-law or a matrimonial job fair where you interview for the position of wife, with the CEO (his mother) reviewing your shidduch resume and personally assessing your qualifications?
Whatever happened to young men meeting young women and spending a few hours together and then each of them making a somewhat informed decision as to where to go from there?
It seems with every passing decade, our sons are being infantilized. There was a time not so long ago when men would seek out a wife, marry, and support her and the children they would have. The husband would be the “man of the house,” the household’s primary breadwinner – or at the very least co-breadwinner, if the wife was employed.
In recent years, however, it has become fashionable for young married men to not be required to work – for years.
Instead, their fathers/fathers-in-law are doing the financial supporting, just as they do for their single children still at home.
Sure it’s wonderful to immerse yourself in Torah, but doing that for years means the men doing the supporting cannot retire or cut down on their working hours – thus they have to minimize or postpone their own learning. How fair is that?