Warning: prepare for a rant.It's a big one.
Last week, Facebook was seemingly set aflame with posts and discussions relating to a certain Jewish Press article, wherein a frum mother of a single son expressed her sympathy for girls who are having a hard time with the Shidduch system, and who are losing hope that they’ll ever find a husband. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of the article (that’s what the link is for... yes, I linked it twice), but tell you instead that somewhere in the meat of the text, the point stops being the unfair treatment of women in the Shidduch system and instead becomes… how women aren’t pretty enough.
The author expresses her knowledge that her opinion will anger readers, but goes on to state how the girls at a “meet your future mother-in-law” event (again: what?) were “shlumpy.” Little or no makeup, not the nicest clothes… she expresses her view that maybe the girls would actually find husbands if they put more work into their appearance.
I already have a problem with this, but not enough to rant about it (I could even possibly see her point). THIS is where the spit hits the proverbial fan for me: the author’s recommendation that girls put more effort into their appearance…by getting nose jobs, investing in liposuction, artificially straightening their hair, and losing massive amounts of weight. And worse, using Megillat Esther to further “prove” that this is what women should do. After all, it’s a wife’s “job” to look good for her husband, isn’t it? Didn’t the women who were brought to King Achashveirosh in hopes of becoming queen prepare, perfume, and pamper for a full year before ever meeting him?
Oh, God, the agony. Seriously. I don’t tend to get enraged at articles, especially opinion pieces. But this one just struck a nerve. My problems with it are so numerous, I barely know where to start. Which flaw do I bring forth as the worst of the worst? How exactly do I prioritize here?
I guess I’ll start by pointing out that this woman has entirely missed the lesson of that portion of Megillat Esther. The text makes a point of stating that while all these women focused on their beauty in all that preparation, Esther did not accept any of the products and perfumes offered her. She instead “found favor in the eyes of all who beheld her”… but it doesn’t claim that this is because of her appearance. In the end, it is Esther, the one who didn’t accept all those beauty aids, who was chosen Queen. Lesson? Change your appearance, and you’ll become… a concubine. Can we please not take Tanach out of context and change its point to further our own?
But this leads me further into the bowels of the problem, that is how girls are judged, in all of modern society but especially in the Shidduch system. It is well known that self-esteem is a problem for many girls. The emphasis placed on appearances is so great, so overwhelming at times, that it does the dual job of convincing girls that they are ugly and guys that they are entitled to wedding and bedding supermodels. And in many places (but especially the Shidduch system), I see much less pressure of the same sort put on men. The way the author talked about her own son, coupled with her account of how every guy receives all of these résumés of single girls while the women sit nervously by the phone waiting for them to call back, makes me wonder… what are they telling their sons about women? Do the men also believe that only the most beautiful woman is worth getting to know?
An exaggeration, of course… oh, God, how I hope I’m exaggerating.
First, and most importantly, because I shouldn’t have to. I am, thank God, blessed with a wonderful and supportive family that has always accepted me the way I am, and has always told me that I am at my best the way God made me. My self-esteem when it comes to my appearance is far from great, as anyone who knows me can tell you, but I have never truly thought I was hideous. But even if I was, who are you to tell me the way God made me wasn’t good enough? Why should I have to pay thousands of dollars and take needless health risks just to please some guy, his mother, and society’s sky-high expectations? And why should you? I was always told to love myself before I expected others to do the same, and that confidence would be the key to finding happiness. Maybe that’s what these people should be teaching their kids.
Second, because surgery, even cosmetic surgery, carries some pretty heavy risks. If you want to get a nose job, or already got one, go ahead. You’re welcome to. That’s your choice, and if it gives you the confidence you need, kol ha’kavod, great for you. But why do some girls think that they need one, and put themselves in unnecessary danger? And the danger is there. One of my best friends knew a beautiful teenage girl who was thrilled to receive a nose job, and who died on the operating table from complications with the anesthesia. A “better” (and I say “better” because I’ve seen some obviously “fixed” noses that I can’t imagine choosing willingly) nose isn’t worth your life.
It’s sad, but it’s an unfortunate reality of our community, one that I’ve recently been forced to face. I hate to look at it this way, but sometimes it seems that the dating game has become a fearsome competition. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m certain this objectification of women, by women, isn’t helping matters.
But no matter how many answers and diatribes I can muster against this article, none will come close to one I read in the comment section underneath that article. It was a mature, well-written response by a woman who wished the author luck on eventually walking her child down the aisle at his wedding, something she herself could no longer look forward to, since her daughter died of anorexia. It had been the words of a well-meaning shadchen that had driven her to her illness, a suggestion that she lose some weight in order to make herself more “marketable” to men. She was a size 6 at the time.
For those of you who don’t know women’s sizes, a 6 is a healthy size, even on the thin side depending on your height. But that’s kind of irrelevant now. When I read this woman’s story, I cried. For her, for her daughter, and for all the nice, single girls who would read this article, look at themselves, and wonder whether it was aimed at them. What more can I say? I’m deeply saddened by this whole thing. But there’s only so many times you can tell someone they’re beautiful the way they are before someone undoes it all with one thoughtless word.