Thanks to ProfK, I became aware of this Jewish Press article yesterday. [If your sensitivities are like mine, do not click on that link within an hour after eating.] Mrs. Yitta Halberstam, the author of the article, contends that girls should be encouraged to examine their looks and undertake cosmetic transformation, including surgery, to improve their chances of finding a shidduch [or, as we see in the article, finding mothers-in-law who will approve of them as a shidduch for their sons].
The concept of pursuing beauty for the sake of a shidduch is old; I've given shiurim on the conflicting views presented by Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg on the topic of cosmetic surgery for a shidduch, and the positions of various poskim. And you can see my thoughts on the importance of beauty in an old post ("You're so vain") here. I get it. But the message in this woman's article, and the way she puts it, is stomach-turning for me.
Here's an excerpt, describing a gathering the author attended. Believe it or not, the gathering was for mothers of eligible bachelors to meet eligible young women who might date their sons - that's right, the mother-in-law is now the chair of the Search Committee:
Let me tell you about this particular population of girls: They were between the ages of 21 and 24, and mostly seeking “learning boys.” (The organizers’ plan for the future is to hold additional events for other age groups and different categories of boys: learners/earners, professionals, working boys only, etc.) They were eidel, frum, sincere, intelligent, and committed to the learning ideal. But even the most temimasdika ben Torah is looking for a wife whom he finds attractive. Yes, spiritual beauty makes a woman’s eyes glow and casts a luminous sheen over her face; there is no beauty like a pure soul. Make-up, however, goes a long way in both correcting facial flaws and accentuating one’s assets, and if my cursory inspection was indeed accurate (and I apologize if the girls used such natural make-up that I simply couldn’t tell), barely any of these girls seemed to have made a huge effort to deck themselves out.
Since most of the young women at chasunas seem quite presentable, I couldn’t shake off my sense of disbelief as I looked around now. What were they thinking? How had their mothers allowed them to leave their homes with limp hair and unadorned faces? With just a little blush, eyeliner and lip-gloss, they could have gone from average to pretty. There are very few women who can’t use a little extra help. Even the most celebrated magazine models can look downright plain when stripped of all cosmetics, al achas kamah v’kamah girls who are not born with perfect features. So what was going on? Were they in denial about the qualities young men are seeking in future wives? Yes, it is somewhat disillusioning that men dedicated to full-time Torah learning possess what these girls might perceive are superficial values, but brass tacks: they want a spouse to whom they are attracted. The young men themselves might be too shy or ashamed to admit it, but their mothers won’t hesitate to ask what for some is the deal maker/deal breaker question, namely: “Is she pretty?”
Thankfully, every one’s conception of attractiveness is different; beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and a woman’s intellect, personality and soul can have a tremendous bearing on the way in which her beauty is perceived. Still, there is trying, and then there is not trying. The mystery perplexed me: Why hadn’t some of the girls gone overboard in presenting themselves in the best possible light? I felt like shaking them in despair. As I further scanned the room (I had started assuming the role of disembodied observer once I realized that I was at the wrong event; my son is learning full time now, but plans to pursue a Ph.D so he wasn’t appropriate for this particular group), I could not help but notice the number of girls who could have vastly improved their appearances–gone from plain Jane to truly beautiful–if they simply made some effort.
This strikes me as so wrong, on so many levels. I'll pick just two:
1. Legitimization of the Beauty Pageant - Yes, boys are attracted by attractive women. And yes, the mishnah at the end of Taanis describes women from the time of the second Beis haMikdash luring men by saying תנו עיניכם ביופי, "Look who beautiful we are." But (1) That was a different psychological world in many ways, and it should not necessarily be re-created, and (2) They also said "Look how wealthy we are," and I don't see Mrs. Halberstam suggesting women should go out and get advanced job training to make a lot of money in order to attract a gold-digging shidduch and/or mother-in-law.
2. The role of the mother-in-law - I would hate to be such a woman's daughter-in-law.
Can you imagine what will happen every time this eventual mother-in-law wishes to visit? Is the daughter-in-law going to need to pretty herself in the maternity ward after giving birth, apply lipstick while cleaning up after a two-year-old, or work on her mascara while juggling multiple children and job, in order to convince her mother-in-law that she is doing everything possible to appease her husband's need for aesthetic satisfaction?
And beyond the immediate "No woman [who won't prettify herself] is good enough for my son" arena, what will this do to the family dynamic, in general? Now that we're appointing the mother-in-law as Chair of the Search Committee, is she ever going to abandon that position?
I would go on, but - what's the use.