Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Advice Under The Knife: My Response to Halberstam

By Mimi Hecht
Mimi Hecht is a stark contrast to the by-the-books, food pureeing, self-sacrificing supermom that many women feel pressured to live up to. Her articles like “The 10 Untruths about Motherhood” and “My Mama Manual” offer women an honest and humorous take on both the joys and hardships in trying to stay sane, stylish and spiritual in Motherland. Through her candor in addressing things like infertility, the high price of groceries or her mind-battle over circumcising her son, Mimi strives to inspire confidence in women and teach new moms to march to the beat of their own drum. To share her thoughts and celebrate all kinds of mothers, she started LADYMAMA a growing online community of modern-day Jewish women. Follow LadyMama on Facebook at facebook.com/JewishWomen

Advice Under the Knife: My Response to Halberstam 

There's vanity...and then there's vanity.

Upon reading Yitta Halberstam's (co-author of "Small Miracles") recent Jewish Press article, entitled "Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim," I couldn't decide what gave me the heebeejeebees more: Her rambling about her beloved son who is inundated with resumes and offers; her pathetic attempt to make a Purim lesson from her deranged thoughts on beauty; the unabashed twisting of stories of famous Rabbis to make her point; a very feigned attempt at empathizing with the plight of single girls—the list goes on. But even though the entire thing has every reader considering whether or not the article is perhaps a satire, her opening—in which she actually readies herself for a backlash from readers—makes me think she was actually being quite serious. 

Halberstam writes about attending a Shidduch event where mother's and young single girls would be introduced to each other, to help bypass the inevitable stumbling blocks of resumes and help get properly acquainted with single girls in real life. Perhaps overbearing mothers should have been suggested as the problem. But instead, Halberstam goes on to explain her surprise at how most the girls in attendance did not seem to be wearing makeup and were certainly not, as she says, "decked out." She tries to build a case that even the most modest and pure religious boy looks for an attractive girl and "What were they thinking? How had their mothers allowed them to leave their homes with limp hair and unadorned faces?" Through a series of pretty low statements, Halberstam reveals her belief that girls today must make significant improvements and even consider plastic surgery in order to up their chances of getting married. 

Even had she not blatantly encouraged young single girls to consider cosmetic surgery, her article would have still been grotesque. Her condescending undertones that push an emphasis on physicality that  would make even the most vain person cringe. But the fact that she brazenly suggest plastic surgery as an acceptable form of cosmetic enhancement and tries to present this as a solution for the Shidduch crisis is appalling. The fact we she shares an adherence to the same religion and even community is downright petrifying. 

I'm not sure if Mrs. Halberstam believes in a G-d or not, but I do. The G-d I believe in makes matches for all sorts of people—the tall, the short, the fat, the skinny, the pimply, the crooked nosed...even people missing limbs or suffering from body-altering conditions find loving, healthy relationships. Sure, aesthetics are a fact of life, especially when dealing with helping men and women choose partners. But encouraging a girl to try and look her best is very different than suggesting mothers to "confront the need to make our daughters as shidduch-worthy as possible, no matter what it takes." (And I quote: "Borrow the money if you have to.")

Halberstam, who admits to having a nose job when she was younger, claims that "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." It makes me wonder if she thinks she's dealing with some MTV reality show and forgot that most Jewish singles who abide by the Shidduch dating system still have an iota of respect and faith in the principles and priorities of authentic Judaism—nevermind humanity at large! Her views weren't just out of line with the religion she claims to represent, but would be shocking to any descent person of the world. 

More than being incredibly insulting to single girls everywhere, her statements is even more abhorrent when you consider that she claims to represent single men today. Maybe I just don't run in the same materialistic, vain and gruesome circles as Mrs. Halberstam, but most men I know are not excited by overuse of makeup and certainly would not desire that their future wife have undergone cosmetic surgeries. Despite the stereotypes that men have (and I don't deny that they are the more physically-driven of the sexes!), it's flat-out disgusting denial of the reality that most men are very capable of keeping their eye on the deeper, more important aspects when considering a potential spouse. Perhaps in her quest to alter the faces of young singles today, Halberstam is revealing more about her dear son than anything else. I wish him luck. 

When I was looking for my soulmate, the fact that I was 5"11 and taller than what seemed like 90% of potential suitors certainly made things move slower. I was intent on marrying a tall man. Furthermore, many men are intimidated by tall women or, well, it's just not their look! That's fine. Perhaps if I wanted to make things easier I should have cut a portion of my legs and reattached my feet. But no, the same G-d that gave me my eyes, hair and nose also made me tall. And he had a husband for me, too. An exceptional man who loves my height and my makeup-less face—but mostly just loves me because I am so obviously his soulmate in a myriad of deep ways. Imagine that. 

Mrs. Halberstam, I can introduce you to many beautiful women who—even with their big noses or droopy eyes or  pimples or frizzy hair or extra pounds—found their soulmates. Being deserving of marriage and love and happiness when you're not some imaginary man's idea of physical perfection? Wow! What a concept! 

My blood boiled reading Halberstam's example of an older single woman who "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!...But…guess what? She’s getting married next month!” She should really make sure no one can get her address, because she would surely see rocks through her windows for unabashedly using this story to build her case.  

Halberstam closes her article with wishes that young women use her advice to build a Jewish home that is an everlasting edifice. Meanwhile, striving to mirror her ill priorities is actually the antedote to a deep and meaningful life. 

To any single women out there who have ever felt the wrath of pressure to alter their looks to win dates, I urge you: Do not accept any advice that crosses the line from "Put your best foot forward" and into "You're not good enough" or "You're inherently undesirable and need to change." If there is a G-d in the world, there is no such thing.  You only need to be good enough and pretty enough and smart enough for one person, and that man will see you for the beautiful woman you undoubtedly are. 

Mrs. Halberstam, it will take a "big miracle" for you to become a trusted and positive voice on the issue of Jewish dating. In your disingenuous effort to help cure a crisis, you have perpetuated the problem. Congratulations on becoming yet one more example of what today's young Jewish singles have to overcome in their attempt to be themselves and live up to Judaism's core priorities in a world that is already so blinding and full of pressures. What young singles need today is support, practical tools to aid in their search and to be kept in mind for prospective suitors. What they don't need is some ranting mother who, although she may have found her husband via nose job, apparently lost all her good sense.

25 LadyMama voices:

Doctor Booba said... [Reply to comment]

Wow, you're even angrier than me, I didn't think that was possible!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Perhaps her entire motivation for writing this piece was to announce to the world that she had a nose job? Some people are proud of strange things.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I think I love you Mimi


Chanalesings said... [Reply to comment]

I think you both are going a little overboard here. Surely dying hair, teeth bleaching and a good brow shaping can do wonders for a girl, and many a single girls lose interest in making the effort. Mimi, I am sure your husband loves you just the way you are but think about how much time you spend grooming each month so you can look and feel attractive for him. Married women spend plenty of time taking care of themselves and single girls have something coming if they think they can just be 'au natural' all the time. Men appreciate beauty, and for centeries women have been beautifying themselves for their husbands. The kiyor was made of mirrors that the women used to help them look pretty and attract their husbands. No, plastic surgery should not be the road to love, but self improvement both inside and out should not be taken for granted. I think both of the articles are over agressive actually. I see her point, and yours by the way and think there is a happy medium to be found.

Jaz said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you Mimi! I was hoping I could count on you for a good response to that meshugas. I could hardly believe what I was reading when I saw the original article this morning.

sil said... [Reply to comment]

Well written mimi! Totally agree with you.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

For the record, (and in line with mimi's point) the Kiyor was not made with mirrors the women used to beautify themselves, read the Rashi again, it was used from mirrors the women used to have their husbands look at themselves and realize that they were not as great as they thought...

At the same time Mimi, I think there is a balance. I nearly went on a date with my worn and wrinkled weekday jacket and a borrowed old car. Thank G-d a (married) fried pointed out that our of respect to the girl I really must wear my Shabbos jacket, and rent a car.

Depending on the perspective where the girl is at, this article may be a real taboo buster, the first article that, instead of telling everyone that you only look inside actually has the guts to say, that's what the date is really for and must be what the aim is - but dress at least like you would for a job interview. And if you dress like you are going out with someone important, no one will complain.

As far as the plastic surgery, there are segments of society that need to learn that it is ridiculous to feel you need surgery to belong, and there are segments that need to hear that it is not a sin, and in fact it is a tool that might help. Why does someone, in today's day and age need to live with a real blemish, or even a nose they are not proud of (within reason) if PS is a perfectly good option?
it all depends on the attitude and balance...

Marni said... [Reply to comment]


I agree that both men AND women need to put their best foot forward when dating: wear clean and unwrinkled clothes, get a haricut, don't wear shoes with holes, etc. But a nose job? Gastric bypass? SERIOUSLY?!?

My husband once dated a girl with dark facial hair. They dated once. Then he met me- I have my own flaws, but we got married anyway! The girl with facial hair? She didn't bleach it and got married anyway...What works for some doesn't work for others. That's why we believe there is ONE bashert!

Princess Lea said... [Reply to comment]

For those who say one should make an effort for a date, yes, they should. As Halberstam herself said, girls always manage to look presentable by weddings.

The difference here? The girls were meeting fellow women, and perhaps they were naive enough to believe that other females wouldn't demand makeup, etc, but focus on their personalities.

Dressing up for a date is not the same as making marriage all about looks.

I'm tall, too. I can't help that - they haven't made a procedure for shrinking females. Even if there was, I wouldn't want to avail myself of that option.

I like MYSELF. And that is what it comes down to, as I wrote in my own post regarding this article.

One is supposed to be confident. I need mascara before I go out in the morning to feel that confidence. And other people sense that confidence.

A man is not interested in a girl wallowing in self-inflicted misery over her looks. That is why so many "un-pretty" people are still appealing.

And poor Halberstam still has no idea what sort of girl her son will end up with. Either way, she will have to bite her tongue. I guarantee it.

sarahle said... [Reply to comment]

All I thought when I read the article was; "Mrs. Halberstam, you say that there are lots of resumes and shidduch offers for your son. Well, I feel bad for your son now because you just about anounced to the world "Don't marry my son! You will also get an overbearing,fake nosed, judges by looks mother in law!" How enticing! And I wish her the best of luck actually finding her son a shidduch now!!!!

sarahle said... [Reply to comment]

All I thought when I read the article was; "Mrs. Halberstam, you say that there are lots of resumes and shidduch offers for your son. Well, I feel bad for your son now because you just about anounced to the world "Don't marry my son! You will also get an overbearing,fake nosed, judges by looks mother in law!" How enticing! And I wish her the best of luck actually finding her son a shidduch now!!!!

Chanalesings said... [Reply to comment]

Anonymous: For the record did read the Rashi again:

(11th century, France) attempts to explain by referring to a graphic and poignant Midrash Tanchuma: "the Jewish women had mirrors in their possession that they used to beautify themselves, and they were prepared to part even with them for the sake of contributing towards the building of the Mishkan.  Moshe wanted to reject such a donation, for the mirrors were instruments of the Evil Inclination.  God, however, told him: 'accept them, they are more precious to Me than anything else, for by them the women brought forth multitudes of offspring in Egypt

Chanalesings said... [Reply to comment]

To further explain: Their mirrors, initially derided by Moshe as instruments of vanity and self-beautification, were accepted by God Himself as the most meaningful contribution of all, for those instruments of 'vision' had helped secure the future of the Jewish people.  There is a legitimate and important place, the Midrash seems to suggest, for beauty and attention to one's appearance, for these things as well can be used in the service of God

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I didn't say look up quotes of what Rashi says, I said look up the rashi again.
Here is what I meant:(you can see the whole Rashi in context Ex 38:8 ...When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.”...
for a women to beautify herself, she doesn't need to bring the mirror to the field, and she certainly doesn't need the husband to look in the mirror with her! The point seems that Moshe was concerned that the mirrors were used for vanity, and Hashem responds that it was the opposite, it was for the husbands to see the truth. self aggrandizing is the opposite of the humility needed in a relationship. self honesty, leading to humility is what led to the next generation of the Jewish people...

Chanalesings said... [Reply to comment]

Im sorry but for the second time, what you are saying doesnt make sense. Not here to have a Halachic debate with an anonymous bochurin a wrinkled jacket anyways, lol!

RunningSam said... [Reply to comment]

I have to agree with Chanalesings. I think she made her point beautifully.

While advocating that every girl with a large nose (or whatever) should have plastic surgery is clearly ridiculous, so is dismissing beauty enhancing techniques like makeup, or even more invasive procedures like teeth whitening.

Yes, there is a match for everybody out there - fat, skinny, tall, short, pimply, etc - and yes we're supposed to look past the shallow physicality to the important personality inside, but we're all only human.

Single and married men and women alike have a responsibility to properly groom themselves, wear flattering tzniusdike clothing, etc. etc.

Putting your best foot forwards means using the tools we have to enhance the natural beauty Hashem has given us, and there's nothing wrong with telling a girl to use more (or less - some girls overdo it) makeup, take the time to style their hair, or lose some weight (which has both health and beauty benefits).

Even plastic surgery has its place (R'L some people have blemishes and deformities), although it should clearly not be a blanket remedy. People have to learn to accept themselves - that's the most effective beauty enhancing tool anyone can use.

Mimi Hecht said... [Reply to comment]

Just showing up here to note that I never made any objection about looking ones best and putting best foot forward -- obviously one should put the utmost effort into presenting themselves properly and looking attractive! My response is about the way she focused her article as a solution for the Shidduch crisis, and the obscene way she brings up cosmetic surgery as a normative option (NOT just for people with real blemishes or deformities!). I hope we can all agree this is ludicrous.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]


Chanalesings, to respond albeit out of order, I am not a bochur in a wrinkled Jacket. The shiduch went well, and B"H (with much thanks to the advice of that friend :) I am happily married.

If you read my post you will see that I am not putting down the effort to look good, on the contrary I am supporting Mrs. H. I am not opposing Mimi's issue either since many people need to hear it.

My point was the need for balance, in both directions. I especially applaud her guts for coming out in favor of plastic surgery to a segment of the community that probably thinks it is an enormous sin, even for obvious blemishes. (and kudos to Mimi for speaking out and making sure it doesn't harm anyone in the other direction)

the understanding of the Rashi was an interesting anecdote on the side. If you want to be sure of the point, please look up the Rashi and read it in it's entirety. I felt it was clear that although Hashem credits the mirrors for the new generation it was because they gave the husbands humility, not because the women beautified themselves. (the beautifying is only mentioned in Moshe's hesitancy, not it the ultimate clarification of what they were used for). There are many places in the Torah where it teaches the importance of beauty (and many wiser and greater than me use this rashi as well). I just hope that on the other side of the shiduch isle, the guys see this explanation as well. Nearly everyone can benefit from a deep, honest look in the mirror, and use the humility it brings to appreciate the person it is that they eventually marry.

Baila said... [Reply to comment]

I did not even finish reading your response because the way in which you did so made you no better than the author of the original article. You attacked her to support your argument and your article just sounded like lashon hora to me. I think her idea was presented wrong but its main concept is not untruthful. You could have made a better and frummer argument by disputing her ideas which she is entitled to as you are your's instead of attacking her. Yes her point was pushed too far, but in my mind, yours was not even made. I hope you can take this in a non defensive way and learn from it as I am sure you are amazing and did not mean to do it on purpose.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

It now appears to have been a very well written satire piece.... But the conversation brewing is sensational. :D

Mimi Hecht said... [Reply to comment]

Source? If it was then I'll be even more upset, just like the raging singles that have contacted me after this. I really dont believe it though...do if you can please send any information you have...

Mimi Hecht said... [Reply to comment]

Source? If it was then I'll be even more upset, just like the raging singles that have contacted me after this. I really dont believe it though...do if you can please send any information you have...

Mimi Hecht said... [Reply to comment]

I just read her response to the outlash. It was not satire. She even repeats that she was "just trying to help."

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Kudos Mimi!! Very well said. Thank you for expressing this for all of us. This should be printed in the Jewish Press as a response to the article.

justwannameetmysoulmate@gmail.com said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you Mimi!
After reading Halberstams article which my family shoved in my face to show me how serious beauty (by definition of Halberstam likes)is when it comes to shidduchim would give me the extra push to lose some weight. I was very disturbed by the article and even more disturbed that my family thought this was the "kick" i would need.
I'm not deaf, dumb or blind, I know guys are more attracted to a girl who is drop dead beautiful with a D cup and a 25" waistline, than me, a well dressed pretty, career girl with good hair and makeup, but do those things last?
I've met guys that are mouth dropping handsome...till they open their mouths-and when I was done puking, I tried to figure out what was it that I found so handsome about him to begin with. On the other end of the spectrum, I'm met guys who were shlumps, had ugly noses or big bushy beard and almost gagged...till they opened their mouths-when they were done talking, they were much better looking. Ya know what? If one marry a shlump- one can teach him how to dress and if need be pick out his clothes lol. If one marry a man with bad midos-well you cant change a person from the inside.
Beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Are you going out with a person or a photoshopped photo? If I lost the weight (naturally or via surgery), yes guys would be more attracted to my picture and more willing to go out with me, but I will still be the same person. Beauty is only skin deep...it won't hold a marriage together, won't cook meals, and it won't raise kids.
Bottom line, put your best foot forward and say yes to a date even if you dont like the picture (i've done that a few times myself). Concentrate on the conversation and connection rather than staring and taking mental notes whether you like the way your date looks or not. YOU are not perfect, neither is your date. Your quirks are part of who you are and will help you fit into your soulmates puzzle piece.
A good line I read recently "If the guys are not Calvin Klein models, they should not expect Victoria Secret models" (same thing goes v.v)
Anyone know of a guy with a big heart, communicates well and can look past a dress size...drop me a line :)