A Cosmetic Solution to the Shidduch Problem

Nose job to get a shidduch?In a marriage market where men are scarce, Yitta Halberstam of the Jewish Press advises young women to take care with their appearance.

Update: Halberstam Defends Her Stance

Ironically, Halberstam noticed the neglected appearance of the Beis Yaakov grads at an event intended to humanize the shidduch process. In the current system, eligible young men like her son sift through dozens of “shidduch resumes”. Since only so much comes through on paper, the event allowed mothers of sons to interview a (larger) number of prospective daughters-in-law. In some Israeli chasidic communities, mothers go out on “dates” with their potential wives, and the couple meet only once or twice before making a decision.

I don’t have a problem with her message, as long as she applies it to the young men as well. People make first impressions based on appearance, and while we wish that weren’t so, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. If Halberstam had said this in four lines instead of  four pages, her message might have been heard.

Unfortunately, she went too far, writing: “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.” Halberstam shares that as a young woman she got a nose job, went on a diet and straightened her hair in order to get a husband. She also rejoices over a 40-year-old who is now happily married, after Botox, bariatric surgery and dental treatment.

How depressing that Halberstam recommends borrowing money, not to mention surgery, so flippantly. Bariatric surgery has serious risks, and cosmetic breast surgery can limit future breastfeeding successy. A heart-wrenching comment to the article blames a shadchan’s (matchmaker’s) weight-loss recommendation for a daughter’s fatal anorexia.

While appearances matter in the secular world, the shidduch system actively promotes superficiality. While in the secular world, a man and women might choose each other because of appearance, profession, or financial status. But dating success depends on actually forming a relationship. The shidduch system is all about marketing.

A couple who gets to know each other over a reasonable period of time will have the best chances of marital success. Getting “the best girl”, even after vetting by Mom, won’t help much if the son has major personality flaws or is unable to form an emotional connection. How many mothers have a really good idea of the kind of woman who would be best for her son?

Halberstam does mention a much more serious issue, which is that men look for younger and younger women while the older singles stay on the shelf. Putting on makeup won’t fix that problem. And no one talks about money. but girls from wealthy families have a better chance and not because they can afford a nose job. If you don’t get offered a rich girl the first year, simply hold out until you do.

Halberstam also offends when she tries not to “revel” in her good fortune at having so many choices. Because when it comes down to it, having more options is no guarantee of a successful marriage. Whether marriage, employment and house-hunting, you only need one in the end. So choose wisely.

Update: Halberstam Defends Her Stance

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  1. I couldn’t get through the article, but I did see a comment somewhere which said it was a Purim spoof…you may want to see if you can confirm this!

    • I saw that suggestion, but I will wait for an official announcement. So many of these stories seem like satire when they’re not!

    • Since the article is dated and was posted on March 19, what could be the spoof? Purim was a week and a half ago, wasn’t it?

      • The article was posted, taken down and then reposted. I read it when it was at 73 comments, and then it disappeared. Several hours later it was back, with all of the old comments and new comments, including those complaining of lack of journalistic integrity. Apparently when the article was reposted some comments disagreeing with the article were removed until the Jewish Press received enough complaints to force them to return them.

  2. Shidduchim is hard. But it’s not as bad as she is making out… But I guess this is a newspaper and they are looking for something newsworthy!
    The marriage market works a bit differently in the chareidi world, but I think it certainly has it’s advantages. When I got engaged to my husband after about 12 dates, my co-worker almost cried with frustration. She was dying for the guy she had been dating for 5 years to finally “feel ready.” BH they did get married about a year later! I have other friends who’s long-term hopeful relationships didn’t go that way. They are now in their 30s and feeling quite lost!
    Even though there seems to be a ridiculous over-emphasis on looks and dress size in some communities, overall I think the shidduch system protects women.
    To misquote Orwell: “Shidduchim is the worst form of dating… except for all the others”

  3. When you first posted the article, I was waiting for your footnoted treatment about everything that is wrong with this. I’m glad you gave it such a thoughtful response. I was hung up on her smugness (her son is so sought after–but of course he is going to get a PhD!)–I’m glad you addressed the issue that choice doesn’t necessarily mean the best match if the guy is not looking for the right qualities that will click with him.
    It has also never seemed to me that some segments of the haredi world need to be told to place more emphasis on how girls look. My Hungarian hassidish relatives have always seemed to place a great deal of emphasis on looks, buying the most expensive clothes, etc. When I lived in J-m, I would see shidduch dates where the girls obviously took great care about their looks and the guys did not.
    And very frightening to think of the mothers doing all the selecting. And offensive to place the burden of this crazy system of shidduchim on the poor girls who seem to be the victims of the system.

  4. I would be really turned off if I found out that a potential daughter-in-law had a nose job. But I might also be offended if she wasn’t wearing ANY make-up, just as much as if she was wearing shlumpy clothing. Women will always be judged on their outward appearance, by men and other women. Humans are not sensitive enough to know someone’s thoughts and soul when meeting them once. But we do have a choice in our appearance. I think the goal is to put your best foot forward without looking desperate. I’d say surgery that doesn’t correct an obviously detracting flaw (like missing teeth) is crossing the desperate line.

    • “Humans are not sensitive enough to know someone’s thoughts and soul when meeting them once. ”

      Really? Most of the people I’ve been close to in my life (including my husband) i connected to nearly instantly. I very often get into quite interesting and intense conversations with perfect strangers (happened to my last week when I bought new glasses and got into a lovely deep conversation with one of the saleswomen for 30 minutes). I think people with an open attitude towards life and other people naturally connect to others even after one meeting.

      • good for you! I still judge a book by its cover. Are they male or female? Religious? Do they look like they work in an office or do the have spit up on their shoulder and snot on their skirt? I still remember when I first saw one of my best friends, I thought, “I like her style.” She was wearing an understated outfit in charcoal gray. Even people I’m already friends with, I can think, she looks like she’s in the mood for some fun, or, she looks tired. And since we’re talking about meeting mothers, not boys, these girls can’t count on a deeper connection, they need to make a statement on the surface.

  5. Do these “mothers of boys” not have girls?

    • Orthonomics, they have very successful boys who will get PhDs, so the bais yaakov, make-up free girls are not for their boys. And they have beautiful and modest girls.
      Actually, I’m wondering if the real “crisis” has to do with the fact that there are so few “attractive” men in those circles–I don’t mean physically attractive only but I always felt that the women in frum circles are frequently more well-rounded and interesting and have better social skills. So a guy who has all that (plus yichus plus earning potential plus learning) will be a catch.

      • “And they have beautiful and modest girls.”
        Is that satire???

        • Well, it was an attempt at satire–as is the comment about learned boys and the PhDs.
          And I have a hard time thinking anything about the system is helpful to girls/women. I real like MOI’s point that you only need one person to make the match right. This system seems to commodify the both parties and prize “objective” characteristics rather than the subjective things that make 2 people click. Of course in this commodification, one party has the upper hand. I see a direct link to what happens in (chas veshalom) divorce–is it any wonder that if it’s this kind of deal, then the man expects to be paid for a get?

    • Not only that, but weren’t they once young girls “in the parsha”? And even if they weren’t, don’t these people have any empathy?

  6. Great response to an article I now have no desire to read. The situation in frum dating in US has been bad, seems it is just getting worse. I liked when the boys were looking for mothers at a wedding, to see what the girl would look like in the future, Fat mother, then forget that shidduch. Money and looks instead of midot, sad, sad…

  7.  http://www.dbphoenixcriminallawyer.com   says

      I think this is still important nowadays. Mothers have a say on who their child should marry but only to provide suggestions and guide him and show him the options.


  8. Rivkayael says

    “…why any girl can’t be transformed into a swan”

    I guess that’s why I cannot relate to that article at all. My friends and I all married MEN who were looking for WOMEN to build a family with, not girls who valued their intrinsic worth as people so little that they were chasing after swan-hood. Her choice of words says a great deal.

    I never wore makeup on shidduch dates, and I didn’t see the point in dressing up like a “georgies sheitelhead”. This probably cost me some dates that I didn’t need to waste time on anyway. I spent that time doing things I actually enjoyed, were beneficial in the long term (to myself, as well as to our marriage) and was a generally happy person when I met my spouse. I have met well meaning people like the author of this article, and ignored them–I value my life way too much to have it perturbed by superficial yentas like that.

    • It’s not just the language of “girls” vs women – did you notice that the whole article was ostensibly addressed to the MOTHERS of girls in shidduchim? Neither the “boys” nor the “girls” in this system are supposed to think for themselves – the mothers just work it out with each other.

  9. Rivkayael says

    And seriously, I think she might have just decreased her chances of her precious son meeting someone on the shidduch (meat) market. Who in their right mind would let their daughter be subjected to a potential MIL like that??

    • Yeah, you know she’ll be the type of MIL who’s convinced that *no one* could ever be good enough for her darling boy.

    • “Who in their right mind would let their daughter be subjected to a potential MIL like that??”

      Someone who got a nose job like she did!

  10. If not a parody, that article has perfectly embodied the worst traits of today’s frum world. We’re so concerned with modesty that the boys and girls can’t even meet each other, but so obsessed with “getting a good catch” that girls are objectified more than the secular world could ever do. Obviously everyone should look their best when they go on a date (or even if, for some bizarre reason, they are going on a date with their potential *mother-in-law*) and that applies to both men and women . But the idea that every girl should do her best, whether by surgery or starvation, to turn herself from a unique young woman into a human Barbie doll — ugh. Attraction is based on a whole lot of factors, and sometimes the irregular feature of a person’s face winds up being the most charming. I thought I was done being shocked by the yeshiva world, but I did not give enough credit to the writers of the Jewish Press.

    I hope the “shidduch system” is much reformed by the time my young daughters grow up. I don’t ever want them to be on a “list.”

  11. Self-help books from the secular world tells people to not concentrate on the wedding day but the marriage afterwards, whereas the frum world tells us concentrate on the wedding and the rest will work itself out.

    The definition of success in the frum world for girls in particular is so narrow (get married, have babies) that any shidduch prospect that ends in marriage seems like a success. It doesnt really matter how shallow the relationship is afterwards and how disconnected the couple- as long as it doesnt end in divorce the parents have done their job. There is also ever increasing pressure to get engaged quicker and quicker (i.e. within 2 weeks of the first meeting).

    The frum community love to be so smug about how they have the answers to relationships and dating and tzniut and marriage, but the truth is the kids who are getting engaged after 2 weeks will spend more discussion picking out their new car then they will ever spend on picking a life partner.

  12. What really got me was that the writer used Esther, one of the most modest women in the Tanach, who wanted nothing to do with cosmetics and other frippery, as an example.

    • I read this article in the JP and wondered if there would be any response. I disagree with her observation – I work with non-Jews and have always noticed that the frum girls are always well dressed and made up.

      OTOH it is important for girls to know how to look their best. I greatly appreciate my mother’s encouragement of my makeup interest despite her own preference for a natural look. My self-confidence in dating soared when I learned how to take care of myself. Every girl is different, and it is important to be aware of these unspoken needs.

      I think that surgery is way too far – a bit of makeup can take attention away from your unflattering features – but I do understand Mrs. Halberstam’s point.

      I agree with Mother in Israel that boys have to learn to look their best as well – for frum boys, that means losing weight, getting nice glasses / braces and smiling!

  13. When I read this article, my initial response was ‘NO WAY.” No way did she enter a room full of girls looking for shidduch – in Brooklyn! – and lots and lots and lots of them weren’t wearing any make up. I just find that hard to believe. I think the entire scene needs to be looked at through the eyes of a woman who puts a lot of emphasis on looks. I am sure almost everyone in that room , if not everyone, had make up on. It probably was done with great taste, a natural look, that in dim light is easy to mistake for no make up at all. I think the author’s attitude is that if she had gone to great length for her looks, so should everyone else, especially in the area where looks matter. The idea that in make up less is often more simply might be lost on her.

    As a side note, I have seen wedding pictures of frum girls that horrified me – the girls looked like Russian dolls. I don’t know, maybe that’s the standard in some circles?

    And as another side note – the meeting of the girls with mothers is just sickening. The idea, while well meaning, just underscores that girls are treated like cattle in shidduchim. Checking the teeth might be just around the corner.

  14. Although I can agree a little bit about the advice’s effectiveness, it is sad to know that women need to go through that long and complex make over just to attract a husband.

  15. Now why aren’t prospective daters more critical about those who required cosmetic surgery to look good – it’s marrying into a family with a commitment of cosmetic surgery bills for generations!!