Halberstam Defends Her Pro-Makeup Stance

'cosmetics' photo (c) 2008, Jörg Weingrill - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I reread the Halberstam article about whether marriageable girls wear enough makeup, after reading a claim that it was satire. The parts about the greatness of her son including the Ph.D. he is aspiring to, and Ollie’s hair straightening salon, were indeed over the top. Her hyper-sensitivity about the girls she interviews easily qualifies as satire.

This line alone could win a prize: “‘Let’s see…she 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!’ she laughed. ‘But…guess what? She’s getting married next month!'”

But so many sections were clearly dead serious, and as satire she failed to make her point.

Today there is no longer any doubt, since Halberstam has defended her piece in a letter to the editor. Here is an excerpt:

I have spoken to boys in shidduchim until I was blue in my face about “inner beauty” and “real values” and their own shallowness in seeking good looks in prospective partners. I have begged them to give the girls a chance – just one date.

Believe me, I have been doing this since I was 18, and I have, b”h, made several shidduchim that resulted in marriages. I also worked as a volunteer matchmaker for Saw You At Sinai. But during all my interactions with these men, I saw over and over again (and it broke my heart) that appearance counts with them, some less, some more. So as I much as I dislike – in fact abhor – men’s emphasis on outer surfaces, I feel we all have to face the harsh reality and try to accommodate it.

This was my message, and once again I apologize if I caused you pain when all I was actually trying to do was alleviate unnecessary suffering.

Reader Shoshana Goldstein Sanders responded in a comment: 

I don’t think she has done anything here to calm the rage that her article provoked. I’m glad to hear that in her personal life she has tried to convince men to de-emphasize looks, but in this very public forum she seems to have given up the battle altogether. She also doesn’t address the very serious question of whether her “helpful” attitude contributes to eating disorders and other mental health problems in the Orthodox community.

I see the bigger issue as the burden that Halberstam places on the young women themselves. Does Halberstam believe that if the young women will look better, the young men will get married younger? Even if true, the same number of eligible “learners” will become available each year. Gussying up might increase each woman’s individual chances, but always at the expense of someone else. Her advice simply raises the beauty standards of the community, increases competition, and uses up limited economic resources.

Over the years readers have doubted stories that have come out about modest behavior because they sounded so ridiculous, like the Bruria Keren cult, with face covering and removing heels from shoes so they wouldn’t make noise. But sadly, they have often turned out to be ever so true.

You may also enjoy: 

Is Hyper-Modesty about Female Empowerment

“She Burned Her Wig in Front of Everyone”



  1. I think she is correct in stating that the ultra orthodox world shidduch system empahsized extrenal things like looks and money. The problem is the system. In our world young men and women interact with one another and develop common interests. That way these things can be the basis of a relationship, not just looks. This is part of of the Haredi system of turning women into a sex objects. It is very sad.

  2. Overall I found Halberstam’s article obnoxious, but I also find that whole shidduch world ridiculous.
    The one part of Halberstam’s article that I found authentic and inoffensive was her description of herself as an awkward young woman, for whom a trusted adult taking her aside and telling her that she could do something to change how she looked was a liberating breakthrough. I really do believe that some women who suffer low self-esteem from their looks could really benefit from something like that. But the problem with Halberstam’s article is that it takes a piece of advice that might be appropriate, for a particular individual, if delivered in a particular context, and doles it out wholesale to everyone, and in a not particularly sensitive way. As you said in your critique, the advice doesn’t even make sense anymore once it’s given to everyone, since once the norm becomes more makeup and minor surgeries, that ups the ante for everyone without helping anyone.
    Part of being socially appropriate is knowing what belongs in public and what belongs in private. Halberstam, by her account, is having private conversations with young men about not being so hung up on looks but is publicly preaching to young women to doll up. She might do better to present the message to the boys in public and the message to the young women, only when appropriate, in private.

    • Ruth Alfasi says

      Great point, Channa. As a matter-of-fact, I can’t help but wonder how a public discussion of the rights or wrongs of another Jew’s behavior isn’t lashon hara? Is publically criticizing Halberstam’s views somehow helping? Can disagreement happen, constructive solutions be found, without making it seem Halberstam represents the whole system seem and it’s all rotten?
      I mean, where is emunah and tefillah in all this? So what if one shadchanit has different views from mine or yours? Might that just mean that for those looking for size 1 models with a huge inheritence – that shadchanit is the one to seek out. For those seeking a “real” girl, find someone who caters to that market. All this just reflects the very non-Jewish values absorbed from tv, internet, etc. anyway.

      • Ruth, I’m a little confused by what you are saying. First of all, this does not seem like lashon hara to me. There were commenters @ the JP that get personal about Halberstam but I can’t see how disagreeing with her position which she chose to post in a public forum qualifies as lashon hara. And those of us who feel that the shiduch system is not successful do not think so because of Halberstam’s article but because of other evidence. And frankly if it true that there are shadchaniot who specialize in size 1 models with inheritances and others who specialize in “real” girls (I think that was what you were saying–it really wasn’t clear), that too would point to something rotten in the system. I think it is a cop out to blame “the very non-Jewish values absorbsed from tv, intenet, etc.”

        • ruth alfasi says

          You don’t see this as lashon hara? Imagine you’ve stated your opinion in one place, walk away, and find in another place there’s a cluster of women saying things such as this that were in this article above, “Her hyper-sensitivity about the girls she interviews easily qualifies as satire. This line alone could win a prize: “‘Let’s see…she had a nose job….”

          Which is vastly differently from a respectful review and comments pro/con about her and her ideas perhaps illicitting comments from those experienced in this area. I’m not saying I agree with her views on plastic surgery, but I am saying those reading here probably WON”T agree with Halberstam so what’s the point, anyway? To snicker at her? She is a Jew, after all.
          Her comments in one place don’t make her exempt from being treated with decency and we aren’t exempt from the laws of lashon hara because we’re in comments-mode.
          As for shaddchaniot, they do tend to end up with more of one kind of prospective clients than another. Some more litvish, others more breslov/modern, older, we’ve got one who’s recently found herself dealing a lot with Latin American clientele and gerim. It’s sort of a natural outcome of the referral process.

          • Ruth, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Halberstam said outrageous things knowing she would provoke controversy. I don’t think it’s right to make fun of her but it is unfair to characterize criticism of her stance as lashon hara. Just for the record, she brought up that she had a nose job which is why she advocates it for others. Many commenters @ MII and on the many other pieces written about this have referred to the fact that her personal decision is different from advocating it for many people and telling them to borrow money for elective surgery. When it comes to lashon hara and motzi shem ra, I am concerned about the young women who attended the event Halberstam went to. I am not part of that community but I am sure that for those in the know, it is easy to identify them–and now every one will assume that they are an unattractive bunch without the sense to present themselves nicely at such an event. That makes me sad for them.

          • Observer says

            The key issue here is that Mrs. Halberstam made her comments, not “in one place” as you put it, but in very public forum. Thus, the general laws of Lashon Horah don’t really apply.

            Furthermore, she chose this publicity, knowing that it would cause furor – this is not gueswork, she says this explicitly. She did so because she WANTS people to be talking about her ideas.

            Here is the problem: Because her comments are so public, they constitute a public problem (and they also constitute a Chilul Hashem, in my opinion.) The only way to make it clear that her view is NOT mainstream, in my opinion, is to dispute her in public channels. This is absolutely necessary, because it’s important that people, already too much under the sway of unreasonable expectations, really don’t need this kind of additional pressure. And there is NO way to put her comments in proper context for everyone who they hit, other than public discussion.

  3. The unfairness of this is the girls’ schools telling them to downplay their budding sexuality because a true “Ben Torah” will want them only for their souls. Why should anyone marry someone they don’t find attractive? What I find weird is that the girls are dating the boys’ mothers instead of the boys.

  4. The more I think about this, the more crazy the article seems and the more crazy the shidduch world seems. I know that often in frum (particuarly hozer b’tshuvah) circles, people talk about how scary and dangerous the secular dating world is–but the values expressed here certainly don’t seem better. It seems to me that whatever side of the looks debate the shidduch proponents are on, they are all holding women to an impossible standard of perfection that comes from looking at people as commodities.
    And it may be a side point, but the more the debate rages with Halberstam’s justification, all I can think of is how sometimes I can’t believe what will motivate people to action. She felt it worth writing an article calling these girls to task; has she taken action on behalf of women who are either refused gets or forced to pay ridiculous sums to get their gets (this is not a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer. I googled her and could find no evidence of other activism.
    BTW, my shaking my head at what will make people activists has nothing to do with the frum world only. At one point, our local day school had a big zoning problem with one potential site that it later decided not to develop. I bumped into a former colleague one day and she told me that she had been active in keeping the school out of her neighborhood and all I could do was wonder how she chose that of all causes in the world. This is a digression, but it’s what I think of every time someone gets involved in something that seems so crazy instead of all the worthy causes. I’m off my soapbox now.

  5. Tikunolam says

    So many of my (MO) friends married friends they made in college and graduate school, some that they even met in HS. many of us would have never dated the guys we have now been married to for 15+ years if it had been based on resumes or who our parents would have chosen. I have known more than one woman to fall in love with a guy she would have thought was too short or too bald or not ambitious enough after getting to know him as a friend and three dimensional person. I am sure the guys would have similar stories to tell of women they fell in love with who they wouldn’t have expected to consider because they were too tall, not thin enough, too serious, or had a scar or mole. Friendships have a way of creating relationships that are based on what is real and often turn in to the best of marriages.

  6. I think pro-makeup stance is a misnomer. 🙂

  7. I think pro-makeup stance is good. We should understand that makeup is not applying cosmetics but how you represent yourselves and it applies for boys as well… But, I think the age at which girls are allowed makeup should be determined by parents.

  8. I said it in a comment on FB and I’ll say it again here. It has to start in the home. It’s up to us to bring up boys to respect ALL women – to see beauty in every woman, not just those who conform to society’s values. You can’t expect to get through to a 19-year-old boy in shidduchim that he should go out with someone who isn’t society’s ideal of beauty. That’s WAY too late.

    there’s so much to say here about certain ways much of frum society views women in general.

  9. teen in america says

    I don’t think her position is as unreasonable as all of you seem to. Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a tshuva which mattired plastic surgery for women, saying that for women beauty is “a great tzorech” because they need to get married. HE PERMITTED CHAVALLAH FOR THE SAKE OF BEAUTY!

    • Observer says

      Teen, Rav Moshe did NOT issue a psak in which he says that women can have cosmetic surgery under all costs. Of course, without seeing the teshuva which you are referring to, I cannot say what actually was allowing, but it’s quite clear that routine non-medical surgery is something that cannot be permitted.