In her article, Mrs. Halberstam describes a gathering she attended where single girls looking for husbands could get together to meet with the mothers of young bachelors. At the meeting, she observed, to her dismay, that most of the girls wore very little, if any makeup. She was shocked. Didn't these girls realize that they were there to be inspected as potential wives for their sons? How could they attend such a meeting without dolling themselves up? As Mrs. Halberstam put it (empahsis mine):
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?"
A lot of lip service is given to the notion in Judaism that women aren't judged in shidduchim solely by their sexuality and appearance. Much thought and consideration is given, they say, to her character, her middos, her family and on and on. They point to pesukim which extol such ideals such as "Sheker haChain v'Hevel HaYofi." How much more beautiful and modest this is, they say, than in the "secular world" where women are viewed largely, if not solely, as sexual objects.
Personally, I'm beginning to think that it's just the opposite. I don't know how many of you have noticed, but in the "secular world," there is no "shidduch crisis." I see lots of wedding photos and videos on the Internet. I've seen quite a few "proposal" videos as well. You know what? Girls who are less than gorgeous and who don't wear tons of makeup manage to become engaged and marry every day. Girls with "average" looks, girls who are overweight, girls who have physical handicaps, blind girls, deaf girls, and on and on.
But what about Mrs. Halberstam's "deal maker/deal breaker" question of "Is she pretty?". Aren't men interested in looks? Don't men want wives who are pretty and attractive?
The answer can perhaps be illustrated by a friend of mine. When he was dating, he had a list of traits (both physical and non-physical) that his future wife had to have. She had to be in a specific age range, with specific hair color, a weight range and on and on. He dated for a while, unsuccessfully. And then, something happened.
He moved out of town and met, apparently on his own, a divorced mother fifteen years his senior. She was overweight and had the "wrong" hair color. And, yet, he was deliriously happy with her. He found his match. She certainly wasn't was he was looking for on the physical side, but he was so happy with her emotionally, mentally and spiritually that he simply put all that aside and decided that he loved her for who she was inside, despite the fact that she had all these qualities (older, overweight, divorced, mother) that would have caused her to be kept out of the "shidduch market." In other words, once he found someone he was happy with, the physical side of his "wish list" became less important and, perhaps, irrelevant. They're still married, fifteen years later.
And that's exactly how it is in the secular world. Don't men want pretty wives? All other things being equal, perhaps they do. But people are willing to make trade offs. He loves her sense of humor, so who cares if she isn't a size two? He sees an inner beauty in her that attracts him, so who cares if she isn't well-endowed or has some crooked teeth? He loves the fact that she laughs at the corny jokes he likes to make, so he doesn't worry about her lack of high cheekbones. And on and on it goes every day in the "secular world." Women manage to find their mates despite not being physical knockouts, fashion models, D-cups, nose jobs and excessive makeup.
In Mrs. Halberstam's shidduch world, however, the exact opposite is true. In her world, a man is so motivated by looks and appearances that if his potential wife is not pretty, it's unlikely (or impossible) that any other qualities that she may have can make him happy. So, she and other mothers like her stand as the gatekeeper to her son's dating world, weeding out anyone who isn't pretty, reinforcing the idea that such a "deal-maker/deal-breaker" question could or should even exist.
To me (at least), that *is* the objectification of women. Rejecting, out of hand, girls who don't meet some standard of physical beauty is objectifying them. Pleading with girls and their mothers to wear lots of makeup and have plastic surgery to make them look better solely for the purpose of attracting a potential husband is objectifying women. Determining that a man cannot be happy with a girl who isn't a stunning beauty is further objectifying them. It's a shame when men do it, but it's doubly shameful when women do it to other women. And it puts the lie to the idea to the idea that shidduchim are not about physical beauty but about middos, etc.
I've been married to Eeees for over twenty years. On the day we first met (Friday, Feb 26, 1988), she was not wearing any makeup. She didn't wear any on our first date, our second date or on any other dates. To this day, she barely wears any makeup. I can say, with complete confidence, that I have *never* seen her out of the house with lipstick. Furthermore, when I met her, she wasn't a size two or a size four, or even a six or eight. She did not have the face of a fashion model. Nonetheless, I was completely swept off my feet by her. I will admit that *I* find her incredibly beautiful physically, but it wasn't her physical beauty that won me over. It was her sweetness, her gentleness, her sense of humor, her middos and her warm, wonderful heart that won me over far more than her appearance.
No, Mrs. Halberstam... physical beauty was not a "deal-maker/deal-breaker" for me. Nor is it for billions of non-frum/non-Jewish men (who aren't shallow jerks) around the world every day. It's a shame that, in this area where we claim to have superior values to the rest of the world, we find ourselves asking "Is she pretty?" as a "deal-maker/deal-breaker" question before going any further.