Monday, January 7, 2008

Hey Good Lookin'!

Any number of rabbanim have lamented in the recent past that the singles of Klal are putting too much emphasis on the "looks" of a date. The way they are carrying on you would think that this is something brand new, belonging only to the modern age. They spend a lot of time blaming modern media for the shallowness that they now see in Klal. Amazing how the memory fades as you get older.

Looks as a criteria have been around for ever so long, and in the frum community as well as the outside world. My mother, well into her 80s, looked at me as if I was suddenly speaking Serbo-Croatian when I asked her if looks mattered when she was a girl. "Of course they mattered," she said. "You think that they invented a new type of male since I was young? Boys have always wanted a girl who looks good." She looked at me speculatively. "What, you think that boys think with their brains when they first meet a girl? Haven't you learned anything yet?" Apparently I needed to be reminded that I had, indeed, learned something.

Physical attraction has to be there, at least initially, or a possible shidduch is going to go nowhere. I'm not talking here about the extreme ends of beauty or handsomeness. I am talking about the ability to be able to look at someone outside of the confines of a dark car. A feeling of being personally comfortable in being around someone. And to use the vernacular, "not being turned off" by someone's looks.

But what does that mean? Here is where the rabbanim may indeed be on to something. It is not that looks aren't important, but that the degree of looks is being emphasized beyond what is necessary or healthy or important. Being of normal weight is not enough: only ultra slim will do. Dressing tsniusdik is not enough: it has to be up to the minute stylish tsnius. Of course, the rabbanim are not blameless in this either. Hair color is now a frumkeit issue, as is hairstyle. I'm waiting for the rabbanim to decide that light eyes are "too modern." Or perhaps they'll come out with a ban on any girl over 5'2"?

Keep in mind that my mother grew up in a rebbishe chassidishe home. Yet even in that type of home, if a girl saw the boy and "sie hot sich ge'ekelt"--she got nauseated looking at him, the shidduch didn't go through. There's a lot of leeway, however, between drop dead handsome and vomiting. Yet, how important were the looks of the man back in the "olden" days? Not very. There's a yiddish saying that was popular in large swathes of Europe: translated it says "if a boy is an inch handsomer then the devil, then he'll do."

If I had a penny for every time I have heard "he/she is not my look" I'd be retired in some sunny clime where they have never heard of snow.

Add in that today looks are also being confused with "the look." It is not only a person's personal physical characteristics that come into play. Supreme now is how well the person looks like the group that they are supposed to be coming from. Shakespeare must have been prescient when he said "Clothes maketh the man." One girl I set up refused a second date because "the boy had too much of a tan for someone who is supposed to be learning yomom v'loylah." Right. Another young lady thought the boy's hat style was too far from the norm and probably showed he was a rebel.

Perhaps we should keep this in mind when we get so hung up on looks. Whatever a person looks like now, they are so not going to look like this later. Weight goes up and down. Hair comes and goes. Wrinkles come with age. Youngsters without glasses become oldsters with glasses. Clothing styles and body types wax and wane. Using only looks as a basis for continuing to date someone is going to lead to some real surprises down the road. Don't believe me? Look at your parents' wedding pictures. Now look at your parents. Get the idea now?

Looks is definitely one area where "standards" need to go down, not up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandmother had the same saying about the devil and being handsome. I agree that looks are way too important today and like you said, the looks don't last forever either.