This week, Carrie Fisher, star of The Force Awakens, pushed back at critics who complained that she has not aged well since the last Star Wars movie. “Youth and beauty are not accomplish- ments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either,” she wrote on Twitter.
For a society that claims to be into “equal rights” and “feminist values,” it is a sad commentary that this is what women have to put up with in this day and age. We are constantly fed images by the media of young, gorgeous, PhotoShopped women with perfect skin and bodies. To put American secular society’s obsession with youth and beauty into perspective, a little online research revealed that the average top model’s age is 21 while the average Victoria Secret model retires at the whopping old age of 28.
How important are women’s looks to men? Well, according to a 2013 study by Norman Li, associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University and Oliver Sng, a doctoral psychology student at Arizona State University who conducted various experiments using online chatting and speed-dating methods, they discovered that “surprise, surprise” a woman’s looks is the most important thing to a man when selecting a partner. They also, not surprisingly, discovered that social status is what a woman looks for most in her partner.
“Rich guy gets hot girl” is nothing new and obviously shallow on both accounts, but wealth unlike looks, can be held onto. Which is why a society which is obsessed with women’s looks and youth is so insidious. There is no way for a woman to win. Every birthday becomes a curse instead of a blessing.
At a routine dermatologist appointment this week, I asked the doctor, who is a non-Jewish, secular man who has known my family and our religious journey for years, about the under eye cream I was using. “Is it effective?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “None of it works. It’s all a bunch of baloney. Move to Israel.”
My ears perked up. Israel, after all, is something my family thinks about often. “Why?” I pressed. “Is it the sun or the air? No – I bet it’s the water?” hoping to find out what enchanted fountain of youth Israel had to offer. “None of that,” he replied. “Just less shallow.”
It was some powerful rebuke from an unexpected place, but I realized that there was some truth to it. Israel, in some ways, has bought into the secular pitfalls about youth and beauty when it comes to women, but it is also the place where King Solomon composed Mishlei (Proverbs) thousands of years ago: “Sheker hachein v’hevel hayofi, isha yiras Hashem tis-halel.” (Grace is falsehood and beauty is fleeting, a woman who fears God is who should be praised.) What does that mean? Well, like Carrie says, beauty is not an accomplishment nor can we hold onto it, but if “everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven,” according to the Talmud, then a “woman who fears God” is a woman who uses her freewill for the good and that is what Judaism considers to be a woman’s greatest accomplishment.
If only American society and Hollywood would catch up….