There is no doubt that caring for one’s appearance is important. Self-care encompasses eating well, getting a good amount of exercise and proper grooming. In fact, if someone does not take proper care of their physical needs that is often a sign of a significant depression. Not putting oneself in order is a clear indication of a problem with mood and that is a fact that no one disputes. But, there are a variety of cultural norms and expectations as well as religious doctrine that dictates what is considered proper grooming. There are also certain times of year when expectations for grooming are significantly altered.
In a prior article I stated “We (as parents) created (the shidduch crisis in part) by telling our children that they cannot make wise decisions and that they are not smart enough to handle themselves socially.” I think my original statement should be expanded to say that the crisis was created in large measure because many of us believe that not only our children are not smart enough to make decisions but we too must rely on others to make decisions for us even though they know little about us our aspirations or our lives.
In a perversion of keeping up with the Jones’s we are trying to keep up with the Goldberg’s not just in terms of house renovations or where we travel to for Pesach but also in terms of false external religious practice and appearance. If a neighbor decides that she can only wear a burkini, a full cover up swimming garment similar to a burka, to the hotel pool, despite the fact that there is no mixed swimming, then suddenly your wives and daughters have to wear a burkini as well. If another neighbor decides that the minimum amount for a blessing on certain food is at least 600 cc, which may be the amount displaced by a “kazayet” then we too decide that perhaps it should be at least 600 if not 650 cc. And if someone’s daughter is wearing a custom made outfit then so should the women in our family.
It is Passover not just the time to recall the Exodus but also the time to show off the “eligible for dating” child time of year. Millions of shekelim and dollars are spent on holiday travel and preparation in the best hotels and vacation spots in Jerusalem, Florida and around the world. To make sure that everyone is groomed and displayed properly gobs of money is spent on clothing and accessories which is purchased at only the most select stores. To hear some speak about their plans the chag sounds less like a religiously based holiday and more like a debutante ball that flaunts riches and dolled up looks and lasts for several days.
Please don’t get me wrong – I am in favor of good grooming and I don’t have anything against being well dressed. On the contrary, I see sloven dressing as an expression of disregard for self-care. But changing outfits three to four times a day sends a message to the opposite end of this continuum of attire. What is the purpose of this exhibition? Is it meant to say that I can afford to be at this exclusive place for the holiday, and I can afford to spend a great deal of money and I am a person of value? Does it also indicate that I am a very religiously upright and stringent person? Or is it just for the show? If it is just for the show is this a play we want ourselves or our children to be in? There is a measure of superficiality to this process that simply cannot be ignored.
By trying to live standards that are not real for us we give up our own identity. We give power to others to dictate a lifestyle that tends toward the superficial, the external and not what is more deeply felt. Beauty is in large measure projected from the inside so is religious belief. We can put on a show for a period of time but even the best actors take a break from their dramatic roles.
It is good to go away to be with family and have a good time at a hotel. It is good to aspire to a greater level of spiritual devotion. It is good to get new clothing and enjoy wearing it. It is good to promenade with the family and meet people. It is even good to enjoy spending money – if you can afford to. It is not good if it is only a show to impress others. Making a shidduch based on superficials may result in a lifetime of pain.