I recently came across a Facebook post by a friend of mine who was outraged about responses to a advice column letter written by a young woman who has been shidduch dating — the practice of matchmakers setting up young men and women to marry in the Orthodoxy world. In the letter, she inquired as to whether she had to lose weight, as advised by her shadchan (matchmaker), in order to find her bashert (one and only).
The magazine, the Five Towns Jewish Home, published a series of disturbing responses pressuring this young woman to lose weight to find a match (flip to page 98). Finally, at the end a sensitive and thoughtful reply was presented by the dating coach and therapist. She highlighted the importance of loving and appreciating one’s body, all its functions and the need for a healthy lifestyle, not only to lose weight but to promote overall physical and emotional health. She was also the first and only one to mention consulting a doctor, which is essential as each individual requires their own specific personalized program. Despite the sensitivity and helpful pointers to the one seeking advice, I can’t help be sorely disappointed that the opportunity was not taken to address a shidduch system that might be causing more harm than good.
I’m sorry, but if we want to pride ourselves being part of a religion with good morals and values why on earth would we allow the prevailing culture’s sick perception of beauty creep into our world and blindly accept it while it destroys lives? There are many other outside influences that we don’t accept when we deem them harmful, so why do we accept this so easily, when it is extremely problematic?
Primarily, we must clarify what beauty really is and promote it by every means possible. Beauty is not a size 2, a fully made-up face, and a desperate attempt to cover up any imperfection.
What makes someone beautiful is when their true self shines through. Beauty is being in touch with oneself and connecting on a real level, creating happiness through sharing one’s talents and filling the space that only they can. Shame on a society that pushes a woman to become a hollow shell of a person who has the life sucked out of her to fit into a mold that a warped culture dictates!
People of all shapes and sizes find their matches and have deeply fulfilling and meaningful relationships. Every single person has a potential match out there and they will find one another if only they are allowed to be their authentic selves. When people are forced to masquerade as someone else, they run the risk of becoming miserable, depressed people, not finding a mate, or ending up with the wrong person. Only when people start to value who they really are will they begin taking better care of themselves and that is when all things, weight included, fall into place.
We are tragically adding to the shidduch crisis by adhering to unrealistic expectations that pressure young women to appear like models, putting too much focus on exteriors. We are making standards impossible for most people. Even if some manage to play the game and make it to the chuppah, how exactly is a marriage based on superficiality supposed to build the strong foundation for a bayit ne’eman b’Ýisrael (a Jewish home) to stand.
It is shortsighted to create shidduchim with manufactured conditions. Our goal should not be just to create marriages, but to make healthy quality unions that are built on something deep and meaningful. A marriage in which each partner is an asset to the other, facilitating a promising future for both of them, their children and the entire Jewish world.