Sisterhood Blog

Biblical Matriarchs, Chick Flicks and the Power of a New Dress

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

In almost every single chick flick, there is a pivotal scene during which the character goes shopping. It is almost always presented as a montage of different stores, outfits, looks, and expressions, and it signals for the character a passage to second chances, redemption, and, ultimately, a resurrection. I would like to be able to roll my eyes and see this as one of the many silly elements of the chick-flick genre. But I can’t, and the reason I can’t is because it has happened to me. More than once.

Just like the tan, blond lead of any given chick flick, I too have felt the transformative power of a new dress. I have witnessed how it can give structure, even if just for a little while, to the messiness of existence and inspire new, superior, personal narratives. This embarrasses me.

I get why I shouldn’t like shopping. I get why it’s dumb, and even at times morally wrong. I get how I am beholden to the profit-driven, constantly changing whims of fashion designers, I get how my affordable garments may have been produced in conditions I would find detestable, and I get how generally lame it is to believe in something so cockeyed as salvation by way of material goods. But then I put on the new dress, and the truth is, I feel a bit more beautiful, and, well, who doesn’t love beauty, fleeting and luscious.

The longing for physical beauty is often painted as a weakness, a shallow pursuit compared to the potentially more fulfilling desire for a deepened intellect and heightened spirituality. But most true admirers of physical beauty know that the feeling of redemption when they experience beauty, whether it be for a painting, landscape, or lovingly adorned person, is hardly shallow. And so the quest for beauty straddles these two sides, sin and goodness, repulsion and appreciation, chaos and order. This schizophrenia can be found in the Torah too, where asceticism and aestheticism commingle, sending mixed messages on physical beauty and the value of something like, say, my new dress.

One one hand, beauty for beauty’s sake is deemed trivial in Judaism. Eshet Chayil, or “A Woman of Valor,” a hymn found at the end of Proverbs and sung on Shabbat, says:

Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears God shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

But then take a look at the way the matriarchs are described and we get a different message on beauty. Sarah is a woman of beautiful appearance. (Genesis 12:11) Rebecca is very fair to look upon. (Genesis 24:16) And Rachel is beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance. (Genesis 29:17)

Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel are praised in other places for their inner beauty, but the power of their physical beauty is not overlooked, nor is it just casually mentioned. And this is hardly the only time when physical beauty is presented in the Torah, from the Song of Songs to descriptions of Eden. Some argue that they are all metaphors, but the language is too rich, the images too deliberate, too precise, or, in other words, too beautiful to not acknowledge the power of physical beauty.

It is a bit of a shonde to link the matriarchs to a chick-flick shopping montage, but the representations of beauty are not that far apart. These are just two examples, one ancient, the other modern, of the enduring human desire for beauty. The debate about this desire, whether it is a weakness or strength, has also endured and is likely never to be resolved. And even if it was, I am not sure I would be willing to give up the pardes of a new dress, hanging in my closet just waiting for me to step in.

This post first appeared on labalights.com, and was reprinted with permission.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Matriarchs, Chick Flicks, Bible, Beauty, Shopping

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.