Sisterhood Blog

The Rise of Ultra-Orthodox Beauty Salons

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

According to the BBC, a quiet revolution is taking place among ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem. They have discovered the power of mascara.

There are, of course, numerous strict restrictions on these women when it comes to their appearance. They must wear modest clothes — no elbows, no collar bones — cover their heads, and many even cut off their hair. And yet, whether it is pressure from the secular world to look a certain kind of pretty or some deep-rooted desire in women to beautify oneself, they are heading to the beauty salon.

There is no clear mandate about how a woman should dress in the bible, just that she should be humble and modest. Over the years rabbis have devoted a lot of energy to determining what exactly this means, the result of which is the sheitels and stockings donned by many. Now it seems like, by way of visits to a growing number of secret beauty salons, religious women are trying to figure this out for themselves.

As beauty shop owner Yaffa Larrie, a pioneer in this particular niche of the industry, told Gemer: “It’s true that a lot of limitations and restrictions take precedence in this society. But in reality, there is no limit to the investment ultra-Orthodox women make in their appearance.”

Larrie was encouraged to start her business by a rabbi 30 years ago, who said that these women needed her more than others. At the time the word “cosmetics” was considered immodest and therefore not used.

Women go to Larrie and the other salons that have opened around her, most with discreet entrances, to learn how to apply make-up. Some even buy three sets of color palettes, “inconspicuous colours for the outside world, another kind for around the house, and the prettiest and boldest kind for her husband’s eyes only.” They also get permanent make-up, which allows them to avoid “pale-face” on Shabbat.

What’s interesting about this piece is that is presents the rise in beauty salons as evidence of the empowerment of religious women. According to Larrie, more women are getting out there, entering the workforce in a wider range of jobs, one of which is the cosmetic industry.

While this doesn’t contradict the push, sometimes violent, for more modesty in secular society by Israel’s Orthodox communities, it doesn’t exactly jive with it either. In recent years, Orthodox rabbis have insisted that women sit in the back of the bus, be banned in advertisements and are banned from some public ceremonies — and not just in their neighborhoods. So to hear that Orthodox women have found a way to take matters in their own hand and make themselves look, well, hotter, is pleasantly surprising.

Though I don’t want to overlook the social factor either. Beauty salons have long been safe-spaces for female bonding. Think “Steel Magnolias” or the also excellent Lebanese film “Caramel.” Maybe these women, in addition to learning how to highlight their cheekbones, just want to get out a little and have some fun in a lady-centric place, away from their husbands and kids.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: modesty, make-up, feminism, Orthodox, Jerusalem, Jewish

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!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • 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.
  • 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.