An Object of Desire?
As an Orthodox woman, I relish the freedom from ogling that modest dress offers—but it’s nice to be admired
About a month prior to the incident in the café, I turned 36. I noticed My first wrinkle the week of my birthday. Suddenly, 40—even old age—loomed over me. What once seemed impossible became inevitable.
A gloom descended over me. In the synagogue and community events I no longer qualified as either a “young professional” or a “young married.” I was officially over the hill. The mirror confirmed my transformation. Deep down, I believed my looks had peaked. I didn’t look like someone’s girlfriend; I looked like someone’s mother—maybe even my own.
I complained to my sister, to a neighbor, to my best friend. My husband assured me that I was still beautiful. On the other hand, he freely admitted that when he looked at me, he no longer saw just the surface.
That’s when I realized that part of me hoped that someone might still admire my surface.
When I shared this incident at a writing workshop, Sarah Shapiro—the instructor and an extraordinary writer—laughed. Back in the 1980s, a neighbor had reassured her in the name of a prominent rabbi that a woman’s desire to be beautiful is so strong that her soul will rise above her grave, watching the gravedigger, hoping that he is admiring the beauty of her corpse.
I laughed at that anecdote, but her words comforted me, too. My marriage wasn’t under threat. I wasn’t shameless or silly. I was vain, but I was normal.
The young girl who wanted boys to look at her, but was afraid of what they’d see, is still inside me. The mirror might tell me she’s grown up and gotten over her youthful concerns, but I know better.
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