NORTH MIAMI BEACH — The work of a columnist is rarely so easy. Mostly it involves waving the fishing rod of today’s imagination over the roiling sea of yesterday’s news to pursue the prize fish of tomorrow’s opinion. Often the vigil goes unrewarded. All that sitting upon the posterior does not yield a catch that will stand for posterity. Ah, how glum is that moment of defeat, when there is nothing fishy in Denmark, nary a nibble. If you teach a man how to fish, you have assured that he will eat — large quantities of junk food from the pantry when he comes up empty. But there is always tomorrow. Another day, another dolor.
Very rare indeed is a day like today, when a plump fish is trapped right there in the barrel. Shoot it with your Second Amendment gun and then write it with your First Amendment pen and hope the Editor does not tack on any new amendments. How lucky is this? Then — wouldn’t you know it? — my conscience shows up and makes me throw it back into the ocean. Just because it ain’t true.
Here’s the setup. Three actual news items over three days. One: Blondes in Hungary stage a demonstration outside Parliament demanding an end to discrimination against their embattled ranks. Two: A couple in West Palm Beach are in critical condition after their Botox (botulin toxin) injections gave them a case of toxic botulism. Three: Jamie Lee Curtis announces her retirement from acting in movies, citing her fading looks at age 46, and grumbling against the trend toward various cosmetic surgeries to push back the onslaught of natural aging.
An obvious column. Let our culture focus less on externals, more on the content of our character. Don’t try to con Mother Nature. Meet life on its terms. Do what you can with what you got. It’s a writer’s dream. Especially a Miami writer: nice beach weather today, sunny and 81. But, drat, my conscience says it ain’t so.
THE FACT IS THAT beauty, as manifested in the face of humanity, is there to be seen and admired. The Talmud (Shabbat 50b) records an obligation to wash one’s face daily “in honor of the Creator,” binding on both men and women. The primary commentator, Rashi (1035-1105), explains that this incorporates a twofold celebration of Creation. (1) It enhances the image of man which expresses a mirrored divinity. (2) It moves people to appreciate the beauty of the created world.
The book of Esther records that when the beauty pageant was held in Persia, Esther opted out of the yearlong preliminary spa (“six months in oil of myrrh and six months in perfumes and feminine cosmetics”), not because the pampering was excessive but because she did not relish the prize of marrying the Persian king.
The Scriptures often introduce characters by mentioning their good looks, including such details as calling Sarah “beautiful of appearance” (Genesis 12:11), Rebecca “very good-looking” (ibid 24:16) and Rachel “beautiful of complexion and beautiful of appearance” (ibid 29:17). Nor does it shy away from applying such terms to a man, noting also that Joseph was “beautiful of complexion and beautiful of appearance” (ibid 39:6).
We notice that these adjectival flights of poesy are applied only to the good guys. The impression is that good looks are connected in some deep way to potential goodness of character, and when a person conducts himself or herself in a beseeming manner, then the good looks become an important part of the package. In fact, at the end of Jacob’s life, he begins his poetic description of Joseph’s greatness by lyricizing: “A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; girls are clambering upon the walls (to catch a glimpse).”
It is also clear that the effort required to bring this to the fore is encouraged, as in that requirement of preparing one’s face for public viewing. The Talmud goes on at some length to describe depilatory techniques that were used to help young women shed unsightly hair, even going so far as to recommend that they avoid drinking beer, which was thought to increase body hair.
If there is room to criticize aspects of fashion, it would be in the area of highlighting features that are more erotic than aesthetic. Leaving that aside, we should rather observe that our opportunities to surgically or cosmetically improve appearance or blur the signature of aging are blessings which are unique to our time. Like all gifts of nature, they require some husbanding and stewarding and limiting. If there is real risk involved in a procedure, it clearly is not advisable.
As for the blondes of Hungary, how dare they complain when they live in freedom while brunettes in the United States are dying every day?