Once again, I can’t continue to ignore the fading faces of Jewish women in “religious media” outlets. Advertisements of medical clinics with the image of a female doctor replaced by a Cabbage Patch Doll or a real estate brochure for a new family development in Jerusalem with only pictures of daddy and no mommy. There are too many flyers for charity events honoring the Mr. and Mrs. with only a Mr. pictured. However, the most ridiculous example is the “kosher” version of the Super Bowl halftime performance of a male singer serenading the audience about the joys and pain of motherhood, a song that is sung by women, about women. Somewhere in the video there was a very faded and shaded female form. Thankfully, there are sensitive and informative organizations that highlight the harmful practice. Chochmat Nashim is leading the way to educate, re-educate and re-scramble the message behind the puzzle of the missing face.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the never-ending pressure for women to remain beautiful. That doesn’t require erasing the image, but enhancing and preserving the image. Outside of an Instagram filter, Photoshop, or pure magic, plastic surgery is the method of choice. Botox, lasers, fillers, nips and tucks are all part of the path to forever young and forever beautiful. I’m not erasing the fact that one can grow old gracefully and accept what G-d has designed as the aging process. The pursuit to perfection in beauty has been an issue for Jewish women for as long as I can remember. Let’s start with the infamous nose. In my day, it was a rite of passage to get rhinoplasty with a then-prominent surgeon with his signature turned-up version.
A few years ago, on a Shabbos, a very prominent rebbetzin whispered into my ear at a kiddush, “What did you do to your face and who is your doctor?”
So, let’s talk plastic surgery and Torah/halachah. With an increasing number of Jewish women opting for surgery in their younger and older years, the demand is greater now than ever. The new Woman of Valor wants a “maintenance” plan to keep her young and beautiful. Yes, she’ll continue to sew, cook, sell in the marketplace, and bring joy to her family, but she needs her eyes done, face lifted, and neck smoothed.
Judaism is a huge fan of inner beauty. Beauty is vain and rubies are red. Just read the words of “Aishes Chayil” and you will get the gist of it. However, the psychological meaning of beauty is not one to be ignored. Reading an article in YNET News gave a quick overview of the halachic aspect. “Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein viewed these surgeries as a danger to the patient, and since the Torah forbids man from putting himself at risk for no reason, they prohibited those who didn’t need such surgeries from having them. However, there are some rabbis, including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who took the fact that medicine is advancing all the time under consideration into account. They also understood that an aesthetic flaw is no less important than any other physical flaw, like a scar from an accident. Today, one can no longer ignore the fact that how a person feels about himself is very significant, because it affects him deeply.”
In Rav Ovadia’s sensitive ruling on this subject, he set the grounds on how to search for the right plastic surgeon. I have known Dr. David Shafer for over 13 years and had the privilege to ask him some very deep questions about his career path as a leading plastic surgeon. He’s been interviewed on countless talk shows, TV shows, print articles, and reality shows worldwide, but I don’t think he was ever approached with these particular questions.
Tobi: Do you think your talent is G-d-given, or do you often feel like a god?
Dr. Shafer: We all have G-d-given talents. That’s what makes us individuals. Certainly, I have worked hard to achieve success and I have been fortunate to be surrounded by supportive and loving family and friends. However, there is an element of something higher or guiding light. How was I able to jump through every hoop, clear every obstacle, always land on my feet to stand where I am today - the kid from a small town in Michigan now with a three floor plastic surgery penthouse in New York City. I think where people go wrong is when they forget what they have been given and start to think they are G-d. A professor once told me that when everything is going right, when you feel omnipotent, when you are on the top of the world, you get a tap on your shoulder from G-d to remind you to stay grounded.
Tobi: Has plastic surgery replaced the sense of self?
Dr. Shafer: The question is what defines self? Is it our physical or mental being, or a culmination of all our traits - both tangible and abstract? We don’t live in a vacuum and we change over time. G-d has given us the ability to adapt, change course, define our destiny. Plastic surgery is just another tool we use to express ourselves. As a plastic surgeon, I have a responsibility to use my skills responsibly. One thing I tell my patients is that sometimes it’s my job to say no.
Tobi: Is plastic surgery the new faith?
Dr. Shafer: Certainly, people find faith in many ways. Plastic surgery gives people power, unlocks their inner self. My goal is to find a balance for people, to make sure they are not chasing false or unrealistic expectations while also providing safe and effective guidance and treatments. To give power to each person to define themself.
Tobi: How do you feel about altering G-d’s creations, or do you think you are just enhancing it? (Here is where I got Biblical!)
Dr. Shafer: The guiding principle of medicine is first do no harm. All teaching in plastic surgery is to help the patient - whether reconstructive surgery after breast cancer or “mommy makeover” after childbirth. Our bodies are dynamic and change over time in response to genetics and the environment. My approach to beauty and aesthetics is not just skin deep. My new clinic focuses on three levels - plastic surgery for physical and structural treatments, our skin and laser lab for skin rejuvenation, and our metabolic aesthetics center for beauty treatments at the cellular level with IV therapy, hormone balancing, and peptide enhancement. A person’s sense of self and G-d’s image remains constant. It’s our expression of self that makes each of us unique and I am there to help them.
Dr. David Shafer is an A-list celebrity surgeon educated at the Mayo Clinic. Yes, he is speaking on a true level of Torah. His professionalism and respect for G-d’s holy masterpiece known as man/woman is something that provides his patients with belief and comfort in his work.
However, here I am confronting polar opposites: No images versus a constantly improving image and no face versus an updated face. Erasing G-d’s work versus enhancing G-d’s work. Which one is healthier? I certainly opt for the improved version (if it needs improving), rather than destroying a version. Chochmat Nashim posted a very important public message with points about the harmful trend of erasing, “We upset the entire balance in the world that Hashem created by erasing women (and girls).”
Shine beautiful, bright and bold for the cameras!
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.