In the old Jewish tradition it was considered proper and mandatory that a bride should wear a face veil at the Wedding ceremony. Actually, much more than proper because the clear message was that the young woman was declaring to all the assembly that there was more to the gift of herself than her physical endowments which could be considerable. It was publicizing the great Biblical belief that the “beauty of the King’s daughter lies within.”
Such an understanding was expected to transcend the ceremony of marriage and to pervade the woman’s very self concept throughout her whole earthly experience. Such a belief spoke to the sensitivity, charm and gentleness so effortlessly bred into her gender which no man could truly match. It echoed the Scriptural allusion to the “graceful slender column” in describing the way she walked and carried herself. It spoke to the profound maternal instinct interwoven only within the female psyche by the Great Designer, God, Himself. Only she could bear a child. Shades of the great Pope, John Paul II, who constantly reminded us that the human being can be not only physically beautiful but also spiritually and emotionally so. In a word, the “Person” is not merely external, an aggregate of eye catching dimensions, but is also a deep interiority which ultimately serves as the primary dynamic of human existence.
One can wonder, of course, how such an exalted view of women in the Jewish world could exist simultaneously with the old wives’ tales which have trickled through history such as the alleged Jewish prayer which so pleases misogynists. “I thank you, God, that You did not make me a woman.” Old wives’ tales or not, women were valued and respected for more than the possibility of physical charms. Even in the touching Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, the harried wife, Golde, muses whether or not she loves her husband. Golde who toils away at domestic chores for years, raises children and warms his bed, says “I guess I do.” It would be the superficial who cannot understand what Golde-types get out of life by “merely” being a housewife. The depth and love of a woman make such sacrifices not only a possible but most meaningful routine. It would be the rare male who could or would fill such a domestic role.
In a recent interview on the Catholic network EWTN Colleen C. Campbell, herself an example of the beauty of women, quizzed a gorgeous young woman who had left a promising career in the modeling profession to become an activist for the “Women are Beautiful” movement. This young woman, stylishly and modestly dressed, was alert, articulate and “now.” She described her disillusionment in the fashion world with its heavy accent on the body, clothes, sex, even drugs and booze (cooperation with which sometimes becomes almost mandatory for a successful career in that world). This young woman, velvet voiced, crusades to educate women about their own unique beauty and their fundamental need to respect themselves.
She points out that women have intelligence, good judgment, accurate instincts and intuition, healthy humor, incredible generosity for loving, charming gifts for human relationships with a very special God-given dimension for complementarity with males plus an exquisite “feel” for spirituality. Women are gifted by God in a way males are not. The great maternal instinct women have often stuns the masculine psyche. Invariably, women treasure babies in a way inaccessible to males because only a woman can carry a child in her womb. (Obviously, males similarly have gifts not given to women.) Beautiful clothes, reasonable cosmetics, attractive hair, jewelry, are all consonant with a woman being appropriately beautiful. To augment the beauty of God’s creation is neither criminal nor sinful.
However, on the other hand, can anyone doubt that human history fairly shrieks volumes of the ugly woman? The nagger, the harridan, the perennial coquette, the excessively vain, the selfish, the egocentric “witch”, the unreasonable, the ruthless calculating female climber have ever been with us. Women have broken up happy marriages and ruined families. Women have been devious and scheming. Women have seduced vulnerable men. This is ugly. But God did not make women to be ugly. Women become ugly through their allowing themselves to become ugly. Even on the superficial level one might make a relevant observation. Take a female face. A face beaten into neutrality through years of oiling, patting, kneading, painting until it has almost no feature of its own, loses much of unspoiled beauty. No real natural expression but only blankness. This is ugly. Or take a feminine soul loaded with a history of poor choices and blind alleys. The application is, I think, obvious. An ugly outcome. But how does this all square with what is going on in contemporary society?
When one contrasts an altruistic even theological view of the female gender with much of what transpires today, one is struck by shocking insights. The scantily clad woman who moves throughout her “hip” closed society, can well be using her near nudity as a mask! Her state of undress could symbolize her hope of covering over what she unconsciously believes about herself. This is all she has to offer! She might well feel that she is hollow within. She is a female “empty suit.” It would seem that an inevitable, if unconscious, personality factor of poor self esteem would invade and pervade the depth of such a woman’s soul. Is it only her physical attributes which make her valuable in others’ eyes? If so, she has been sold what kids on the street call “a bill of goods.” She becomes a harried, bitter, desperate and unattractive person. Ironically, there is a mysterious power of attraction in “goodness.” The “beautiful” woman described above who is loving, sweet and chaste (physically striking or not) has a certain nescio quid quality of drawing others to her.
Sheer invitation to lust while potentially arresting in the moment, becomes in time even repulsive. I recall a young priest friend of mine sharing an experience relative to this point. A woman of his parish who was probably struggling with inner demons, had developed a rich fantasy about this priest who was handsome and personable. One evening she rang the Rectory doorbell asking for the young priest. When he appeared, she opened her coat to reveal her total nakedness—apparently in the delusion that such behavior would instantly capture the priest. When I asked him his reaction at that point, he replied that he almost vomited on the spot! Another validation of the standard seminary analysis that a priest need not worry for his chastity when he meets a slut! Goodness and inner beauty surprisingly might pose a greater threat.
The Hollywood genre, and I suppose the “hook-up society” as well, is deep into beautifying the body, with botox, very white teeth and posturing to highlight the physical, preferably with an audience. However, coterminous with this heavily physical "perfection" is a terrible record of relationships. “Commitment”, “exclusive”, “permanent” are adjectives seemingly foreign or quaint to that cadre. Marital and cohabitating (unmarried) dyad breakups fill the pages of the Hollywood/Broadway gossip writers. All this in the face of the unrelenting lesson of history that any relationship founded exclusively or primarily on the external is self limiting and bound to founder. In a word, to ignore or neglect the inner beauty of women exacts a profound and scarring price. External beauty is phenomenal but when does one grow up to realize that true adult balance appreciates both the body and the soul.
It was the late movie Queen, Marlene Dietrich, who quipped as two males who, with an adolescent like naiveté, were ogling the chest dimensions of some physically attractive young women, “Those guys don’t know much about what engineering can do.” Wires and strings, shrewdly used, can produce great illusions. From my own years visiting African villages where women routinely traipsed about topless, it does seem that women are better looking with clothes on.
Fantasy, to those past the adolescent phase of development, is far different from reality. Perception has its place but for emotional and spiritual health the real should dominate. In the Plan of God, clearly, males are made to be attracted to females through the senses but they are also capable of appreciating the spiritual depth of the female person. Of course, the powerful drive in humans to perpetuate their DNA is not and cannot be ignored. But the Plan goes obviously farther. Women have been called the very “heart” of any family and in fact have a major role in enlivening the spiritual tone of the average family. If the sensitive and spiritual powers of women are activated, everyone benefits and in fact fulfill the Plan of the Lord.
As we learn through studies in anthropology, Society, for its own survival, has generally supported over eons and through tribal norms and courting rituals, the understanding that mating should be long term and exclusive. To function only on the external and immediate physical return is to function far from one’s potential as well as to punish society. There are many levels to the human being which are lost if one's focus is primarily on the sexual. If such a functioning level is my style, then, I am a superficial person. For real beauty and truth, one must go deeper — way beyond the frizzy hair and the frozen look. If the old adage teaches that “beauty is only skin deep”, we must slightly rephrase and say that external beauty is skin deep but the real Beauty of Women is for eternity.
 Interestingly, Sigmund Freud, (the great analyst of things human), puzzled over his difficulty in understanding women and mused: “ Women…..what do they really want.” How much more difficult for those of us less gifted in depth analysis to answer that question! Could it be so simple that fundamentally women want to love and be loved for themselves?