The Bare Facts

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky                                                 The spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values.      

Miss America

The Miss America pageant recently announced that it will no longer feature the participants in swimsuits or evening gowns, heretofore staples of the event, proudly proclaiming that their contestants will no longer be judged on their physical beauty. Instead, the pageant will consist of a competition of goals, achievements and passions, sort of a Gong Show with better talent.

That’s fine with me. I have never watched a pageant and am totally unfamiliar with the winners, losers and various attributes that decide their fates. I have heard comedians joke for generations about the lame questions the finalists had to answer, a query that usually requested their formula for world peace or an end to global hunger – and in 60 seconds or less. I do have a hunch that ratings for the event will plummet and probably kill the entire enterprise in a short period of time but I do not know how this sartorial modesty will play in the international pageant, whatever it is called, where such reticence probably violates the rules and very purpose of the competition.

On one hand, looks do matter and people are often judged based on appearance. The Elephant Man may have cast a sympathetic figure but you don’t see him reading the evening news on television.

But on the other hand, Jewish values certainly uphold the notion of human dignity and protest against the objectification of women implicit in these contests. As a rabbi, I can certainly appreciate the motives and sentiments of the pageant organizers, especially in the light of the recent revelations of male malfeasance born of a sense of entitlement fed by a culture of promiscuity.

Why Stop at the Miss America Pageant?

The entertainment industry is saturated with the objectification of the female body in a way that is designed to appeal to the most prurient instincts of man. Movies and television shows (especially cable) are saturated with nudity that – if we are honest with ourselves – is completely gratuitous, wholly unnecessary to the stories, plot lines or message trying to be conveyed and is provided simply because of audience expectation and male gratification. These days, I am told, male nudity is also becoming common on these shows because of, you know, the spirit of egalitarianism sweeping the country.

Somehow, classic romantic movies – think Gone with the Wind or Casablanca – were able to tell their tales while the performers remained fully clothed. Imagine that! Indeed, one can cogently argue that what is suggested or hinted at is more alluring than what is graphically displayed to all, and for all time.

It is interesting that radical feminists have also diverged on this question, with one group arguing that women should not demean themselves in becoming easy objects of male fantasy and another asserting that women have the right to do what they wish with their body, even flaunt it for money and fame.

Judaism is clear and unequivocal in its regard for elementary decency and the modest deportment of both men and women, as well as in its distaste and abhorrence of the culture of exhibitionism that caters to the lascivious predilections of the few. I assume, perhaps in error, that they are the few.

What to do?

Obviously it cannot be banned in a modern society and laws tend to drive these activities underground but not out of sight. There is another possibility, implicit in the new policy of the Miss America pageant.

A Possible Solution

What if every actress just refused to perform in any scene that required her to disrobe, partially or fully? What if every actor did the same? In other words, what if every lad insisted on remaining clad and every lass retaining some class? Imagine if every actor or actress would say to every producer, director or screenwriter in Hollywood that he/she will not appear naked, and so they should not ask for it, expect it or write it into a scene. That would be a different world. No one really believes that the narrative requires it.

Well, you might say, there will always be some actress interested in getting ahead and making a name for herself as one who pushes the limits, unabashed, unafraid, and therefore uncovered. Undoubtedly, there will be some women or men who want to be defined by their bodies, seek glory in their physique and thus will look for opportunities to parade about wearing only a smile. But isn’t that the problem? And aren’t they the problem – and the audience that laps it up?

There is a solution to that dilemma as well: ostracism. Let every other actor or actress refuse to appear alongside the offenders in any movie or show in which the bare skin detracts from the raw dialogue. There is strength in numbers; if most refuse, the minority will eventually go along as well.

If society is genuinely interested in recovering lost virtues and redrawing the boundaries of acceptable conduct between men and women, then to halt the process with Miss America would seem to be futile at best and hypocrisy at worst. Hollywood is an obvious target as a leading cause in America’s cultural decline into debauchery, decadence and despicable behavior – as well as the leading offenders in the male treatment of women. Hollywood can also lead the way to a better and more virtuous society by going cold turkey in its too-frequent depictions of human beings in the altogether.

Then we can get to work on the obsession with profanity.

And what do you think?

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The Rise in Teen Beauty Spend

Piper Jaffray reports that beauty spending hit a new high for females at $368 per year, up 18% year-over-year in Spring 2018.1 That’s a huge increase. As we dive into pop culture and what makes our next generation tick, we want to know what’s driving this spike in beauty spend. What do you think is causing our teens to spend more on beauty products, particularly skincare?

Social Media

Social media is the likely culprit, with Generation Z being the first generation to be exposed to social media from their formative years. Social media presents more pressure on teens to look good, and let’s face it, the teen years can be cruel on your skin.

Not only does social media provide an incentive for teens to look their best, but it’s also a significant advertising platform that they’re exposed to by comprehensive content. Three-quarters of US female teens look at YouTube videos for tutorials on new styles and products, according to Mintel. YouTube beauty content surged by 200% between 2016 and 2016, says Pixability, and 47% of the audience of these videos were females between 13-24 years of age.2

YouTube videos give us a unique visual way to learn the art of applying beauty products. Could it be that teens are experiencing a new interest in beauty because it’s a way of expressing their creativity. There is a need to look different in their Snapchat stories and Instagram pics. In some ways, investing in makeup that can applied many different ways is an economical way of presenting yourself differently without having to fork out for a whole new outfit. You can have so much fun with makeup and it can really boost your look for a lot less than other fashion and cosmetic items.

Other Hypotheses

Picture quality is getting better. Could it be that the closer up the photos become the more teens are worrying about the quality of their skin? Teens may actually think skincare is vital to the longevity of their appearance (although we doubt they’re thinking that far ahead).

Perhaps it’s a simple as teens having more money. The global financial crisis is seeing the light of day, albeit unstable, and so teens are investing in their skin simply because acne and other skin problems are more prevalent as a result of hormones in your teen years.

Maybe the reason teens are spending more on beauty is because it’s just the fashion. In the same way that Doc Martens and Activewear have come and gone and come again, perhaps skincare and makeup are the new grunge look. We’re moving out of the ‘natural look’ and into a more dramatic palette. When you’re going for a natural look as a teenager it’s pretty easy to pull off without any makeup at all. To compete with stronger colour schemes you need to actually wear cosmetics.

Fashion spend hasn’t increased. Is the wave of minimalism and fast-fashion message coming through for Gen-Z. The more awareness we experience about the woes of fast-fashion the more consumers are looking to socially conscious and sustainable products. This of course includes beauty, and beauty companies are looking to show they care by investing in sustainable methods.


The reasons for increased beauty spend in teens is all speculation because the statistic has only just broken and we haven’t had time to test it yet. Here’s where you come in. We really want to know why more teens are spending money on beauty but also anyone in general. Please help us out by completing a quick 5 question survey about beauty.

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Mindful Eating

Michael J. Muschel, MD FACC MS

Open the newspaper, turn on the radio or television, or read the magazine covers in the checkout line at the supermarket and you’ll be bombarded with tips and tricks for weight loss. Eat for your blood type, or only raw produce, or no carbs, or protein shakes, or powerhouse smoothies. Our country has a mind-boggling obsession with WHAT to eat for weight loss but precious little focus on HOW to eat.

This point was driven home powerfully during my recent trip to Southern France. On the final day of the trip, members of our tour group sat and reminisced about the week we had spent together and discussed what each of us found the most interesting. What did I find particularly interesting? A quizzical look on our tour guide’s face one afternoon.

Let me explain. We were returning from shopping and browsing in a small village market. As we boarded the tour bus, our guide – a genteel and elegant French woman – stared at something in the hands of one of the members of our tour. “Where did you get that?” she asked, incredulous. “That’s very unusual since most stores wouldn’t sell that here.”

The item in question? A cup of coffee in a paper to-go cup. “Look out the window at the people on the street,” the guide continued. “Do you see anyone holding a coffee to-go? Certainly not!” And she proceed to explain that in Provence, a person who wants coffee sits down in a cafe, often in the company of another, and is served coffee. Seated. At a table. The coffee is served in a china or ceramic mug. That’s the way the French people drink – with more attention to HOW than to WHAT. And that’s the way they eat.

What a great lesson. It brought to mind the cardiologist’s “French paradox”– the famous observation that the French do not have much heart disease, especially considering the croissants, butter, creamy dressings, and desserts that are staples of their cuisine.

Could the regular intake of red wine, with its heart-protective antioxidant compounds, explain this? Maybe. But an equally compelling explanation is the French way of eating, which contrasts dramatically with the eating habits in the US and other Western countries. This not a new observation, nor even my own. Mireille Guiliano, wrote her best-selling book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” based on this idea. For me, seeing the idea live, looking at that busy pedestrian-packed street with nary coffee cup to be found, eating rich dinners French-style for an entire week in a French chateau, and taking mental notes was uniquely instructive.

What are some of the characteristics of French eating? They are eating-related practices that reflect mindful eating that is never distracted or absent-minded, hurried, or multitasked.

The phrase “mindful eating” refers to being actively engaged and fully present in our culinary experiences. In contrast, mindless eating implies the very opposite, eating when distracted and without full awareness, a practice that can cause you to eat too much.

I have a new commitment to eat more like the French, and be slimmer and healthier for it. I encourage you to give it a try.

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For Heart-healthy Eating, Try Mediterranean

Michael J. Muschel, MD FACC MS

In early 2013, The New York Times reported on a scientific study that adds another bit of support to the link between a Mediterranean-style diet and heart disease prevention. Since the 1950s, we have known that people living in countries and regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea — Southern Italy, Greece, Spain — have less heart disease than people living in other westernized countries.

Epidemiologists and scientists have long suspected that the “Mediterranean diet” common to these populations, one that is high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil and includes red wine, while restricting red meats and dairy products, is responsible for this health benefit.

Observational studies over the years have indeed confirmed that population groups whose diet closely adheres to these Mediterranean dietary principles have a lower risk of heart disease. But these early reports on large groups of people needed to be confirmed by clinical trials that track and compare the health of subjects who are randomly assigned to different diets.

Dietary Modifications Save Lives

The first of such randomized clinical trials, the Lyon Heart Study, began in 2001. In this French study, patients who had suffered a heart attack (myocardial infarction, or MI) were randomized to follow either a carefully supervised Mediterranean diet or a standard low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. The Mediterranean diet group had dramatically lower incidence of recurrent heart attacks, supporting the idea that dietary modifications could indeed save the lives of heart disease patients.

So what makes this study so exciting?

It was the gold standard, a large, randomized clinical trial that looked at whether heart disease might be outright prevented by following a specific diet. This means that the results can be applied to the general population at large rather than just to those with heart disease or a history of heart attacks

30% Lower Occurrence of Heart Attacks

The 7,500 individuals enrolled in this new study, conducted in Spain, had heart disease risk factors, e.g., smoking, high blood pressure, family history of heart disease, and/or high blood cholesterol but were healthy otherwise. About one-third were instructed and regularly coached in the details of a traditional heart-healthy, low-fat diet. Another third were instructed in the specifics of a Mediterranean diet and were closely monitored. This group also received large quantities of olive oil for daily use. The remaining one-third also regularly received guidance and provided feedback on Mediterranean eating, but was supplied with large quantities of nuts. After about five years, the number of new heart attacks, strokes and cardiac deaths was 30 % lower in each of the Mediterranean diet groups as compared with the low- fat group. This study supports the potential role of the Mediterranean diet in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Start Eating Mediterranean Now

Can this good news motivate those of us at risk for heart disease to eat in a more heart-healthy way? Some of my patients despairingly tell me that it is too late for them since their blood vessels and heart are too far gone. That’s not true. The average age of subjects in this most recent study was over 60 years!! Even participants with years of heart-unhealthy eating lowered their risk after switching to a Mediterranean diet. I also hear from patients that diet won’t make a difference because they already are taking Lipitor, Crestor or another cholesterol-lowering drug. They’re wrong. Many of the patients in the Spanish study were in fact taking these very medications and still benefited. This shows that diet and medication work together for even greater effects – each is good and both are better.

So start today by making one or two small changes to bring more Mediterranean foods into your diet. Your heart, and your taste buds, will thank you!

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