The Purim holiday, as described in the Book of Esther, is only a few days away. A truly joyous day, Purim festivities include a strong tradition of dressing up in costumes. For very young girls Purim has routinely been the day when they can glop on lipstick, blush and eye shadow, don their mother’s discarded dresses and totter in Mommy’s high heels (until they actually need to move around). A crown on the head, preferably bejeweled, completes the sartorial splendor and the miniature Queen Esthers are ready for the day’s activities.
This masquerade is based on an essential message of the day – things are not as they seem on the surface. The elegant Queen Esther is really the Jewish girl Hadassah; the man who saves King Achashverosh from a plot against his life is Hadassah’s relative Mordechai; a day prepared for the slaughter of the Jewish people turns into a day of victory. It is not a coincidence that the name Esther means hidden while the Hebrew name for Scroll, Megila, means reveal. Thus the real name for the Book of Esther or The Scroll of Esther is “Revealing the Hidden.”
Something that is uniquely hidden in this scroll is mention of God. Esther is the only book in the Jewish Bible or Tanach which contains no overt mention of God. His name and His presence are hidden, though easily discerned by those who look.
But, I admit that as a little girl, I was less interested in the theological implications and more enamored with the parentally authorized make-up. While teens and adults dress up as well, sometimes in incredibly clever concoctions, the allure of pretending to be grown-up and gorgeous presents an irresistible tug for the post-toddler set.
Which is why I was distressed to read that some shoe manufacturers are marketing shoes with heels aimed at the early elementary crowd. While Matthew Dairman, a spokesman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, sees heels on five year old feet as a physical problem — which it certainly is — surely there is a less visible issue as well. Purim masquerades are only fun because they are masquerades –limited to a finite time and place and easily recognized as a caricature.
Little girls see Queen Esther through a haze of fantasy; a sort of Cinderella. As they grow and mature they realize that the orphaned Esther was forcibly taken from her home and community, married to a man who didn’t by any means measure up to Prince Charming standards and saved her people only through a sacrifice of her own chances for a fulfilling and happy life. Not quite the “happily ever after” fairy tale. But internal growth and maturity can be stunted if external growth and maturity is accelerated. If our society moves in the direction where heels and cosmetics become a standard part of six-year-olds’ repertoire (even for “only special occasions”), I can’t help thinking that the chances of producing authentic heroines like Queen Esther unfortunately diminish.