Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, DHL, LCSW-R
Elsewhere in Psychology of the Daf (Moed Kattan 9, Ta’anis 13, and Yevamos 34) we discussed the importance of beauty. It is a natural feminine instinct to want to appear attractive, and like any instinct, the Torah approach is to respect it and work with it without overindulgence or excessive asceticism. (See Rambam Deos, chapters 1-2.)
Our Gemara on Amud Beis brings up this idea as well, however I think it may be misinterpreted by others as disrespectful to women when I believe it is quite the opposite:
מַתְנִיתִין דְּלָא כְּרַבִּי חִיָּיא, דְּתָנֵי רַבִּי חִיָּיא: אֵין אִשָּׁה אֶלָּא לְיוֹפִי, אֵין אִשָּׁה אֶלָּא לְבָנִים. וְתָנֵי רַבִּי חִיָּיא: אֵין אִשָּׁה אֶלָּא לְתַכְשִׁיטֵי אִשָּׁה.
The Gemara comments: The mishna is not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Ḥiyya, as Rabbi Ḥiyya teaches: A wife is only for beauty, and a wife is only for children, but not for household tasks. And Rabbi Ḥiyya teaches: A wife is only for wearing a woman’s finery.
Rav Chiyya is not saying that this is all a woman is good for. Rav Chiyya is emphasizing that unlike the Tanna of our Mishna, a woman should not be compelled to perform certain labors that would run against their feminine instincts which include looking beautiful and bearing children.
Some men make a terrible mistake when they become alarmed or controlling about their wife’s spending habits on personal care and beauty. They wonder, or even complain, “Do you have to spend so much money on that sheitel or dress?” That is a big mistake. It is a bad idea to thwart and suppress instincts, especially feminine instincts. A woman’s instinct is powerful and a source of many blessings to a home. The mystical understandings of Shiluach Hakeyn, sending away the mother bird, hint at the deepest maternal and feminine passions that are encoded into creation (see for example Masseh Rokeach, Mishna Chulin 23, Tikkune Zohar 12b, and Zohar II:8a.) You cannot wake up one day, after years of your wife feeling devalued and unattractive and hope that now she will invest in her appearance. Most women want to look beautiful but they want the support, respect and admiration of their husbands. It is what will help them find the time and energy to devote toward this important human need, despite the many challenges of motherhood and aging.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation .)