Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Tzniut Project 3: Feeling Good in One's Own Skin

This is the third in a multi-part series called The Tzniut Project. Women from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of observances have volunteered to anonymously answer questions that I have written about their practices, people's assumptions, and more. For more information on the project, click here. Please continue to check back with The Tzniut Project to read more stories and comment abundantly!

Note: This post is contributed by a reader, but I couldn't help but add a comment or two!

1. How do you affiliate Jewishly? Feel free to elaborate on the words people use to describe you and the words you use to describe yourself.
I grew up Reform, but am now leaning more toward traditional egalitarian. The minyan with which I attend services isn't affiliated with any denomination, and the people in the community range from Modern Orthodox to barely observant. I'm still working on becoming more observant ... it's a process. My immediate goal is to make being shomer Shabbat a priority and keeping hekhsher kosher at home.

2. Growing up, did your mother or grandmother dress modestly in any way? Do you think modesty was something instilled in you by your family? Did you dress modestly growing up? 
It wasn't really something anyone talked about. We all dressed fairly modestly by secular standards, but I wore tank tops and shorts as a kid when it was really hot. I always preferred the look and feel of long skirts, though.

3. Are you married? How does your spouse feel about your choices for modest dress? Is it a dialogue or does your partner leave the mitzvah to you? 
I'm not married, so I'm beholden to no one but myself. (Although if I did have a partner, I would hope they'd understand that modesty is a personal thing.) I think I might want to cover my hair if/when I get married. My family would be shocked, though.

4. What would you wear on a typical day? On Shabbos? If you dress differently on weekdays and Shabbos, why do you make this distinction and how? 
On an ordinary day, I'd wear a knee-length skirt or dress, knee socks if it's cold. I like my sleeves to be elbow-length or longer, though if it's really hot I'd wear a short-sleeved shirt. On Shabbat, it really depends. To services, I like to look nice and about the same level of covering. I'd definitely wear clean, nice clothes. I feel like it's disrespectful if I'm just schlepping around on Shabbos.

5. What do you think other people infer from your clothing and hair covering choices? Has anyone ever said anything to you outright that expresses a judgment based on your appearance? (Ex: “You don’t cover your hair or wear skirts, so why do you keep kosher?”)
Most of my very close friends aren't Jewish, let alone observant (though I do have plenty of Jewish friends who are), so they don't notice or care about anything related to tzniut. In my Jewish community, people are at all different levels and modes of observance, so no one asks any questions. Although I cover about the same as a Modern Orthodox Jew might, my general "look" doesn't really evoke Judaism as such. (I have a nose ring and very short, spiky hair.) Chavi's Note: So jealous. I've pondered a nose ring, and I often miss my short, spiky hair ... le sigh.

6. Have you ever surprised someone by dressing more or less modestly and making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew?
Once I went to a childhood friend's wedding (she's Chabad) and although I covered plenty (3/4-length shirt, ankle length skirt) I stuck out like a sore thumb. Yet everyone knew I was a Jew, just not observant like them. I don't really know what they though about me, though.

7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
I know so many different kinds of Jews, so I know everyone has a different way of approaching modesty and other observances. That said, sometimes when I'm having a bad day, I judge people based on what they're wearing, if they show a ton of skin or whatever. I try not to, but sometimes I do.

8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
Feeling good in one's own skin, honoring one's body because G-d made it, and treating yourself well. Dressing so that I'm not too body-conscious, but so that I still look and feel good.

9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
I read your piece on the hijab, and I just wanted to commiserate! Where I live, there's a huge Muslim population, and I see so many women at my university with these elegant hijabified outfits and I envy them. I wish we Jews could do something similar ... Chavi's Note: Amen. Here's the post to which the author/contributor refers.

Tzniut is not the most crucial part of my journey toward observance. It's important to me, but isn't difficult. A much greater struggle for me is keeping kosher and being shomer Shabbat. It's all a process; I try to remember that.