Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Tzniut Project 19: Keeping My Thoughts Modest

This is the nineteenth 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 origins 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.

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.
Most of my family is Conservative and Orthodox, but I was brought up Reform. However, I have been attending Conservative and Orthodox shuls for about three years now, and based on my observance and beliefs, most would probably say I’m Conservadox. I feel like I have all of the major Jewish affiliations somewhere in my beliefs: I love the progressiveness of Reform, the Torah interpretation of Conservative, and the traditions of Orthodox. I’m also very interested in Kabbalah, but I wouldn’t identify myself as Kabbalistic.

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?
I suppose I’m still “growing up” -- I’m only 18. My immediate family never put a huge emphasis on modesty for religious purposes. My mother dresses extremely immodest by any standards, especially for her age. I think that has had an influence on me to dress even more modest. I have extended family who dress very traditionally Jewish modest: no pants, hair coverings, no collarbones, etc.

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 am not married. I plan to cover my hair when I get married. I haven’t been in a relationship where I’ve been pressured to dress more modestly; in fact, it has been quite the opposite!

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?
I do not live in a very Jewish area, I actually live in what they call the “Bible Belt” of my state. My shul is an hour-and-a-half away, and although there are many Jewish areas around there, I live in what is essentially a farm town, and I attended a Catholic high school up until recently. This definitely has influenced what I wear day-to-day.

To school, I would usually wear our uniform polos and a knee-length skirt. Where I live it gets extremely cold in the winter, and because we weren’t allowed to wear leggings under our skirts, I’d wear slacks or harem pants in the winter to school. I would wear a cardigan over my polo at school. At home, I usually wear a t-shirt and comfortable (loose-fitting) pants. There are no men present in my household so it gives my mom, sisters and I some more choices. Outside of the home, on weekends, I usually wear dresses (I love them!) that are knee-length and if they aren’t elbow length, I wear a cardigan. In the winter, I wear loose-fitting jeans or harem pants or leggings under my dress/skirt. My job doesn’t allow us to wear skirts or dresses (I work in retail, and our uniform is a certain color top with khaki or black pants), but I can usually get away with harem pants or very loose pants. My employers don’t really understand my modesty beliefs, but I have to put up with it for the time being in order to pay for college next year.

On Shabbos, I definitely love to dress up! I feel since that Shabbos is such a holy day, we should honor it as such. I don’t think it’s vital to dress up for Shabbos, since some people do not have the means to do so, and Shabbos is really all about G-d when it comes down to it. But given the chance, I take it! I usually wear a skirt, a nice blouse and a cardigan. I absolutely love fashion, so putting together a nice outfit for Shabbos is actually one of the highlights of my week! :)

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?”)
People who don’t know that I’m Jewish have probably given me the most judgment (i.e., “You’re crazy for wearing such long sleeves in the summer!”). Like I said, the area I live in is far from Jewish, but aside from long sleeves and high necklines, I don’t think I stick out too much. My town is very Christian, so most people here dress pretty conservatively anyways. The hardest thing has probably been during summer when I go swimming or tanning with friends. I normally wear a swimdress that exposes zero cleavage and is just about mid-thigh. Since my non-Jewish friends (and even many of my Jewish friends) usually wear skimpy bikinis, I have gotten some weird looks from people. My best friend is a non-Jewish boy, and for the longest time he just didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to wear jeans, or why I didn’t wear low-cut tops like all of my peers. However, most people that know me, just know that I dress modestly.

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?
My mother does not dress/act tznius in the least, and I think that sometimes I surprise her with the modesty of my own clothing and actions.

7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
All people judge. I do my best not to :) Going to a non-Jewish, or even non-secular, high school and having family members who do not dress modestly has made me never really take a second glance at someone dressed immodestly. Of course, when people are baring all with cleavage, midriffs, and legs, don’t we all judge a little? When I see someone that observes tznius more traditionally than I, it inspires me to further my observance and practice of tznius.

8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
Tzniut is more than just covering your body parts. I practice tzniut in my everyday actions and words. A quote that really helps me remember my tznius values is: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Long story short, I feel that if I keep my thoughts modest, my character and destiny will keep modest. Modest actions and words to me mean following The Golden Rule, remembering “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and realizing how lucky I am to have everything that I do, and taking none of it for granted.

9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
As with the halacha in general, I think that tznius, not just in dress but in words and actions, is part of G-d’s mission for us to live in His image. I believe that tznius should also be a person’s choice: find what calls to you. That isn’t to say that if you find/like an outfit that bares all to wear it, but if a woman finds that she doesn’t like the way covering her hair makes her feel, then I think she should forgo the hair covering. I wish that everyone got to experience the great blessings I have received from dressing and acting modestly.