Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tzniut Project 23: A Walking Art Gallery

This is the 23rd 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.I describe myself as Yeshivish to Yeshivish lite. Meaning, I definitely fit in the Yeshivish box, but I also surf the 'net (obviously), watch a little Hulu, Netflix, whatever, read secular books. Basically, I'm open to secular culture, but I wouldn't say I'm Modern Orthodox.

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?Modesty was definitely NOT something I grew up with. My mom (who is great, for the record) would walk around with nothing on. At all. Thankfully, she no longer does that. I did happen to wear a lot of skirts growing up, but that's just because I liked them. I also liked tube tops and strapless dresses, so there you go.

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 married. My husband likes it when I dress all "shtarked up," with a button-up blouse or blazer. Thankfully, he also likes it when I wear trendier outfits, but I think I get more compliments from him when my clothes are more tznuah, less form-fitting. He doesn't put any pressure on me one way or another. [Shtark = looking very religious]

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?Weekdays I typically wear comfortable, casual but fashionable clothes. T-shirts, some button-ups (never tucked in though, it never looks right on me), sweaters in the winter, and I basically alternate between five or six skirts, all comfortable. That's a big thing for me, to find clothes which look stylish but that I can move around freely in, and that I don't worry about the kids getting them messy.

I do dress up more for Shabbos, with fancier button-ups, blazers, skirts and shoes. I reserve these clothes only for Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh. For me, not wearing them during the week gives them a reserved status, so even if the actual article of clothing isn't so fancy, it still feels special when I wear it. When they start getting worn out, I "demote" them to weekday.

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?”)From the way I dress, people usually assume that I grew up frum. During one of my sheva brachos, one of the guests asked if I went to Bais Yaakov in NY [a schol for girls]. Also, friends have told me that some of my clothing choices are a little farfrumpt [very, very frum].

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?Well, after I started wearing modest clothes, my mother's aunt, a staunch Catholic, told me that I reminded her of a nun. I think that was probably a new association for both of us.

7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?On seeing someone with a different level of tznius, I'd say that I used to try and categorize them. I guess I was trying to decide where they would be coming from, what they "stand" for, etc. That was when I had just become frum and was probably a wee bit judgmental and zealous. Now, when I'm talking to a woman who, say, is wearing shorter sleeves than I would, or showing more hair than I do, I actually listen to what she's saying instead of pigeonholing her. I guess I've mellowed, and I've seen that where someone is holding on the tznius spectrum really has little to do with who they are as a person. This isn't to say that I don't categorize at all (I wish I was holding there), just not as much as before.

8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?Tznius to me means a way of being. It applies to how much we expose to the world in both an external and internal sense. How much we want to put out there and how much we keep for ourselves, our family, Hashem.

9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!After I started dressing more tznuah, I did notice a marked difference in how strangers treated me. I definitely felt an increase in level of respect (though considering how I dressed before, it's not so surprising). I think that having to dress so utterly differently than I did before, and to be so much more, well, dressed, caused me to introspect a good deal. It made me think about how I used to use clothing as artistic expression. Like, my body was my palette, or I was a walking art gallery. After donning the frum "uniform," I had to re-assess who I was internally if I wasn't just a walking statement-maker. Or, to ask myself what statement I was making now, with the frumiform. It was an interesting transition.