Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Tzniut Project 11: It's a Lifestyle Choice

This is the eleventh 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. 

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 would define myself as modern orthodox. I grew up in a modern orthodox community where most women didn't cover their hair, and wore pants, and went to the community modern orthodox yeshivas and high school. I went to a secular, ivy league college. I actually cover my hair, but still wear pants, and T-shirts and at times dresses/skirts that are a little bit higher than my knees (definitely not mini though)

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? 
My mom wears pants and T-shirts and does not cover her hair. She never dressed immodestly, although at times she can wear things that are a bit lower cut and definitely skirts above the knees. She also wears long "Bermuda" shorts in the summer. She was always cautious that I not dress "slutty," which meant, in her opinion, very revealing tight tops and very short skirts. However, growing up I did wear short shorts in camp and tank tops as well as sleeveless sundresses.

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 married. My husband actually prefers women to dress modestly. His opinion isn't necessarily based in halachic principle, rather he cares more about me showing too much to other people, and prefers this only to be for him. He actually really dislikes that I wear pants, again, not because of any halachic reasoning, but because he doesn't like the way women look in pants and prefers me to wear skirts. Before we dated, I definitely wore things a lot more low cut, and I wore pants more often. Now that we are married I wear much higher tank tops under my clothes, as well as higher long-sleeve undershirts and try to buy clothes I know he will like. In terms of covering my hair, he always thought it was my choice and would support whatever decision I chose.

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 actually work at a religious institution so I wear skirts below my knees, and 3/4-length-sleeved shirts with a high neck everyday. I also have to wear socks or stockings with my shoes. On Shabbos, I tend to wear fancier outfits, also more indicative of my style, so a lot of them have short sleeves or v-necks where I can wear tank tops that don't cover my collarbone. Generally on Saturday nights and Sundays I wear pants or short dresses with tights/leggings underneath. If I didn't work at my current job, I would most likely wear pants more often during the week. My Shabbos clothes are always more fun than my weekday clothes, and I always try to dress up more than I do during the week, by putting on more makeup.

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?”) 
I'm not really sure what people think. Walking with my husband, while we are on vacation, I cover my hair and he wears a kippah but I always think people are confused when I wear pants. However, I actually have a lot of resentment from my mom about covering my hair since I chose to do something that she doesn't do. She often comments about the way my sheitels look (in her opinion bad) and asks me to uncover my hair the minute I walk into her home.

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? 
When I was younger I was extremely active in NCSY, and I spent alot of time with Jewish non-affiliated kids who went to public school. I always wanted them to see me as a more religious version of themselves. A lot of times people can view tzniut as constricting or restricting, but tzniut is really in the eyes of the beholder. Just because you choose to dress more modestly does not mean you cant be trendy, and it doesn't mean your sleeves have to be past your wrists. So I think having me as a reference point was a little less scary to them as lets say someone who was completely covered up all the time.

7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them? 
I try not to judge someone based on how they are dressed. I have many family members who are more religious than I am and appreciate the way that they dress, just as they appreciate the way I dress without judging me. I always feel bad for people who wear tights and long sleeves in the summer, it can get super hot! But I respect that they dress the way that they do and hope their shirts are the breezy kind so at least they aren't so uncomfortable.

8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you? 
Tzniut to me is a lifestyle choice. It means being modest in appearance but also in personality. I was always taught not to be too loud, or outlandish, or even incredibly flirty with my personality because that isn't necessarily being a modest person. I really feel like if you let your inner modesty show, that even if you do wear pants you can be considered a modest or tzniut individual.

9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more! 
Personally, know that wearing pants and covering your hair are two completely separate mitzvahs within the tzniut realm. In terms of wearing pants, I tend to wear less tight fitting jeans or pants and prefer the baggier, or gaucho style believing that to be a bit more tzniut than the traditional tight jeans. After learning about hair covering in school I always felt a great urge to cover my hair and believed in the mitzvah. Many of my more religious family members were surprised that I wanted to do it, and my sisters, when I got married each bet how long I would cover it for (three months and six months respectively), and I definitely have surpassed those numbers being married for two years, and I still really appreciate and believe in the mitzvah.