There’s a fashion guru who wrote about different personality types that he has encountered in his work and he wrote about how they dress to express themselves. One of those personalities is a type who does her best work behind the scenes and does not like being the center of attention. The very next type mentioned is my type — that of a woman who does things in her own way and cannot blend in with the crowd. I love this kind of juxtaposition because it’s Rak MeHashem (only from God). It reminds me that there are different personalities and that each one can express herself in her own way.
This also reminds me of me and one of my favorite cousins. She and I have similar body types and sizes. But while we have a lot in common, I find it very interesting that two people with similar body types can look so different in the same clothes. My cousin’s personal style is what I call “updated classic.” Her clothes are timeless but also up-to-date. She looks healthy and active and vital, as if she keeps up with everything around her, all of which is true. But if I were to wear her clothes, I would look like a stodgy old lady. My personal style is what I call “casual chic with a twist.” I like simple and streamlined silhouettes with fun colors and accessories. If my cousin were to wear my clothes, she would look and feel silly and childish.
The point is that everyone has their own unique personality and personal style. And that’s where tzniut comes into play.
Most people think that tzniut is nothing more than a dress code that dictates high necklines, long sleeves, and long pants for the men and longer skirts for the women. I’m not surprised that people think this way. Most of us don’t study it closely even in yeshiva and so all they know is the dress code. But tzniut is so much more than that.
True tzniut is about knowing who you are and expressing that in a dignified way. It’s about making sure that the external trappings are an accurate reflection of who you really are as a person. The dress codes do play a part because showing too much skin or shape distracts from the person. But it goes way beyond that. As I mentioned before, I don’t blend in well with any crowd. For example, in terms of my appearance, I have no problem with other women wearing shaytls, but I don’t recognize my own face in one. My mitpachot, on the other hand, show my creative side and I love that. My cousin’s updated classic clothes show her as smart and classy and I love it on her.
As many of my readers know, I’m adamantly against the erasing of women from frum media. And you know why. It’s a corruption of tzniut and turns women into objects. It demeans the men by implying that they can’t be mentschen. It deprives all of us of role models. It erases part of our history. It makes a Chillul Hashem. It’s wrong and dangerous.
However, there’s always the question of “what if the woman doesn’t want her photo to be out there? Why should she feel erased?”
The answer is that as long as SHE is the one making that choice based on her personality and personal style, it’s fine. If she really knows who she is and she knows that she does better behind the scenes and doesn’t want to be the center of attention, that’s good. And when she expresses that in a dignified way, that’s tzniut.
The problem is when that choice is taken away from her and other women. When publications and other entities refuse to show photos of women as policy, then it’s not the woman’s choice anymore. That’s not tzniut.
As I write this, it’s Elul and we’re getting ready for the Yamim Noraim. This is the time of year when we’re supposed to be doing a lot of soul searching and reconnecting with our best selves. That’s something special and it’s one reason that Elul is my favorite month of the year. We’re supposed to face our Maker, literally. He wants to see our faces and hear our voices. We can’t hide from Him nor should we. And we shouldn’t be hiding from each other either.
As we approach the Yom HaDin, let’s make sure that we’re facing our Maker with the best faces possible. If your’s is a face that doesn’t like to be conspicuous, that’s fine. If it does like to be conspicuous, that shouldn’t be any different.