From the moment I covered my hair, I didn’t connect with it. I would look in the mirror with my wig on and couldn’t relate to myself. So I opted for hats. But with hats, I always felt hidden. Like it was a barrier between me and the rest of the world.
I agonized for months over the decision to stop covering my hair. I sometimes would and then I sometimes wouldn’t, depending on where I was or who I’d be seeing. I was so afraid of judgement, what would my community think of me? Would I still be considered Orthodox? And, at 21, what people thought of me seemed to be of critical importance.
My husband was supportive of any decision I would make. And so, I turned to the two women whose opinions I valued most. My mother, and my mother-in-law. My mom, who had been covering her hair for over 35 years, told me she understood where I was coming from and would not judge my choice. I remember feeling a huge weight lifting from her words. My mother-in-law was equally accepting, saying that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she had come to learn that family was truly all that mattered. She didn’t care how I arrived at the shabbat table or what I was wearing. All that counted was that I would be there. I’m blessed to have such strong women in my life who supported me in the way that they did.
And so, off came the hair covering. At first slowly, I wore these little headbands for a while, and then entirely. And I felt free.
But of course, there were consequences. At the time, I was working for an Orthodox organization teaching unaffiliated youth about Judaism and its values. It was a job that I loved, where I felt I was making a difference in enhancing my students’ sense of Jewish identity. But a rabbi at the organization caught wind that I no longer covered my hair and decided to let me go. When I told my students I would not be returning, I struggled to find the words to explain. That was really hard for my young self to stomach and it took a while to get over, but it put me on the path I am on today.
Unfortunately, that experience proved how much value is often placed on image in the Orthodox community. Sometimes too much currency is put into the wrong thing. To me, uncovering my hair was not a feminist act, necessarily, it was simply about being human, and having a right to my choices. Our choices are inevitably judged, but I would rather wear my heart on my sleeve than a hat on my head.