This morning I was picking up a few skirts that had fallen in my closet, when I ran into an old love...my high heeled boots! Oh, my beloved boots, how I missed you so! Nostalgia took over me. Suddenly I found myself reminiscing about the way I used to dress- trendy clothes and fashionable shoes... “The good ol’ days,” I thought. I delicately placed the shoe on my foot, imagining that I was Charedi Cinderella, but without my Prince Charming to do the drop-down-on-one-knee-thing. I hobbled over to the mirror, one foot four inches higher than the other, anticipating the grand moment when I would see myself once again as a modern, trendy young woman. I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror....
Who was this person looking back at me? What a change- I had undergone a gradual, yet shocking, metamorphosis. Well, at least I didn’t end up as a giant cockroach, like the guy in the Franz Kafka story. “What happened to me?” I thought. My hair was completely covered with a scarf, and my body- well, honestly, there was not much you could see. All that was showing was a head, a neck, a vague black blob of loose shirts and skirts, and mismatched shoes at the bottom. For a short while, I missed my pants, which reminded me that I actually had two legs and not a mermaid-like bottom. I missed my tank tops, which reminded me that I had two arms that didn’t billow in the wind. I tried to remember what it felt like to walk around with my hair loose and flowing, or tied back in a cute ponytail. I envisioned how dramatic my eyes looked with eyeliner and mascara on them (not that I really wore it that much). It was a moment in which I suddenly found myself trying to recapture the me of the past.
Most “modern” women look at religious women with pity and maybe even slight revulsion. “Why would a woman let herself be oppressed like that?” you may wonder. I used to think this way myself. Why would a young, beautiful girl choose to dress like her grandmother, and not show off her curves? Why wouldn’t she want to wear the latest high heeled platforms that show off her legs? And what’s up with those crazy head coverings? Don’t they know they’re, like, totally unattractive?! “We’re not living in the Dark Ages anymore,” you may say. “We’re liberated women, free to dress as we’d like.” Really? Do you think that because you dress a certain way, that is the way you show the world you are liberated? Let’s examine this point...
Yes, our bodies might be liberated- too liberated, in fact. But at what price? Historically, freedom from oppression always came with a very high price- human life. And dear women, we are in fact paying that price today. When I look back on what I like to call my “former life”, I was paying a high price for my perceived liberation in so many ways. I was not at peace with myself, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had a general, vague anxiety and lack of direction in my life. I wasn’t happy with school, my choice of career, or anything else in my life. Now, I wasn’t depressed- I just didn’t have that inner peace that I have now. (My husband would probably laugh at this statement, since I don’t exactly come across that way when my kids drive me crazy!)
Look at your own lives, ladies. Be honest with yourselves. You might exercise your freedom to look as you wish, but your souls are probably not free. Your souls might be crying from the depths of your self-imposed prisons, and you might not even be aware of their pain. How might this pain be expressed? Maybe it’s a low self-esteem. Many women, no matter how beautiful they are, suffer from incredibly low self-esteem. They try hide it by focusing on their looks- spending hours shopping for that perfect black dress, trying on the latest shade of red lipstick, or getting their weekly mani/pedi. This at least takes some time away from having to deal with their issues. The rest of the week may be filled up by going out for drinks with friends after work, or watching “reality” dramas on TV, or switching boyfriends.
Maybe it’s anxiety or depression. No one likes to face their darker side, and we do what we can to avoid dealing with it. It’s hard to let these feelings overcome us when we’re busy focusing on our looks. Hours spent at the gym flirting and exercising can easily fill up that void. Trying to achieve the perfect tan is another way we might let the hours slip by. Ah, the beach. Most young, fashionable women wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a one-piece! And if that bikini bottom doesn’t show your protruding hip bones, it’s covering too much!
Many liberated women suffer from the perpetual competition to look their best. Think about it- why are they always trying to be the most attractive in the crowd? Why would they care if one of their girlfriends looks prettier than they look? Why are they trying to stand out, or get noticed by other men? What are they trying to prove? This is a sad casualty of our liberation. Society has taught us that in order to feel liberated and modern, we must dress according to society’s expectations. So wait a minute- we think we’re exercising our freedom to dress as we want, but really, we’re being programmed to do so. We’re not free, ladies. Not only are we acting like robots, following society’s directives to behave as we’re told, but our souls are being suffocated by our liberation. For any woman who really thinks that she is dressing in a unique way, I have this to say- unless you’re designing and sewing your own clothes, you’re following the trend of fashion, just like everyone else.
I can tell you from experience, because I’ve been there- looking beautiful doesn’t make you happy. It certainly doesn’t make your life the fairytale you may wish it were. Your Prince Charming is not going to stay swept off his feet by your gorgeous looks forever. You may say that a woman can still be at peace with herself and dress to kill. I disagree. There is a fine line between dressing elegantly and dressing to get attention. If you’re choosing the latter, it benefits you to discover why. Looking for attention this way is a symptom of something lacking in your life. Whatever you are missing, you must make an effort to find it. Don’t misunderstand me- I’m not saying that because I dress modestly now that I’m a more confident, at-peace-with-myself woman. Of course, part of it is that I don’t want to take any blessings away from my family and anyone else’s, which is exactly what you are doing when you cause a man to stare at you. He’s just stealing your energy and losing his own. What I am saying is that because I have worked on my personal issues (and continue to do so), I no longer feel the need to attract attention. I have liberated myself from the platinum chains of society’s expectations. Therefore, I can dress modestly and not feel any less beautiful. Sure, it’s still hard to go with my hair covered. I think that will take a while longer to get used to. But overall, I feel more beautiful now than ever. Remember, beauty comes from within. If your soul is shining, no matter what you are wearing, you will always look and feel beautiful. To learn more about what it means to have real beauty, listen to Rabbi Brody’s fabulous CD entitled, “Your Beauty”.