I’m sure all of you who have attended Bais Yaakov- (or even a seminary in Israel) or functioned for any length of time as a woman in frum society- know about tznius- loosely defined as modesty. Tznius’s purpose is to play down the exteriors of a woman- her body and clothes- so that her true worth can be appreciated. It allows women to be more than a glittery façade, more than arm candy, more than a trophy wife. It allows a woman to remain attractive- beautiful even- and yet also appreciated for her skills, her mind, her heart, and her personality. Tznius’s value is in its spirit- in understanding you are worthy of respect and so you demand it by your mode of dress, speech and behavior. Tznius is a beautiful concept and a beautiful tradition we frum women uphold.
Whether the average (ok- slightly above average in height!) frum woman keeps these concepts in mind as she tries (in vain) to find a skirt to cover the knees on her 5”11 frame is debatable. Most men don’t contemplate the meaning of tzitzis- as they get dressed. And the half-awake male dozing under his yarmulke is certainly not contemplating G-d’s awesome, constant presence above him. Women are the same- we don’t often think about tznius- it’s just how things are. Like all women, we want to feel attractive, and like all women we love clothes and presenting ourselves well. We often forget just how different our appearances are from our gentile counterparts.
Surfin’ the Shidduch Scene’s recent encounter at a work social event shook up my perceptions about tznius. Surfin the Shidduch Scene was the sole modest female in attendance at a ritzy work event. She was the only salmon in a sea of tropical fish. In a visually dazzling crowd of exposed shoulders and low necklines, of bright hued magentas, fire engine reds and itsy bitsy black cocktail dresses- she stood alone at the bar in her frum evening attire. (imagine if you will an adorable knee length black dress, long sleeved-maybe chiffon? Cute? Yes- eye catching? NO.). Lo and behold- a male party attendant was drawn to and fascinated by her. He said all of the other females present bored him. She was different and that peaked his interest.
-BOING- That- dear readers is the sound of all of my preconceived notions about tznius bouncing back and hitting me in the head. By dressing in her traditional, modest way Surfin’ the Shidduch Scene drew (arguably negative) attention to herself! There is a certain allure to a woman who is unavailable- the forbidden fruit. People always want what they can’t have. So, in this case (and I’m sure in many other cases) is tznius defeating its own purpose? In a hyper-sexualized, over exposed world is the idea of a covered woman more appealing? MORE alluring? What does this mean for tznius? Perhaps standing out does not go against tznius but supports its greatest tenet. Yes, you may stand out- but you stand out because people wonder who the woman behind the long sleeved attire is- not because your tznius dress makes you inherently more physically desirable. Tznius causes people to be curious about the woman herself. What kind of woman arrives at a formal affair with shoulders, cleavage and legs hidden? What kind of fish swims against the current? Well- a boring old salmon of course! J