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Why I Struggle With Dressing Modestly

Why I Struggle With Dressing Modestly

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“Why are you wearing winter clothes?” asked the 10-year-old camper, rather incredulous. She was bouncing a ball, sweating, as she stared at me and my getup.

It was 90 degrees, and I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt under a short-sleeved camp shirt, as well as a long skirt“Why are you wearing winter clothes?” and socks.

Another camper was tugging my arm, so I smiled and replied, “Remind me to explain it to you later.”

You see, I was raised in an observant Jewish home. My parents are Chabad emissaries in a small town, and I’ve been questioned about my modest wardrobe quite a few times. I usually give a quick answer—“I’m a religious Jew, and so I dress modestly.” But faced with the question coming from a young, impressionable girl attending a Jewish day camp, I wanted to ensure that my response had more substance.


Over the years, I’ve fallen in love with different aspects of our religion. One thing that I never quite felt attracted to was the mitzvah to dress modestly. When I hit my teen years, dressing within the guidelines of tzniut (modesty) felt limiting and frustrating. I was desperate to fit in; dressing so modestly made me stick out in all the ways I didn’t want to.

In high school, I went through a rebellious stage, questioning G‑d and religion. My observance began to decline, and my closet took the hardest hit. I pushed everything that was too modest to the side and chose outfits that let my knees and elbows peek through. I wasn’t looking for tank tops and miniskirts, I just wanted to push the boundaries a little. I wanted to be able to walk into a store and pick out what suited my taste, rather than what followed every last detail of Jewish law.

Through prayer, I finally reconnected to G‑d. Prayer reached into my soul and pulled out what was clogging it. My newfound love for Judaism helped me get to my deepest essence and express it. The laws of modesty, though, didn’t feel representative of who I was. As I soared in commitment and dedication in other areas, this area remained exactly where it was, even dropping slightly once in a while.

There is no fairytale ending to this story. The truth is, dressing modestly is still a struggle for me. I’m young, and the world is telling me that if I want to be desirable (of course, I want to be) and beautiful (yes, please), I should dress a certain way. And it is so very hard for me to continue following the rules of tzniut.

It’s not that I don’t understand the value of modesty. Attending Jewish schools, I’ve been taught that the more skin we cover, the more we force the world’s eyes to meet ours, to listen closely to the wisdom and strength that comes from our hearts and minds. Our body is a home, and often a beautiful one, to house the parts of us that truly matter. By dressing modestly, we put the deserving focus on who we are and who we haveI’m not over the hump. I’m in the struggle. been working so hard to become—a co-worker, a boss, a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter. I know that there is a deep beauty in these laws, a tremendous depth to letting women be more than their bodies.

I know that, and I seek to feel that. But it’s not a part of me, that knowledge. I’m not there yet.

But I want to get there. I know that when I create my future home, I want it to be built on the foundation of Torah. I yearn for a home in which the walls sing songs of prayer, and dinner is kosher and plentiful, warming the bodies and souls of those who eat it. I yearn for a home in which the love and awe that I feel for the Creator can permeate the hearts and minds of my children. And I yearn for a home in which the values of tzniut are honored and loved.

For now, the details of modesty are something I adhere to out of respect for my religion and family. It is not something I always feel warmly towards.

I’m not over the hump. I’m in the struggle. And that’s OK. Because Judaism is not about being at the end of the story. Judaism does not seek perfection or ask me to skip the struggle. Indeed, the struggle is the most important part.

And isn’t that in itself inspiration to keep going? While I often prefer to have the answers to all the why’s and how’s, there is a certain beauty in not having all the answers. In doing something simply because I know it’s important, even if it isn’t easy or convenient. Even if it’s really hard. Especially because it’s really hard.

Judaism is hard. Anything that is so deeply good will only come with hard work. Hard work or being uncomfortable is never a good reason to give up though, especially when you know that past the struggle is an endless truth.

I hope that one day, when I don my modest clothing, I’ll feel that it expresses the truth in my heart. But until then, I’ll simply do it, even if I’m not “feeling it.” Because, though I’m grateful that much of my mitzvah observance makes me feel good, it’s just not always about me.


Later that day, as we walked to the pool, I turned to my camper and said, “I cover so much of my body with clothing because a woman is truly beautiful when her face has a chance to shine through. When my body is uncovered, it’s distracting from what is really important—the words IIt’s not always about me have to say, the things I can teach and learn. Modesty allows a woman to be true to herself.”

She nodded, smiled, and we kept walking. She began to speak of another subject.

The answer was true. It was what I had been taught in school. But, I thought to myself, it’s not necessarily what I always feel.

I wear modest clothing because G‑d asked me to. He gives me so much each day, He allows me to wake up each morning, He blessed me with a large and beautiful family, He gifted me with a religion that brings out the truth in everything and gives me reason to get up every day. He hasn’t stopped giving to me since I was born, and so . . .

This one is for Him.

Born and bred in the beautiful state of New Hampshire, Etti Krinsky has always been writing something. She blogs about her world at This Public Diary and dreams of making a positive difference in the world one day.
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Anonymous Canada January 16, 2017

with G-d's help........ Adam and Eve after they missed the mark(sinned) by eating of the forbidden fruit covered themselves with figs leaves. G-d came on the scene, and covered them properly with animal skin . Modesty is still in style. Reply

Anonymous January 15, 2017

Beautiful article, Etti. Kol hakavod to you. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles January 6, 2017

Minhag (custom) vs Din (law) Modest dress does not mean wearing a long sleeved shirt under another shirt in the summer, or wearing stockings, or ankle length skirts. Modest dress means in the summer, short sleeves are fine. It means your skirt covers your knees. It means not showing off your breasts or wearing too tight clothes or too short clothes or showing bare midriffs or bare shoulders. In essence, it means dressing modestly and not flagrantly. There is no need to adopt the dress of 19th century Poland to dress modestly, but there is a need to avoid provocative dress. It means wearing a one piece bathing suit and not a bikini. Reply

Anonymous January 6, 2017

Actually the writer is not "feeling it" regarding the law of modesty just because it is quite clear she has never wear mini skirt and tank shirt ! Once you do that and you take the subway see how men but not only, are looking at you ! Or just go to work with a sexy tight dress and see if your coworkers in a mainly men office are looking at your eyes when you speak to them or elsewhere ! Once you have experienced that one or two time your get the idea! But the truth is some women See this as a proof of their beauty , they are looking for the attention of men and that is human we need sometimes that to be confident ...it is just that it doesn't work as men who are only attracted by your physic they will never fall in love with you really... Reply

Anonymous Cape Town January 6, 2017

I agree with the philosophy of modesty. The opposite causes endless strife and problems. However as a creative individual who loves design and style modest clothes do not unfortunately fit this bill. The clothes are sacks and allow for limited fashion flair. This is my ongoing struggle and will probably remain so. I choose fashion and style over modesty most of the time. And I bear the consequences of which there are many. Reply

M. Diane Flushing, NY January 6, 2017

elbows and knees Somehow i don't think it's the actual elbow or knee that men like so much as it is the shape and lines from the ankles to calves and upward. The same thing applies, i gather, with the female arms - the lines of the forearm to upper arm, etc. If we cover those areas that trigger their imaginations, we help men stay chaste. It is not a defect in men that they find these things beautiful and exciting. They are wired that way, thank G-d. Let's celebrate them. They're perfectly wonderful as G-d designed them. I enjoyed this article which I have read a number of times since I am planning to venture out more and am trying to find my Chassid style. I'd like to be "Chassid Chic." I like Carla's funky flair idea. I need something artsy but grown up- maybe mostly darker colors with a pop of something bright. A heel, even a chunky one. Make up? I never use it. I was told it ages the skin. What about lip color? Nail polish? I Want to read more on modesty/style theme. Thanks for sharing. Reply

Stephanie Varon Las Vegas, Nevada January 5, 2017

I don't think God would have you think of "elbows and knees" as "tantilizing and distracting" aspects of your body but functional joints. Neither do I think it pleases Him that you "swelter and suffer" to be "true to yourself or your religion." God gave us BOTH common sense and a sense of modesty. "MODERATION" is the key word here. I am Catholic and I feel for the poor nuns covered head-to-toe in their wimples and habits. I understand WHY they dress this way but not HOW they justify these extremes. I don't read any descriptions or proscriptions in Scripture (Old or New Testaments) in which God spells out what is or isn't to be worn in order to demonstrate modesty. But I guess it's all in the heart as to what you choose to do to show honor and respect for yourself and for God. Reply

Shana Levine Pittsfield January 5, 2017

Thank you for opening up and sharing your thought provoking experience with all of us. The two lines that resonated the most with me were:

I’m not over the hump. I’m in the struggle. And that’s OK.

Prayer reached into my soul and pulled out what was clogging it. Reply

Shoshana Deutsch NYC January 5, 2017

B"H

Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written.
I was wondering if you prefer loose fitting clothes or you also wear shells that are tight fitting to the arm and Tube skirts. What do you think of these kinds of clothing for a modest woman? Thank you. :) Reply

Estee Kaplan Brooklyn January 5, 2017

Etti,great article! It really brings to light the struggle a lot of us have with dressing Tznius. I love how you went beyond the platitudes we're taught in school and came to the realization that it's ok to do it for Hashem. Reply

carla usa January 5, 2017

I also try to dress modestly but with a funky flair. I wear a long skirt but pair it with Colored basketball sneakers or Doc Martin floral boots. My tops are pretty basic long sleeve and usually black, but I wear a long chain with charms and lots of interesting bracelets. Awesome makeup and i'm good to go. Reply

Susan Levitsky January 5, 2017

Knees and elbows If knees and elbows are enough to excite a man, there is something wrong with him that he can't control himself. Why stop there. Aren't wrists and ankles just as exciting? This type of article reminds me of Muslim women being berated by the clothing police because their socks aren't thick enough.
Another way to recognize an observant woman; her hair is hanging in her eyes. I am unmarried so my natural hair is in full view. My mother has sometimes reminded me it is time to cut my bangs. I am making this same reminder to observant women, or is it a badge of honor to cover part of your face too? Reply

Anonymous January 3, 2017

If a kid is asking you why you are wearing winter clothes, you have gone too far. Modesty shouldn't attract peoples questions. Reply

Molly Resnick New York January 3, 2017

You are a true Tanya Beinoni or is it Beinonit? Your Avoida / Struggle for Hashem is truly commendable...
I am certain HE is getting tremendous Nachas from you.
Now go for the Phd: Do it with Joy and Enjoy it.
"Ivdu es Hashem b'Simcha"
Hazlacha Raba 'Muflaga - Onward and Upward

Mrs. M. Resnick - an admirer Reply

Anonymous israel January 3, 2017

And that is the point..... its for Him. Reply

jim dallas January 2, 2017

you did, make a difference and not 'someday', no, TODAY, because i was interested in this very subject and here now, you have elucidated it for me! thanks ever so much, and oh yes, get to your writing, i enjoyed reading your story! Reply

Katie Cheyenne January 2, 2017

This is one of the most beautiful posts I've read on true modesty. We are a peculiar people and should not look like the world. If someone says, "Oh, your so normal and you fit in so well," something is wrong. We are not normal and we shouldn't long to be. A Daughter of the King is more beautiful and lovely than another. I would personally like to thank this author for being a modest young lady. I have a Husband and three Sons and I'm glad there is one less Lady in the world that they have to turn their eyes away from. Reply

Raymond Bastarache Canada January 2, 2017

A man point of view A big Hurrah! for you ...keep up the good work! You are representing what a beautiful young lady should look like. I for one, respect... your dress code.. Today, there is to much "bare skin" in our world? and when I see godliness in a woman I truly want to respect her and I believe G-d loves it as well. He said He would "Beautify the meek with salvation". Shalom> Reply

Anonymous Clinton January 2, 2017

Modesty is a perception I have also sought to dress modestly most of my life but it is true that doing so excessively sometimes attracts more attention than dressing more within the norm. It was pointed out in the article that the point is to avoid calling attention away from who we are and what we say and do. Perhaps that is a good rule to follow. Do not seek to attract attention due to the way you dress. Reply

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