Dear Readers,

I’ve heard the expression that you are what you eat, but do you ever feel that you are what you wear?

Often, our choice of clothing reflects the image we want to project to the world. That’s why so many advice columns offer suggestions on what and what not to wear to a business interview or cocktail party. The members of the Royal family have rules on how formally they must dress for public engagement—from gloves to military uniforms to the length of their skirts. Private schools often enforce uniforms for their students, but even many public schools now have dress codes.

Usually, these codes are all about how our clothing affects others, either in what impression we make or in the image we want to project. But recently, I read a fascinating article proving just how much our clothes affect us!

A study was conducted by the University of Michigan, headed by Barbara Fredrickson, about how clothing correlated to academic performance. A random group of college-age men and women were asked to wear bulky sweaters or swimsuits: a one-piece suit for the women and swimming trunks for the men. Each participant was seated alone in a windowless room, with no observers, and asked to take a math test. Fredrickson later compared how the type of dress affected the test scores.

Men wearing swimming trunks did slightly better than those wearing sweaters. But for the women, there was a significant difference. The women in swimsuits fared much worse than those in sweaters, scoring only about half as many answers correctly! Subsequent research confirmed these results.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychologist and author, concluded that when women wear skimpy clothing, self-objectification occurs. Self-objectification distracts and makes it hard to focus on academics. They feel self-conscious.

Remember: These women were in a windowless room with no one watching them. Yet their clothing caused them to assess themselves as an object on display. Sax asserts that girls who self-objectify are more likely to become depressed and less likely to be satisfied with their bodies.

There is a very beautiful phrase in the book of Psalms (45:14) that reads, Kol Kevudah bas melech penima (“the very honor of the daughter of the King is within”). Every Jewish woman is the daughter of the King, and spiritually, she instinctively understands that her worth and honor come from within.

In Chassidic philosophy, the term penimiyut (“inwardness”) is discussed at length. Penimiyut is the opposite of superficiality or externality, and it means inward integrity—someone who lives according to his actions, who projects outwardly what he is inwardly.

A woman intuitively feels that her worth is far more than the external image she presents to the world. And yet, as this study indicates, her mode of dress affects how she views herself.

In a superficial world that objectifies women, the verse from Psalms reminds us to cherish inwardness, to stay true to our essence and to remember that we are a spiritual being.

And in a world that very much objectifies women, don’t let your dress objectify you.

How does your clothing make you feel about yourself?

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW