“Why does your dinosaur have a ribbon on her head?” the teacher asked five-year-old me.

“Because it’s a girl,” I answered with a smile.

I was the only child who had given my drawing a gender. I was proud of my dinosaur. She dressed the part of who she was. The teacher thought this was so cute that she telephoned my mom the following day to tell her about my creativity.

As a child, I insisted on wearing dresses and the color pink. I guess I was born a feminist, in the nonpolitical sense. I celebrated my girlhood and was proud of it.

I was proud of my dinosaur

At a very young age, I realized there was something very special about my femininity. It was a thing of beauty. I admired it about myself, and wanted others to notice it in me. I also realized that the clothing I used to adorn my body had meaning. It defined who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted others to see me.

It’s not a surprise that people judge us by what we wear. The fact is, however shallow it may be, that our clothing portrays an image to the world of who we are and who we want to be. We are a visual society. We look at the outside world through the visual stimuli of television, the Internet and magazines.

And yet, really knowing a person is so much deeper than that. To have a deeper admiration for a person, we must use our other senses. Beauty is found in things that can be seen, but also in things that cannot. We can be attracted to a person’s scent, touch or personality. To see the complete and true beauty of a person requires depth.

As I grew older, I learned about modesty. Modesty doesn’t have a great reputation in teen and young adult circles. This is understandable, because at first it seems to stifle individuality and freedom. We’re even surprised when we think someone who dresses modestly looks beautiful.

On a trip with a group of friends, one person pointed to a radiant woman in a kosher café and said, “I thought religious women were supposed to be modest, but she looks beautiful.”

My It seems to stifle individuality and freedomfriend’s assumption was that the point of women dressing modestly was so men wouldn’t look at them. Modesty was synonymous, in his mind, with making oneself unattractive.

Modern Western culture encourages us to show off our assets. And, for women, our bodies can be our biggest assets. Showing off our bodies is “liberating.” We shouldn’t be “ashamed” of what we have if it is beautiful. Dressing in a more provocative way is called “growing up.” This is certainly true in Hollywood, but Hollywood just reflects the greater society. Being proud of your body equals being proud of yourself.

As a woman in America today, I feel like I’m given mixed messages. I’m expected to be an educated career woman, and I’m also expected to be feminine and attractive in order to find a husband. But the outfits to do those things are totally different. The superwoman of today is expected to “have it all” and dress accordingly for every part she plays.

Judaism says we can play both of these roles in our modest attire. Not because Judaism wants women to be unattractive: modesty is supposed to be beautiful. Not because a woman is ashamed of what is underneath—but because it is valuable. When something is valuable, we guard it. We don’t let just anyone see it or touch it. We protect it. A woman dresses modestly because she is aware of the power of the feminine body. Furthermore, dressing modestly allows us to be true to ourselves, no matter what type of role we are playing.

Judaism says that the human is comprised of two elements: body and soul. Our body, however, is not who we are. It is the clothing of our soul.

The point of our body is to house the soul and help it grow. By covering up the more “flashy” parts of ourselves, we are inviting others to take a deeper look We are inviting others to take a deeper lookat us. Modesty allows others to really get to know us.

Modesty does not hold us back from being beautiful. In fact, being beautiful in a modest way is praiseworthy. It is saying, “I respect myself, and I am someone worthy of getting to know.” Modesty is a tool for us as women to harness our beauty and tell the world we are much more than our outsides.

Modesty gives us a guideline for how to access the unlimited beauty within us. It further challenges others to come and experience the depth of that beauty. It’s meant to enhance who we are as people, not put limitations on it.

Some of my friends have started little scrapbooks of movie stars dressing in modest attire. Others have started modest fashion blogs. It’s amazing how many examples there really are of famous women dressing this way. It’s not as odd as we think it is; it’s just that we haven’t been trained to look for it.

Pink dresses, bows, high heels, flowing hair and makeup are things I love about being a girl and a woman. Playing dress-up as an adult and being admired for my feminine flair is not something I would ever want to give up. But I also would never give up the chance to be admired for my inner beauty and the woman I have become. Modesty is my vehicle for both self-expression and self-respect.