Tuesday, July 02, 2013

My lifetime of dressing modestly

Obviously, my title is a twist on Lauren Shields' "My year of modesty"  (it should be 9 months of modesty, if the title were precise) In some ways, here project parallels that of Pheobe Baker Hyde, who was also featured in Salon for her year without makeup. Both seem to have inspired by some protest against the beauty industry. Shields makes that clear in this paragraph:
Why, if beauty didn’t matter to me, did I have more than $600 worth of makeup in my closet (and I never left the house without at least some of it on) and more shoes than any sane individual needs? Why was I convinced that if I didn’t look “sexy” or at least attractive no one would listen to what I had to say?

In eschewing  a lot of makeup and hair products, I'm not exactly motivated by a protesting an industry that suggests that women have to shell out a fortune in order to feel confident about themselves. However, I can appreciate that point. As for me, it's really more a combination of not feeling any need to dress to impress, preferring a natural look in general, and just being a low-maintenance type of gal. I can get dressed in under 5 minutes.

 I actually have grown more low-maintenance as I've grown older.  For a while, I was careful to use blush to add some color to my pale complexion, but that didn't last long. A few years ago, I wouldn't have wanted to walk out of the house without any mascara on (with long-lasting formulas applied before Shabbos). Now, I don't really care, and leave it off more often than I put it on. I was never really into lipstick, which tends to come right off,  though I dutifully buy a tube every couple of years or so. I never wore nail polish, except, perhaps the clear variety a few decades ago.

As for hair, it's not just a matter of "who cares when it's covered" (with a tichel or hat more often than a sheitel)  I really never put much time into it. It's naturally curly, and I never straightened it or fussed with complicated arrangements.  As for eyebrow, etc., well the positive side of being fair and having rather thin lashes are brows that are anything but bushy. So not maintenance needed there either.

As for clothes, well being a WAHM, I don't really have the need to invest in business clothes. So I dress in mommy-friendly clothes, by which I mean casual clothes that allow freedom of movement and are easy to care for.  I also live in sneakers, which make walking so much pleasanter than any other type of shoe. While definitely modest in style, I don't aspire to the formal style that some yeshivish women maintain at all times. 

That brings me back to some of the interesting observations that Shields makes in recounting how Hasidic women looked to here:

Mind you, these Hasidic women were stylish: They looked good. They just didn’t look like everyone else. These women were not “fashionable” first, like most of the women I saw everywhere else — they seemed to be focused on something else, something more important than what was trendy. They had a very good reason for not dressing like the train-squishing crowd of Fifth Avenue, and I wanted a reason too.....
Eventually I scrapped the idea: I had no excuse to buck the trend. Plus, it would be a little ridiculous: “No, I dress like this because I’m pretty sure the beauty industry is a ploy to keep us from thinking about how to break into the boys’ club of corporate America, and obsession with your appearance is frivolous and time-consuming!
It takes some time, but then she decides to launch her experiment:
With the support of my seminary community and my then-boyfriend, I designed the Modesty Experiment, in which I took my cues from Jewish, Muslim and some Christian modesty practices in order to loosen my death grip on the idea that youth and beauty were prerequisites to relevance. I started a blog and a journal to stay accountable, and I gave away more than a third of my clothes. The clothes I couldn’t wear during the Experiment because they had no sleeves or were too short or tight, I gave to a friend, along with all of my makeup. It was hard — I actually cried on the way home from the clothing drop box.

And for nine months, I covered all of my hair, wore nothing that was so fitted that I felt like I had to sit or stand funny to look good, and never exposed my knees or my shoulders, except at home. With rare exceptions, I wore no makeup or nail polish. It was kind of brutal, and really liberating. 
It's interesting that she regards it as "liberating." I wouldn't say that all women who abide by religious stricture of modesty feel truly liberated by it. Some always try to push the boundaries as much as possible, with skirts that really are borderline, at best, clothes that may cover but fit like a second skin, high heeled shoes that draw attention from across the street, eye-catching jewelry, alluringly styled long-haired wigs, and as much makeup as a runway model wears. Come to think of it, Shields herself found the appeal to fade when she felt that this style of dress didn't work for her:
But in nine months, I learned that yes, you do get more done when you’re not obsessed with your shoes, but you do still need to look put-together for your own self-confidence. I learned that looking good isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it becomes the cornerstone of your identity — like the advertising industry tries to convince us it is — then you’re doing nothing but damage to yourself.

I learned that if you put down the Beauty Suit you will be ignored by people who think you have to look a certain way to be worth their time (men and women included), and that that is a small price to pay for not having to put on a costume every time you think you’ll need to impress them. I learned that you will feel invisible until you open your mouth, and then people will be amazed at what you have chosen to do in protest of the Western beauty ideal. And then those people probably won’t date you because you’re kind of outspoken. Or whatever.
Now here's where her article doesn't quite make sense. She says she launched this with the cooperation of her boyfriend. So it seems that he didn't mind her dressing this way. Also if she already had a significant other in her life, why would she be concerned about dressing in a way that make her look like  a candidate for a date?

So back to the reality check of those of us who dress modestly for life: being modest doesn't mean you have to look unattractive. If you feel you need some makeup to look polished for work or whatever social event you are going for, you can apply it. Onl,y like everything else, it should be done in moderation.

Related posts
http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2009/06/beauty-and-jap.html
http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2010/08/its-hot-were-not.html
 http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2009/06/tznius-as-its-own-religion.html (really good comment there)
http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2010/08/lets-get-facts-straight-on-what-gra.html


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