Okay, it’s not “what to wear.”
But it is related.
Every woman that I know has boundaries around what she will allow herself to wear. Some things are just too low-cut, too tight, too skimpy, or too provocative. At the same time, every woman wants to look and feel pretty, cute, and attractive.
This creates problems. Because wherever you draw your line, chances are there are some clothes that will come awfully close to your boundary on either side – either it makes you look great, but it might be over the line, or it’s within your line, but doesn’t make you look as great as you feel you could look.
Welcome to the world of tzniyus.
The word “tzniyus” (TZNEE-yus), also pronounced “tzniyut” (tznee-OOT), is often mistranslated. It’s a very positive character trait, and is a combination of dignity, privacy, and self-respect. Not oversharing. No TMI. Boundaries. You may hear it translated as “modesty” which is only one aspect of this trait. It applies to men and women in different ways and impacts every facet of reality, including, but not limited to, speech, thought, comportment, dress, and attitude.
When a woman in particular tries to incorporate tzniyus into her dress, she may find herself struggling with what looks good, but not too provocative. This is very tough, because every woman has an individual sense of style, which is a good thing, and because the fashion world around us is so weird and capricious and markets women in incredibly stupid ways.
This is something I think about a lot.
On the one hand, I follow halacha [Jewish law], and it’s my Bible. So tzniyus means skirts only, and covering my knee or longer. It means tops will always cover my collar bone, and it means my arms will be covered till at least the elbow. I’m proud that I dress this way. I am indentifiable as an observant Jew and I feel self-respect towards my body. But there are so many other dragons to slay.
How tight? How bright? How head-turning? What am I trying to communicate about myself? Am I succeeding? I’m not immune to fashion; are you? As the styles change, do my values? Are pointy shoes really weird or do I just think they’re weird because I haven’t seen them enough? Will pop culture change how I view my body image? Is it better to look like everyone else, or is it important or healthy for me to be different?
Do you struggle with this, fellow females? Where are your boundaries? How do you deal?