As a bride, I was pretty excited and enthusiastic about beginning to cover my hair. Skipping a discussion of religious convictions, I just thought hair coverings look so nice on women, marking their married status and matching their outfits. Two days before my wedding, I went into a shop and had fun selecting some pretty tichels, some long and some square, some plain for everyday wear and some more festive for special occasions.
On my first day as a married woman, I lingered for a long time in front of the mirror, tying my head scarf in such a way as to ensure it won't fall off. My husband complimented me (as he does to this day). I felt exhilarated; there I am, married, and the whole world knows it simply by looking at me from afar, even before spotting my new sparkling gorgeous wedding ring.
Then, as the initial excitement began to wear off, I noticed something strange. As soon as I put on a head scarf, I no longer knew the person looking back at me from the mirror. It just wasn't me. Somehow, the square of thin fabric managed to turn me, at once, into someone much older, someone plain and boring and lacking in individuality. Even when I wore one of my prettiest head coverings, the most I could say was, "she looks sort of nice." She - not me.
Come on, I reasoned with myself. It's only hair. The only difference in your appearance is that your hair is no longer visible. This how you are marked as a married woman, and let's face it, yes, hair is an important part of a woman's attraction, so by removing it from sight we become - no, not ugly, sure, but less appealing to strangers. Which is the whole point, or at least part of it.
So what did really bother me?
Hair covering is a commandment I wouldn't contemplate giving up; I just wish I could find it in myself to love it more, I thought as something within me squirmed each time I looked at my reflection. Then it hit me; sure, the hair covering does hide away a part of who I am, only now when I am married, who I am is supposed to be guarded even more closely.
I didn't go anywhere. I can still see myself, the way I know and like myself. So can my husband, my children, and any woman. It's only to strange men that I'm supposed to become invisible, and it does make all the sense in the world. Does it really matter to me that strangers can't see part of who I am? If anything, I ought to rejoice in that.
I marveled anew, at how a piece of thin fabric tied around one's head instantly makes men businesslike and respectful, signaling "here is another man's wife". When I walk down a street, I know I am invisible to any decent man. This is powerful protection. It is now also part of who I am. Part of the new me; the married woman, invisible to half the planet.
I realize that only a minority of those who read this are hair-covering women, but I think the same feelings and reflections can be applied to any step taken towards modesty, when it is different from something you used to do throughout your whole life. I felt a lot less self-conscious, and a lot less noticeable, when I began to wear modest blouses, too, and when I switched from pants to skirts.
Being Jewish, I'm really very happy we have such clear guidelines on modesty and on what ought to be covered, otherwise I would probably be forever deliberating, as I still do regarding some matters which are considered grey areas (such as open-toed sandals). So my hair is safely covered outside and safely uncovered at home.
So, perhaps I'll never fully identify with my hair-covered reflection. I will probably never be one of those women who cover when they are at home too, without feeling any urge to let their hair down; but I am performing the essential of this mitzvah, doing it whole-heartedly and out of full conviction, and I hope this is pleasing in the eyes of G-d.