Monday, December 19, 2011

Headcoverings and me: a relationship

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. 

29 comments:

Rose said...

My dear Anna, I don't fully understand the hair covering but I respect it. If you covered or not, I would support you. I wear my hair short and uncovered wherever I am. We have different approaches to what a married woman must do but we do it whole-heartedly and out of full conviction of who we are. We are women of conviction who deserve respect. Bless you.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Rose, of course my modesty convictions come from a Jewish point of view, and as you know we don't believe the whole world should turn Jewish. :o)

Kate said...

What a great and honest post! It's so refreshing to hear how something *really is* for people rather than just seeing them do it and thinking "umm.. ok??" but to get the whole entire side of it is so interesting!!!!

famayes said...

I can relate to your ambivalent feelings initially about your head covering. I am the only married women who wears a head covering in my church during worship services. I certainly don't think the covering is very attractive and I don't like standing out as the only one, but I get a warm glow when I look at my husband and think to myself that I am doing this to honor him as my head.

Analytical Adam said...

Nobody "deserves" respect. I don't nor does any women and that in itself is "not modest". To think you deserve respect. If you cover your head with that mentality that is complete arrogance. I saw Muslim women in the place I worked who covered their head and their arrogance was breathtaking and their view that they are superior to men which I understand mostly they attract brainless men to be religious

The male religious leaders always give women of ALL RELIGIONS this egoism because the common enemy is men. I admit it. I can't compete with the male religious leaders.

LouLou said...

I love how well you explained your experience with head-covering, and your reasons for it. I am a Christian, but I have covered for things like Lent. I noticed a difference in myself, how I dressed (even more modestly!), and how others treated me. It is not a requirement for Christians, but I do believe that there will be times in my life where I feel that I need to cover, to become more prayerful, more loving, more modest, more patient, or to remember my place as my husband's helpmeet and not as his head. There are so many wonderful aspects to covering!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Adam, we differ on a very basic point here. I happen to think everyone deserves respect.

Apple Blossom said...

It was nice to read your feelings about head-covering and i was amazed to find so many simiarities between my personal feelings about it and yours; the hesitation but still the satisfacion and a feeling of protection! I am a Muslim woman...i believe too that it is something that God has asked us to do which is for our own benefit...
I love the analogy i read somewhere that we are like the hidden pearls...not found everywhere but deep down in the ocean...
Does keeping a pearl within a cover or a diamond in a safe place decrease its worth? Rather it increases it! It is when the woman’s outer appearance is hidden from public display that her inner qualities of intellect, wisdom and knowledge shine through.
Wish you a nice day!

American Niqabi said...

Adam I think that it is you who is the arrogant one. Saying that no one deserves respect. That's absurd. I think that is just a way for you to be a jerk to others without feeling guilty about it later.
If I could quote one thing you wrote--" I saw Muslim women in the place I worked who covered their head and their arrogance was breathtaking and their view that they are superior to men which I understand mostly they attract brainless men to be religious "
We do not cover our hair out of some sort of superiority complex, we do it our of modesty. We believe that hair is something which should only be seen by our family. Some of us choose to take it a step further by covering our faces as well, not out of arrogance, not because we think we are better than others, but because we want to save our beauty for certain people, rather than flaunting it so everyone can see.
I don't know much about why Jewish women cover their hair, but I assume it is probably for similar reasons as Muslim women.

"The male religious leaders always give women of ALL RELIGIONS this egoism because the common enemy is men."
The enemy is men? Are you some sort of radical feminist? I have NEVER read anything like that in ANY religious text.

Kate said...

I have always admired head coverings on women. My husband and my Christian denomination do not believe it is necessary or expected to head cover. In fact, they call it legalism, which breaks my heart. I wish sometimes that it never fell out of practice among most Christian denominations.

Jennifer said...

Good heavens, Adam. I dislike the idea that we HAVE to cover, but you blow this so hugely out of proportion. This sounds simply to me like an "I'm not available for courtship" sign to another man, should another man ever meet her.

Bethany said...

Over the past few months I've been coming to a new understanding of what modesty means (for myself, at least) and your posts on modesty and head coverings have been very illuminating for me. I think head coverings are very beautiful on women, and give them such a sweet and gentle aura (usually). Thanks for posting about this, your conviction is very encouraging!

Upper West Side Mom said...

"When I walk down the street I know that I am invisible to any decent man"

I like to think of it as being unavailable to any decent man (or indecent man for that matter). I know that one does not disappear when they cover their hair (by the way I cover my hair). I find that decent men are capable of interacting with me when they see that my head is covered. In fact I would consider any man who thinks that I am invisible to be anything but a decent man.

Bonnie said...

Thanks so much for sharing Anna :) I appreciate being able to get an insight into what it's like to wear headcoverings :)

Anonymous said...

You are lucky Adam, that Anna believes that everybody deserves respect otherwise her response to your nonsensical comment may have been far less restrained.

Sara

Lady Anne said...

Oh, Amen, Sara! I think Anna has the patience of a saint! I knew as I was reading her post that Adam would pop up with some reply.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Patience of a saint... haha... that's a good one. :o))

Rachel said...

I don't cover, don't know any Christian women personally who cover, and don't know any Jewish women at all.
One of the reasons I like your blog so much is seeing an insider glimpse to a culture that I otherwise probably wouldn't know existed.

Melinda said...

Thank you for posting about headcovering. I think it's lovely that you cover whenever you're out of the house. I'm an Orthodox Christian, and many women in my parish cover their heads while in church, especially when it comes time to receive the Eucharist. I never have, maybe because I'm a little self-concious about people noticing that I now cover, but that's an issue I need to work out. I'm a bit worried that I will be doing it out of pride. I wish that we were commanded to cover in church! =-)

Rabbanit Ruth Alfasi said...

BS"D: Kol ha'Kavod. I just discovered your blog and really think you captured the essence of us who keep this mitzvah - "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."

That's the outer, pragmatic reason, but the inner is also true - that our uniquenss is hidden from others. And, btw, it's a mitzvah because it IS difficult and all women have a "yetzer" to be known for their outter appeal - goes back to Chava.
anyway, glad I've just now discovered your blog.

Rabbanit Ruth Alfasi said...

PS: Note to Adam above, re: Moslem women - clearly you must be sensitive enough to realize that comparing an Arab woman to a Jewish one, is rather offensive and irrelevant. Their reasons are have no bearing on ours, and the place they come from, spiritually, is vastly different.

It is said that 10 measures of pritzut (immodesty) were given to the world. 9 went to Ishmael (Arabs), one to the rest of the nations.
Likewise, 10 measures of beauty went to the world - nine went to Eretz Israel - One to the rest of the world. 10 measures went to Jerusalem, the rest to the remainder of the land of Israel. Point being, on the outside, Jerusalem is kinda brown and deserty, not Paris-spectacular. Same with much of Israel - but the sensitive mind and heart, with kedusah (holiness) senses that beauty, without it being "in your face"-Paris, NYC, etc.
That's all an analogy for the Jewish woman and our modesty.

Sarah Cohen said...

Note to Ruth Alfasi: clearly you are not sensitive enough to realize that writing what you did about Arab women and Jewish ones is rather offensive and irrelevant, not to say racist in the extreme. Ignorant, too, as not all Muslims are Arab.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Not all Arabs are Muslim, either; there are plenty of Christian Arabs in Israel.

spastikbandanna said...

I wish wearing headcovering here signaled to other men to br respectful and regard me as another mans wife. Most the time they don't even notice the ring.

Indiana, usa

anna said...

I Love this. I cover my head at church services - as do most women at my church - and love putting on my covering - it seems such a humble and loving thing to do before God. I'd like to do it everytime I go out but that is unheard of here and my husband would hate it! So it has to be an internal covering only for me.

mommalovingjesus said...

As a head covering Christian in America for the past five years, I can completely relate. Many times I feel so frumpy, or judged by other people, thinking they must think I am super legalistic (which I'm not, I am just following what I believe I am called to do by the Father). Thankfully my husband fully supports me and thinks I'm beautiful with or without it, so that makes it easier on those off days when I'm feeling down. You are a blessing to many!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I am what you would call a Christian, but what Christians would call something else LOL. I guess I am closest to the beliefs of the Messianic Jews. But as far as I know I have no Jewish blood.

I believe in the Jewish Lord (He has been so incredibly kind to me) and I also believe that Jesus is His Son who made a way for me to be grafted into His family. I study both the Torah (from my Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament from the King James Version.

I see hair covering referenced in the Torah, but not direct commands (I could be wrong and would love it if someone pointed out any). But it is clear that it was done. The NT has a command in it for Women to be covered when they Worship and Pray, but it seems to be during Church services only.

I cover when I go to Church and I wear hair coverings when I need to be close to the Lord. I know that probably doesn't make sense, but I live with a Husband who doesn't really like it (He sees certain other religions that are known for it here like Muslims and Amish and we are neither and he doesn't want me mistaken for them) and so I try to abide by his wishes for the day to day.

It IS a sacrifice of vanity to be sure LOL.

I also notice a MASSIVE difference with the way Men treat you. Men of all colors and religions and ages treat you...LIKE A LADY. I dress modestly and if I cover it is amazing the gentleness and respect you are given.

I have a large Orthodox Jewish Popluation nearby and an increasing Muslim population. I have seen a store two women have for head coverings and they are so beautiful I am asking for one for a gift from my Husband.

When I started dressing modestly I started bringing the attention from whether someone was interested in having sex with me, to broadcasting my relgious beliefs and values. HUGE difference and I am glad I did it.

Though I do think women should dress beautiful at home for their Husbands.

Many Blessings :)
Ace

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience, but in reverse. I was a member of a religious community for some time and always wore a headcovering. When I left I didn't recognise my own reflection out of uniform, so to speak. It took about two years before I stopped checking for someone else in the room. I now wear a (different) covering. For a woman her hair is an integral part of her perception of herself.
Hair covering changes our perception somewhat and you're not alone in this. Studies tend to show that initial euphoria after a significant change tends to wear off after two years. After this the process is internalised, goes deeper. It isn't always sweeter but time deepens a change from what we do to what we are.
I enjoy reading your blog. You talk about beautiful things in a gracious way. May G-d bless you.
Maddie

Maya Resnikoff said...

I know that I'm writing long, long after the fact on this post- but I am very pleased to have read what you wrote here. As a woman who wore a kippah or headband for years before I married, I found that now covering all my hair wasn't so foreign- and gave me more options for what to do with my head, which I found (still find) rather exciting. But even so, I find looking at my reflection with my hair down a pleasant change, at the end of the day...