Thought Pieces

Am I Modest Enough?

September 2nd

When I left for Israel, I packed my suitcase with tank tops and shorts - and came back to America with a newfound commitment to Modesty.

In Judaism, my religion, Modesty is much more than a way of dress - it’s a value and the character trait of modesty. Clothing is the most external aspect of this value, so it’s one of the most obvious changes when a Jewish woman is growing in her spirituality.

We believe everything in this world has the potential to be elevated, including our bodies. The physical can be distracting, so by keeping ourselves covered, we’re able to elevate what’s really important - our essence, our soul - in this world.

I had no idea how much this value could be tested. A couple of weeks into a new project at work, I was asked to join a few team members and clients on a 4-day, multi-city research trip. For context, our schedule was as follows: wake up at 6 am, board a flight, sit in a focus group facility for 6 hours, get drinks to debrief on what we heard, go to our rooms around midnight, and then wake up to do it all over again. Hectic!

I was excited and energized to hit the ground running on a new project, and I was used to traveling for work. But this time I had an unforeseen challenge: when I looked in my closet, I realized I had no idea what to wear.

I established my work trip go-to’s prior to my time in Israel: jeans, a nice top, flats. But at this point, it had been a few months since I last wore pants. I had decided that I wanted to dress more modestly, which for me meant no jeans!

I had a few nice work dresses and skirts, but I needed four comfortable outfits that I could: travel in, work in and get a drink in. And the kicker? The trip was in three days so I did not have time to order online!

I went shopping and could not find anything I liked in stores. I was at a loss; I tried on my jeans for the first time in months and felt tempted to pack them. I remember saying to my sister, “can’t I just wear my jeans? It would be so much easier!” She responded, “Elisheva, wear what you feel most comfortable in.”

But that was the conundrum: what makes me feel most comfortable? My go-to outfits (physicality) or sticking to my values (spirituality)?I was stuck. So, I prayed and asked G-d for clarity and support. This is the most meaningful aspect of modesty for me: staying humble by reminding myself that ultimately, I am not in control - G-d is and He has a plan.

The day before my flight, I still didn’t know what I was packing, which was so unlike me. I went to Target to get some travel toiletries and was passing the clothing section when I noticed a pretty print. I started looking around and could not believe my eyes.

There were SO many dresses and skirts, and they were SO cute and comfortable - perfect for a day of travel, work and drinks. I’d heard of Target hauls and seen the memes, (e.g. “when you go into Target for detergent and come home with a $214 receipt”) but I was never a huge Target shopper. Suddenly I got the hype! I walked out with 3 dresses, a coat, booties, flats, and, of course, the toiletries I came for originally.

I went on the work trip comfortable each day - physically in my clothes, and spiritually because I stuck to my values. I was able to be my best self because I felt confident in my decision, and in how I presented myself externally.

I believe everyone looks their best when their appearance matches their internal world, but it takes a lot of work to get to know yourself and find a style that aligns. I am so grateful that The Reflective created a space to provide guidance for women on this journey. And I am also so grateful to Target for making gorgeous, modest clothes accessible - thank G-d for Target!

Read More Of Elisheva's Modest Journey with her 5 Tips For Nailing Your Target Haul HERE!

Covering your hair, is more often than not, a religiously affiliated form of modesty. The covering of a woman's hair is symbolic of its sacredness. Hijabs, sheitals, kippahs, turbans, veils, kamilavka, dastars are all an expression of modesty. Throughout 16th and 17th century England, and America until the turn of the twentieth century, veils, ornate caps, bonnets and ladies’ hats were worn by many Christians to cover the sacredness of their hair, as well. Between the feminist revolution of the 60s, rapidly changing Western culture and the influence of Hollywood and the media on society, it’s no surprise that the fashion reflected globally throughout each decade in the later half of the 20th century is radically different than what came before. The tradition of hair covering faded with the 60s, but the tradition hasn’t been lost completely, just like the tradition of and value in modesty hasn’t been completely lost either. We are a community of modern modest women living in 21st century America; proof that tradition can find a place in mainstream fashion.

Many women in our community, our team included, found modesty later in life - a once lost or forgotten value. The decision to explore modesty externally usually begins with the understanding that there is something private, something that’s your own that you’re meant to keep to yourself and your close ones. Once you commit to that understanding, the next step is usually reflecting that belief in your dress; baby steps like wearing longer skirts or baggier pants and tops with sleeves and high necklines. As that decision to explore modesty continues, you may find that mindset goes further like wearing more full-coverage activewear, swimsuits and, eventually, to some, coverage over your hair. Speaking to Tamar Tzubeli, now Abda, we identified with her journey in modesty as she finds her footing in expressing modesty through hair covering. She wasn’t a stranger to the practice but it wasn’t something she necessarily considered for herself.

“I never had any pressure to cover my hair. It was more of a decision I made when I got engaged. Before that I actually didn't even think about it, believe it or not. I have really great hair. I was blessed with naturally amazing hair that I have to do nothing to.”

A lot of our personal struggle with modesty can sometimes feel like we’re giving up something that we identify with. Something about our externality that blends harmoniously with our personality and our sense of self. The challenge with change is letting go of something that used to serve us but doesn’t anymore. What I summed up in a sentence though, isn’t always as simple in practice as Tamar can attest.

“I wasn't really speaking to anyone about if I should or shouldn't cover my hair. That wasn't a decision that was made with anyone else except for me and to some extent my fiancé - now husband. To be honest, he was comfortable with anything I wanted to do. He said he would back me in whatever decision I made. When I made this decision to cover my hair, I said to him, “You know, I need you to keep me strong.” And he said, “You got it. I'll motivate you.” And there are times where I'm like, ‘I hate this. I can't do this. I hate it.’ If we're running late and trying to get somewhere and my fall just won’t go on I'm like, I can't do this. And he'll always say, “No, we've got this, don't worry, just give it another 10 minutes. I won't bother you, do it. Take the time you need.”

Talking about hair covering is as large a topic as dressing modestly; there are so many ways to cover your body let alone your hair. You can cover your hair partially or fully with synthetic or human hair like a wig or a fall, a scarf, a hijab and the list goes on. It’s a personal choice and a personal journey - rooted in your personal comfort and values - as well as a choice based on what feels authentic to who you are and who you want to be. Women like Tamar whose job and life constantly put them in the public eye are in the unique situation where their choices can serve as an inspiration for some and a blueprint for others. It's hard to remember the human - the one who struggles with everyday hurdles and challenges like the rest of us - behind the posts, and it’s even harder to acknowledge the feelings that come with it.

I'm not trying to set an example. I'm just speaking about my own journey. It's my personal journey. And this is where I'm at. And I share it in hopes that people who are on the same page as me can get some inspiration or see that they're not alone. And that it is hard…”

Our conversation continued as she spoke about how she hopes her page positively affects her followers. She’s aware of her influence and that, whether intentional or not, she has the ability to touch people through her choices and her authenticity. She just hopes that it’s always for the good.

“Once I started speaking about my hair covering journey, I was surprised to see how many people messaged me who wanted to understand and learn more about hair covering. And that gives me hope because maybe people who weren't covering their hair before can see that you can make it work in a way that’s comfortable for you and authentic to your style. It can work in various ways according to the level you're comfortable with and you can make it look pretty and true to your own personal style. I feel like that's what people's main concern is: that they won’t feel like themselves or look like themselves by covering their hair. But if I can show them that it's possible to feel like and look like themselves then that would mean a great deal honestly.”

Actions speak louder than words: in April 2020, newlywed and at the height of Covid, Tamar spent three months in the Miami heat where she began embracing head scarves as an alternative to a wig or fall on camera. Shortly after making scarves a hard-to-ignore fashionable compliment to her outfits, her followers poured into her DMs with questions on how to tie scarves and where to find the most fashionable ones. Tamar saw this overwhelming interest in hair covering as a way to unite her community through the hashtag #ScarfItUp, encouraging her followers to post pictures in their scarf looks. The impact of this movement is best shown in the #ScarfItUp highlight on Tamar’s Instagram, but this is really only a start. #ScarfItUp is the beginning of what we hope and know to be a wave of communal support, encouragement and inspiration to take varying levels of modesty, adapt it to where you’re holding in a way that is authentic and true to your personal style.

Because as much beauty as the value of modesty holds, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve been dressing modestly your whole life, there are highs and lows. Between navigating modest swimwear and activewear, what to wear on a hot day, how to look cool and authentic to your personal style in every setting to finding a flattering fit for your body type, hair covering is no less difficult. It’s a challenge in the same way dressing is. So often, we forget that we’re not alone. If you look at your closet and cry because you don’t like skirts, scream out of frustration because you just don’t feel like yourself or drive yourself mad scrolling for hours to find the perfect modest bridesmaid dress, you are not alone. You are not alone in navigating the decision of if you should or should not cover your hair, if you want to cover your hair, how you should cover your hair and with what you should cover your hair with - as Tamar so eloquently put, these struggles and difficulties are not shared openly enough. Hair covering, like dressing modestly, is a personal journal riddled with ups and downs, decisions, trials and errors and setbacks. But through those growing pains, it’s important to know that there are other women right there with you. You have a friend in Tamar, you have a friend in us, and we, as a community of modern modest women living in 2021 have friends in each other to get us through the cloudy days where you just want to throw something on and call it a day.

Embracing modesty, in a sense, gave me permission to access my creativity in a way that I couldn't before. I felt liberated from mainstream fashion ideals — and I continue to feel liberated from mainstream fashion ideals. But a recent challenge I've encountered, and one that I didn't see coming, is this nagging thought and question I still have yet to find the answer to — "Am I modest enough?"

Tips for dressing modestly

I'm going to level with you — taking on modesty was not a challenge for me. I jumped into it somewhat blindly, but without any fear or trepidation. I always hated jeans and was the girl who just bought what others deemed trendy and cool. I never gave my pre-modest wardrobe much thought in the sense that my style wasn't entirely my own — it wasn't creative nor was it an expression of my internality.

Embracing modesty, in a sense, gave me permission to access my creativity in a way that I couldn't before. I no longer had mass popularized trends and brands that I could easily buy and wear — I had to search for what called my name. In that search, I found tremendous freedom in crafting cool, eclectic blends of classic styles with a modern, edgy twist.

I felt liberated from mainstream fashion ideals — and I continue to feel liberated from mainstream fashion ideals. But a recent challenge I've encountered, and one that I didn't see coming, is this nagging thought and question I still have yet to find the answer to — "Am I modest enough?"

We, at The Reflective, hold that modesty is a journey. As an interfaith platform, we know that communities in one faith, let alone several, define modest standards differently. Hair covering looks different across Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It's widely not accepted to wear pants, even under skirts, in Christian circles while loose, flowy pants are accepted in many Muslim ones. Tights are worn year round by many Jewish circles, while the collar bone and elbow are up for debate in some. Modesty is full of blurred lines, which is why we simply can't define them for you, our community.

When it comes to my own personal modest standards, though, that is something I have to define for myself. Boundaries are an essential part of life — for without them, we wouldn't know how to navigate and exist. But what's curious is that I've actually never sat down and defined my own boundaries, modestly speaking.

I've been dressing modestly for two years now, and didn't give it much thought. I knew I would never wear tights year round because that's just not me — I knew I would aim to cover my elbows, collar bones and knees because that's the comfort level I have — but everything else... Well, I haven't given it much thought until now.

The reason I'm giving it some thought is because — in full candor — lately I've been wearing clothes 1/2 an inch above my knee or elbow. It doesn't feel wrong, per say, but it also doesn't feel right. I'm the kind of person that when you start giving away 1/2 an inch here and 1/2 an inch there, I tend to start giving away a foot here and a foot there.

Is it wrong, within the vastly different definitions of modesty, to wear garments 1/2 an inch above your elbows and knees? No, it's not wrong. But the question that those garments are invoking in me is wrong. "Am I modest enough?"

The concept of being enough is an unhealthy concept. It's a marker of insecurity — a concept I'm well versed in. We are, always, enough. We start to have these feelings when societal and individual projections of a certain ideal are not aligned with our personal reality. The key is to navigate those feelings of not being skinny enough, smart enough, successful enough or modest enough with kindness and objectivity — why are we really feeling this way?

In terms of modesty, I think I don't feel modest enough sometimes because I'm caught between a few worlds. I have many friends who wouldn't dare to show their elbows or knees, and I have many friends who would. My bolder, more eclectic style doesn't visually fit the vibe of some communities I've been to, but I'm okay with that. What I think I'm struggling with is which side I want to fall on: to cover the elbows or to not cover the elbows. That is the question. And you know what? I don't need to have an answer today. I'm going to lean into why it's making me ask the question: "Am I modest enough?" with kindness and objectivity. And I'm going to learn and research the modest standards behind each side in an effort to navigate what feels right for me.

Because, at the end of the day, modest is a spectrum. There is no blanket rule for everything. If you ever find yourself asking, "Am I modest enough?" I would in turn say:

  1. You are not alone. So many women have modesty insecurities.
  2. The definitions are vastly different wherever you go — there is no right and wrong — the only right is what aligns with your personal values
  3. Introspect, reflect and ask questions — start noticing how you feel when you wear certain garments and ask for advice from people you trust on how to better learn about the standards that align with your personal values

5. What You're Leaving Behind

We're not going to be here forever. One of the best parts about being human is our ability to think outside the context of ourselves, our ability to give. The age-old saying of “You come into this world alone and you leave it alone” raises the question; when you leave this world what are you leaving behind? Some of us can take on grand projects that make a difference in the world and will be remembered for years to come by the masses. You're awesome. Keep doing what you're doing. Although lasting impact can be made on a smaller scale tip and can hold just as much weight. Changing one person's life, from a random stranger you met in a park to your spouse or children can have the same effect. Quality over quantity.

4. Connecting with Yourself

There is day-to-day maintenance and yet sometimes the bigger picture can get lost in the mix. Being nice to yourself and taking care of the physical part can all build a better mind, so what will you do with it? What gives you satisfaction? What or who makes you feel safe? Where in the world do you feel most yourself? Who do you want to be a year from now? Five years from now? What are you attracting? What's beliefs are you holding onto that are holding you back? What have you not accepted yet about yourself or your reality? Nobody knows you better than you, and nobody will help you as well as you can help yourself. Developing that relationship with your mind can help sort through the clutter that the every day entails.

3. How You Take Care of Your Body

Exercise sucks. Meal Prep is arduous. It's always hard to believe the personalities on Instagram who preach these values don't buy Haagen Daz after dinner. But nobody prescribed that. Most of everything going on internally within our bodies, including our mood, is impacted by what we eat, our sleep cycles, our physical activity, and more. To ignore our bodies' needs past the superficial level is ultimately neglectful. The instant gratification of an americano will never be better than a full night of restful sleep. No mood booster pill can entirely replace the effect of the sun on your face, a dance class, or the calm that ensues after a full-body stretch.

2. How You Treat Others

Many times our thoughts and priorities get ahead of us. We're all busy and chasing a goal. It's important to remember that part of the beauty of the destination is shaped by our journey there.  We can never be too conscious of treating everyone we encounter - from the attendant who punches our ticket to our best friend with kindness and the benefit of the doubt. True beauty is always reflected from within, the woman smiling at everyone brings much more light than the woman who keeps to herself. So many around us are going through troubles, especially in these unprecedented times, that you may never come to learn about and such simple acts like a "hello" or addressing your barista or cashier by their name can change the trajectory of their day infinitely for the better.

1. How You Treat Yourself

How kind are you to yourself really? In today's culture it seems like admission to the self-care club has preliminary qualifications; if you meditate every day, read positive affirmations, and practice gratitude. It's not all about that though. It could if that's what you have time for but not everyone can carve out daily "me time." But on a cerebral level, how do you treat yourself? When you lose something do you beat yourself up? When you get rejected by someone in any capacity to you internalize it as a personal flaw? Sometimes you may not realize it until you speak your internal dialogue aloud but you'd be surprised to see how much this shift can make your days brighter. You can't control how others perceive you, and many will love the chance to bring you down. But very few would jump at the chance to lift you up — be the first in line.

More Modest Thought Pieces