I recently finished reading Naomi Ragan’s Sotah and in the end of the version I have, she writes a bit about a conference she was at where she spoke on the topic of women’s rights in Judaism, entitled “A Letter to My Sisters.” When I read the following response she had to an attendee who asked how a modern woman in the free world would “choose to wear the chains imposed on [her] by religion and the narrow minded, backward men who are religious leaders,” I knew it was the right beginning for this post. This is what Ms. Ragen had to say to this woman:
I am a part of a chain that reaches back for thousands of years. There is a great joy in knowing who you are, and where you come from; in cherishing and preserving those cultural and religious treasures which are your heritage and which make you unique. Why should I allow these men to push me out, deny me that place? No, I prefer to fight them, to make them live up to the goodness and justice of the authentic religion that belongs to me, not just to them. I prefer to have them thrown out, rather than for me to leave.
This response captures my sentiment on embracing modest dress more eloquently than I could have realized.
I can admit (and will occasionally show photographic evidence) that I did not always dress in a modest way which is respectful of my body and soul. When I made the shift, it was difficult for many people to handle, largely because I was known for wearing low slung jeans and tank tops. How was it possible to choose to wear shirts with sleeves to the elbow all the time, and later to only wear skirts past the knee? Clearly it was being forced upon me! How shocked they were to learn I had really come to think about how I dress in a different way. I found it empowering to take control of my body and how I presented it to the world in a positive way, and I make the choice every day when I get dressed. Sure, there are days when I wish I could throw on a pair of jeans and a cute top without a long sleeve one under it, or that I wouldn’t have to ask every website to tell me the length of their “knee length” skirts to see if they will be that for me. Yet, I still put on my skirt and sleeves and am happy with the choice.
While I do not feel skirts and sleeves are inherently modest in and of themselves, I do believe that it works for me. I know many women who dress very modestly who wear pants and short sleeves. I think the intention is far more important than how it is carried out –though you still won’t see me in pants anytime soon.
What choice do you make when you get dressed?