Life without a Sheitel

Post by Melissa (Photos c/o HeadAccents)

As mentioned in my post last week, I do not wear a sheitel (wig commonly worn by religious Jewish women), though I sometimes pine for them.  The first comment on that post was from a loyal reader, and fellow blogista, who wanted to know more about why I do not wear a sheitel, and since we here at RR like to indulge our readers, I readily agreed to write a post about it.  So without further ado, here are the reasons for my sheitel free life, in mostly no particular order:

a) As mentioned repeatedly on this blog, my wonderful husband is Sephardi and thus extremely anti-sheitel. Some of the greatest Sephardi Rabbanim (Rabbis) specifically outlawed the wearing of a wig as a means to cover your hair. Ultimately, this is the single most important reason why I do not wear a sheital.  If he really wanted me to wear one, despite all the following reasons I dislike them for my life – I would do it. {Luckily, D most prefers when I wear a mitpachat/tichel/scarf so I am actually growing my hair back out a bit so that I tie them in more styles instead of always having to fake a bun – its a win-win situation that way.}

b) Sheitels are freaking expensive. We do not have religious families who will help offset the cost, and are not in the place to spend the money on something I only “sometimes” wish I wore.

c) The whole fake hair over your hair thing kind of freaks me out, and real women’s hair (esp with the crazy stuff that happens to women in Indian over it) is even worse.

d) I have heard way too many horror stories about women losing their hair when wearing a sheitel full time.  Given that I already have a genetic predisposition to hair loss, I’d rather not tempt it.  {D has a serious fear that I, like my maternal grandmother, will loose all my hair during pregnancy – hers was with her third, I’ll have to get back to you if it happens to me at any point in my life.}

e) As much as I enjoy having short hair, I don’t think I am ready for it to be short enough to make sheitel wearing not difficult and painful. I had a pixie cut in college, and it did not work for me.

f) Hair coverings are an integral part of my accessorizing.  While I would likely wear a headband because I am so used to that look, it is just not the same. Yes, this is a totally vain reason, but they are my reasons and so be it.

However, I will state for the record that if you ever see me with my hair and a headband like in the photo on this post — you will know I am wearing a sheitel…

Sheitel wearers – I mean no offense to you by any of these statements, it is a reflection only of my reality! Want to set me straight or commiserate? Feel free! Just don’t try to persuade me to wear one….


(As this post remains one of the most read posts on our blog, I feel it is important to add that nearly two years after writing this post, I did in fact buy a sheitel for special occasions, and you can read about that experience here: I’m only going to say this once.)


Choosing Modesty

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?