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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Following the Crowd vs. Attention Grabbing Behavior

I posted a quick summary on my other blog of a conversation I had with my Shabbos hosts the other night. Some popular musician was mentioned that sparked the conversation, and my host questioned what makes certain things popular - why so many people follow along, when oftentimes, there isn't much reason for doing so other than the fact that it is popular. He asked why so many people follow the crowd without thinking.

So I challenged him. I asked him why he wears a dark suit to shul on Shabbos. He replied that you are supposed to wear something special in honor of the Holy Sabbath. I asked him why he doesn't wear a red suit, that would certainly be special. He said it wouldn't be appropriate. I asked him why not. He said it just isn't. I asked him who says it isn't appropriate. He didn't really have an answer. In other words, he's just following the crowd without thinking.

To be fair, we did discuss how wearing a red suit certainly would cause someone to stand out in a crowd, and to draw attention to oneself, which could certainly be considered inappropriate, especially in shul. There is certainly a fine line between being yourself, not following the crowd without thinking, and drawing attention to oneself by attention-grabbing behavior. Apparently, I have not quite figured out where this line is.

The truth is, I'm not sure if I haven't found the line at all, or if it's just that the company I keep varies so much so that I either don't or do cross line depending on who I am with.

To explain a little more, I enjoy colorful things. I play with make-up and nail polish colors. I have a tendency to wear purple or blue nail polish and glitter eye liner on occasion. It's honestly not done with the intention of drawing attention to myself - I enjoy the colors and glitter. It makes me happy to wear them and I find it fun. When I'm at work in my Manhattan office (which is super-casual) people either think absolutely nothing of it, or they think it's cool. But in a frum community, depending on the community, apparently this is not the norm, and some people (probably ones who don't know me especially well) think I am doing it to draw attention.

I was called out on it this past weekend. The way I was called on it was done in a very sensitive manner, and I heard the explanation and could understand it. But in the end, it still irks me. And I can't decide whether it should irk me. Whether it's my immaturity and rebellious nature that caused me to go ahead and put my glitter eyeliner on when I was getting ready for work this morning. Or whether I have a valid point, that there is nothing wrong with my wearing it, even being a part of a frum community.

I'm struggling with this. I'm not an attention-grabbing person by nature. I hate being in the spotlight. So I really don't think I wear these colors in order to draw attention. But if I do draw attention by it, even inadvertently, should I stop wearing my glitter and purple nail polish? Because I do understand, and desire to embody, the concept of tznius as a frum woman. But if I do refrain from wearing it, I am just following the crowd blindly and letting go of my unique self? Or can I be myself without needing to wear purple nail polish? Is there a middle ground?


  • Of course glitter eye liner is eye-catching -- it caught your eye, didn't it?

    I'd never tell anyone not to wear stuff like this because it's not tznius (oh, please, people who would need to grow up and stop thinking about sex all the time), but whenever people wear stuff like this and claim they wear it for themselves I challenge them with this question: would you still wear X, Y, or Z if you were alone in your house and you knew you weren't going out and no one would see you?

    If the answer is you'd still wear it, then okay, you wear it for yourself. But if the answer is you wouldn't then there is an element of wanting to be seen wearing such a thing. Even if yours is the latter answer, I still wouldn't tell you not to wear it, but just to be honest with yourself about why you're doing it.

    By Anonymous debbie, at 8/22/06, 12:14 PM  

  • I think you can probably already guess my opinion on this one, and there's a great post on a related subject at BeyondBT today, but...

    The way I was taught in yeshiva was to dress like a mensch, and the way Serach was taught was to dress b'tznius. There are certain guidelines to this from halacha, and a lot more from common sense. That some people have decided in recent history to push certain styles (or lack thereof) of dress does not mean that not dressing that way is a problem, or even 'not as good' or 'not as frum'. The Q you posed to your host is an excellent one, and the lack of an answer telling: He has simply 'followed the crowd' to some extent, even if normally he's a great, kind, free-thinker.

    My charedi cousins are the ones who helped me to stop acting a "certain" way in Israel, because it wasn't for me. It boggles the mind to some extent that colors are somehow 'bad' - this is a completely new idea in history. Yosef was given a coat of many colors, and every nice beged in the Torah seems to be described by its wonderful color.

    (Now for the harsh part against some segments...) Warped versions of Judaism have taken hold to some extent in the frum communities. Many people fall into that trap, getting somewhat 'guilted' into it or otherwise drawn to the supposed 'frumkeit' of it. Don't. Those who truly know what they're talking about would never 'look down' on someone who dresses tzniusly with colors or makeup or whatever.

    I'll give one good example: My cousin in Israel is a charedi Rosh Yeshiva. His son is a top guy in Chevron yeshiva, and married the Alter of Slobodka's great-granddaughter, a "Chevron Finkel" [one of the RY in Chevron's daughters]*. When I visited EY that year, I walked into their apartment. She was on the phone, but after she got off, she came out and immediately started talking to me - an American cousin of her husband's she had never met. [gasp!] Not only that, but she wasn't wearing a sheitl - she was wearing a tichel! Not only that, but it was RED!

    I had a convo with David Linn about this after the oneg... I think we both were talking about the creeping "return to the middle" among frum Jews as both sides reassess where they've gone too far; MO has issues with certain areas of halacha sometimes, UO has issues with shtussim and other halachos. Both are recognizing this - at least among leadership - even if many of the 'masses' are not.

    Nu nu. I'm rambling: Be yourself. The people who care don't matter, the people who matter don't care.

    * I'm not into the whole "yichus" thing, but whatever.

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 8/22/06, 1:29 PM  

  • I don't think that whether something would be worn in private or not should play a role at all. I would never wear a suit if I stayed home, but that's not the point: I wear a suit that I think looks nice when I go to shul or what not. Yes, when someone goes out, they are wearing whatever they're wearing because they think it looks nice. They think it catches attention, etc. That's fine, it's allowed to. This should be done with sechel, obviously, but it's perfectly fine.

    [I don't think I'm disagreeing with Debbie, just changing the focus.]

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 8/22/06, 1:33 PM  

  • Debbie -
    I rarely put makeup on before I leave the house (I readily admit that I wear make-up because it makes me feel more secure about presenting my face to the world), so it's hard to say for sure whether I would wear it at home or not, but I have to say that I think I would. I like the sparkles, I decorate my apartment with them as well because I enjoy looking at it, I think it's fun.

    Ezzie -
    I think people do go way too far in defining things these days as not appropriate. And when it goes to far, many, I think, end up feeling stifled. And that is where I am attempting to find myself. Because, like I said, I do want to be tznius (which does include an element of not drawing attention to oneself unnecessarily), but at the same time, I want to be myself, and sometimes it includes glitter eyeliner (which Serach actually complimented me on).

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/22/06, 2:46 PM  

  • I'm not frum, and I don't know what the societal demands of that lifestyle are, but I'm sure there are as many as there are in the secular world. Even when we're not drawing attention to ourselves in an overt way, we're still doing what we can to be accepted for external reasons.

    If you wear long skirts and cover your hair, and then walk into a secular environment, you're certainly drawing attention to yourself. If a belief system instructs you to not fall victim to vanity - is vanity the act of caring too much about what you look like, or the act of having attention drawn to you?

    In that case, should the frum woman in a secular environment change into jeans and a tshirt so that no one notices her? And then once in shul, change back into a long skirt, so that, again, no one notices her?

    This is a very interesting topic.

    Either way, I think you should wear the eyeliner.

    By Blogger smiling, at 8/22/06, 5:09 PM  

  • Now you know -
    It's an interesting question that you pose, and one that I have asked on several occasions in the past - why is it okay to draw attention to yourself by overdressing? The answer that I have been given is that there does need to be some kind of bottom line that you don't cross when dealing with the issue of modesty. It's not about JUST not drawing attention to oneself, or JUST covering yourself up. It's about both, and there have to be some standards. So there is a line drawn - Orthodox women must cover elbows, knees, collarbone (and everything in between) and wear skirts. And the truth is, when dressing with that bottom line, you don't have to necessarily stick out in any setting, other than maybe a beach or pool.

    And thanks for the vote for the eyeliner. For now, I think I'm keeping it.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/23/06, 6:41 AM  

  • To now you know: I guess it depends on where you live, but in the tri-state area, wearing a long skirt and a sheitel doesn't necessarily make you stand out or mark you as frum. There are so many times when I thought for sure that people knew I was religious based on how I dress, but plenty of times they either didn't notice or they didn't put two and two together.

    The fact is, I wish they would notice! It would make it so much easier than having to explain from scratch why I can't eat something or why I can't work on Friday nights.

    By Anonymous debbie, at 8/23/06, 8:51 AM  

  • If it catches the eye of people who are looking for it, that's o.k. If it catches the eye of people who are not looking for it, or otherwise focused, it's too loud. General notions...

    By Blogger maiycxo, at 8/24/06, 2:38 PM  

  • You wrote: Orthodox women must cover elbows, knees, collarbone (and everything in between) and wear skirts.

    That's not true. Some Orthodox women feel they must dress that way, but it's not a blanket statement for all Orthodox women. My sister, for example, wears pants, t-shirts, etc. And she doesn't cover her hair. She is Orthodox, she is happily married to an Orthodox man, and she is the proud mother of four children.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/24/06, 4:49 PM  

  • maiycxo -
    Good distinction.

    Anon -
    I apologize, I suppose I should have phrased it that "halacha states that" Orthodox women must wear...

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/24/06, 5:00 PM  

  • Shoshana - Actually, that's not *quite* true either. Many people hold that you have up to a tefach above the elbow, and loose pants are probably more tznius than tight skirts. One friend of ours who probably knows more halacha than most will wear pants, but only if they're baggy.

    I've heard many a yeshiva guy 'test' another (usually when they want to make fun of a guy for thinking he's "frum") by asking "What would you rather marry, a woman who covers her hair and wears pants or a woman who doesn't cover her hair but wears skirts?" The better answer is (A). [Unless it's in the woman's house, etc... ;) ]

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 8/28/06, 2:15 AM  

  • Ezzie -
    You are absolutely right. I wasn't trying to get into a nitty gritty exposition on differing views of halacha, I was trying to give a quick, general summary of the mainstream view of tznius, without any judgement to anyone. Sorry for the oversimplified explanation.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/28/06, 8:06 AM  

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