The other day, I was surfing the internet and an article caught my eye. It was about the Duggar family, basically commenting on how one of the what’s-her-name daughters was wearing a skirt and long sleeved top to the gym. There was even a picture of her lifting some pretty big weights.
As usual, the article was pretty fluffy and I was about to click off when I noticed there were over 1,000 comments. I have to admit my curiosity and procrastination got the better of me, and I clicked on the comments. After all, what could over 1,000 people have to say about this?
Well, there were the usual anti-Duggar comments, and I won’t get into those. But, there were a lot of comments about the fact that she wearing a skirt to the gym.
Now, I didn’t grow up Orthodox. But I am now. I wear the skirts and the tops, similar to the Duggars. And while I may not dress that way when I am working out (I work out in an all-female environment), I certainly am not going to begrudge her about her own personal fashion fitness decisions.
But I was shocked at the comments. People were outraged. The fact that so many people were putting so much energy into this non-story was mind boggling enough, but outrage?
The words and phrases abounded: oppressed, body image issues, lack of self-empowerment, repressed, suppressed, and a mention or two of hijab comparisons were thrown in for good measure. I really couldn’t get it.
I grew up very secular in northern New Jersey. In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
I had the Jersey look—you know, big hair, short skirts (or shorts), sleeveless shirts, etc. I was brought up to believe to show all you’ve got. The philosophy was clear: You are what you look like, and you’ve got to show it off to get noticed.
I believed it all. I saw my body as the definition of who I was. I dressed to get noticed. After all, that was what I had to offer (I believed). Couple that with the airbrushed, unobtainable expectation of perfection, and, well, that just drove myself and millions of others to get our bodies looking good. Because, well, that’s what was important.
Then I started becoming Orthodox. I had already known that “Orthodox women wear long skirts.” I thought it was quaint, kind of like Little House on the Prairie, but in Monsey, New York instead. And yes, I even believed that these women looked pretty frumpy with those long skirts.
But as I learned more and more about why a woman (and a man) should dress in a tznius (modest) manner, I began to see the beauty. It isn’t that people are supposed to be ashamed of their body. It isn’t an effort to oppress anyone. But rather, our bodies are beautiful, sacred, holy, and special. And because they are so, they should be private. The specialness should be reserved for you and your spouse. That changed my whole attitude towards modesty—and clothing.
Now I realize that who a person is far more important than her body. And that is precisely the point. People should notice who you are. Not just what you look like.
Don’t get me wrong. We are also commanded to take care of ourselves, exercise, and be healthy. Couples are commanded to make themselves attractive for each other (and, FYI, all those rules of modesty go out the window in the bedroom). But, Judaism understands that attraction happens on all levels, not just the physical.
So, for all of you Duggar bashers out there, who think that what’s-her-name should be wearing spandex in the gym, she isn’t embarrassed about her body. It’s because she loves her body that she wants to keep it special. You just aren’t allowed to see it.