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An Object of Desire?

As an Orthodox woman, I relish the freedom from ogling that modest dress offers—but it’s nice to be admired

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I arrived at a café in L.A. for my monthly writing group last spring and walked to the counter to order tea and a slice of cake. As I headed back to the table, I noticed one of the other patrons watching me as I walked past him. A few minutes later, as I shared the short story I had written with the other four women in the group, I noticed the same young man glancing my way again. And then again.

I assumed that my elaborately wrapped, sparkly headscarf and gold ring clearly marked me as married; yet, there he was, looking my way.

At first, the man’s stare left me indignant. How dare he look my way. I’m a married woman! I thought of my husband, the only man whose attention I intentionally attract, and felt jealous on his behalf.

A few minutes passed. A couple more stealthy looks my way. And then I thought: A nice-looking guy at least five years younger can’t seem to keep his eyes off me. Not too shabby. I felt myself sit up straighter, speak with more self-confidence.

A friend joined the stranger at his table, and my “admirer” pulled out his laptop, to show his friend something on the screen. My meeting continued, one writer sharing after the next. Again and again, I noticed that man looking my way, but I tried to ignore it—until an hour later, when I had to reach across the table to take a packet of papers from the last woman scheduled to share her writing. At that point, I noticed he wasn’t staring at me at all. The object of his longing was the electric socket right behind me—the only one in the café. The moment my group stood up from the table, he rushed over and plugged in his laptop, without one more look in my direction. I was relieved, but also mortified.

Over the next couple weeks, I told this story again and again, inviting my friends to laugh at me. Perhaps, I thought, if I made light of the situation, I wouldn’t have to think about what had been really going on that night in that café, inside my head. If I thought too hard about my behavior, I worried that I might discover something akin to unfaithfulness lying behind it.

How had I reached that point? There I was, a very happily married woman, an Orthodox woman who holds modesty as a lofty virtue, yet some part of me had enjoyed the idea that a stranger might watch me. It took me a while to realize that my reaction reflected less on my husband and the state of our marriage than on my own longstanding anxieties.


As a teenager, before I became Orthodox, I was never one of the pretty girls. Deeply insecure about my looks, I both wanted attention and dreaded it. What if boys looked at me, but didn’t find me beautiful? Self-conscious about my developing figure, I hid in the jeans-and-flannel-shirt uniform of grunge. I spent lunch period with the freaks and geeks in the library at my public high school, never attended a school dance, never went on dates.

I was an active member of USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, where I wasn’t popular but at least I felt like I belonged. The singing, learning, and social programming helped me structure my otherwise empty social life.

My transformation at 20 into a woman who was attractive, if not precisely pretty, was a happy surprise. I ditched the giant plastic eyeglasses I’d worn since the 1980s and stopped dressing like a Nirvana groupie. My skin cleared up to an even, creamy tone. At last, men noticed me! They complimented my blue eyes, smooth skin, and curly hair, and finally asked me out—not often, but often enough.

But the funny thing about attention is that you can’t filter out the kind you want from the kind that is unwanted. Just after my 21st birthday, I complained to a girlfriend, originally from Italy, about a construction worker whistling at me on a street corner in D.C.

“You Americans!” she told me. “Take it as a compliment. He approved of the goods.”

“I don’t feel admired—I feel used,” I said. She rolled her eyes. Crazy Americans.

On a separate occasion, I went jogging on a hot day in a sports bra and bike shorts. A car slowed to pace me down the block, then followed me as I wove in and out of streets. After I joined a crowd of people, the car drove off, leaving me shaking and relieved.

Around this time, I slowly started to migrate toward an observant lifestyle. The comfort I had felt at USY events had encouraged me to investigate Judaism further. I began to attend an Orthodox synagogue and reading books, and I found the answers and the community I sought. I tightened up my Shabbat observance, started eating only in kosher restaurants, and skipped work on Jewish holidays.

My family was a bit startled by my transformation, but generally supportive. I have cousins who are religious, and if I was going to do something “crazy,” this seemed preferable to becoming a druggie or dropping out of college. So when I began to wear exclusively skirts, always at least three inches below the knee and never with a slit, and my blouses reached my collarbone and covered my elbows even in August, there was no protest.

A few years back, I heard an interview on NPR of a journalist who had reported from Afghanistan. She confessed that traveling behind a burka had been liberating for her. No longer did men have unrestricted permission to look at her. Like that journalist in the burka, I enjoyed the refreshing feeling of freedom modest dress brought me. When I interacted with men, they now made eye contact and paid attention to what I said.


A dozen years later, married with a few kids, I now cover my hair daily with a hat or headscarf. My modest dress helps me stay inward-focused: on developing a relationship with G-d, on refining my character, and on connecting to people on a soul-level.

And yet.

About a month prior to the incident in the café, I turned 36. I noticed My first wrinkle the week of my birthday. Suddenly, 40—even old age—loomed over me. What once seemed impossible became inevitable.

A gloom descended over me. In the synagogue and community events I no longer qualified as either a “young professional” or a “young married.” I was officially over the hill. The mirror confirmed my transformation. Deep down, I believed my looks had peaked. I didn’t look like someone’s girlfriend; I looked like someone’s mother—maybe even my own.

I complained to my sister, to a neighbor, to my best friend. My husband assured me that I was still beautiful. On the other hand, he freely admitted that when he looked at me, he no longer saw just the surface.

That’s when I realized that part of me hoped that someone might still admire my surface.

When I shared this incident at a writing workshop, Sarah Shapiro—the instructor and an extraordinary writer—laughed. Back in the 1980s, a neighbor had reassured her in the name of a prominent rabbi that a woman’s desire to be beautiful is so strong that her soul will rise above her grave, watching the gravedigger, hoping that he is admiring the beauty of her corpse.

I laughed at that anecdote, but her words comforted me, too. My marriage wasn’t under threat. I wasn’t shameless or silly. I was vain, but I was normal.

The young girl who wanted boys to look at her, but was afraid of what they’d see, is still inside me. The mirror might tell me she’s grown up and gotten over her youthful concerns, but I know better.


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disqus_vIlAK7TnBP says:

If vanity is normal (and I believe it is), why do we have to have a word that differentiates it? Or perhaps what I’m trying to say is that if you’re not obsessed with your looks, you’re not vain. We’re all prone to those moments of vanity.

I had a very similar, but different experience recently:

Friday before Superbowl I think almost every office in Baltimore gathered to celebrate the Ravens’ progress. I was at a pizza lunch and there was a football trivia contest. I spent about 20 minutes of the contest thinking I was having an across-the-room conversation with my male coworker (making faces and mouthing words). Nope. I just happened to be sitting in front of one of his buddies. I don’t know if anyone else noticed–I don’t even think he noticed my half of our “non” conversation. Still, the effect was a little like returning to junior high. I felt embarrassed and acutely uncool. And self-conscious about what it meant when I thought we were having the conversation: accepted in a way that I don’t normally.

    Rebecca K. says:

    I have to stop laughing over your story before I can comment. :)

    About vanity: I think that it’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to give in to it. And just because we aren’t obsessed with our appearance on a daily basis, doesn’t mean we’ve got vanity beat. The point I wanted to express is that no matter how old we get, or how religious we think we are, the inner battle to overcome our baser instincts continues.

cygoverns says:

If part of being a good spouse is to be attractive for your spouse, how do you know you’re still attractive to them when their attraction becomes so influenced by who you are on the inside? Using your language, what I really mean is, can your spouse validate your surface attractiveness after years of “togetherness”? Not to be glib, but this is more than a surface issue–I think it gets at the issues that lead to adultery. What do others think?

    Rebecca K. says:

    It’ll be interesting so read other responses.
    After discovering my latent craving for approval about my looks, I shared it with my husband. Like any other emotional need, he wants to address it. I think that it’s when such needs are ignored that you get significant marital problems. But I’m no MFT.

    Rachel Miller Solomin says:

    I know that it’s been a while since this piece was published, but upon rereading it, I noticed your comment, cygoverns, and it gave me pause. There is a Talmudic story about how one of the rabbis would cavort and play with his wife. I think that part of the challenge for marriages of all kinds is that daily life can wear you down and you might take each other for granted. In a family where modesty (including behavior in front of ones’ own children) is a shared concern, the opportunities to appreciate each others’ attractive qualities are even less frequent. However, I think that the flip side of generalized modesty is that one should go out of one’s way to flirt with, flatter, tantalize, and otherwise be immodest with one’s spouse. Even if it’s only in the privacy of one’s own bedroom.

ajweberman says:

check out the wet burka contest at the Yippie Museum 9 Bleecker Street every Friday afternoon during Jumma Services

arktikwolf says:

Self-absorbed much, ‘beccele?

    cygoverns says:

    I think introspection and self-awareness are critical to personal growth. I suppose they might be sometimes confused with self-absorption.

“My husband assured me that I was still beautiful. On the other hand, he freely admitted that when he looked at me, he no longer saw just the surface.” I think that’s as much as any woman can hope for in marriage–the reassurance that what we are on the inside, as well as the outside, only enhances the beauty our partner sees in us. I know that wasn’t the point of your article, but it’s a nice reminder going into the week of Valentine’s Day :)

    Rebecca K. says:

    Thanks for reading my words and making meaning out of them in your own way!

    Actually I think its as much any of us can hope for as we age. I wish I looked as good as I did in college, and back then didn’t think that I looked so good to begin with. But comparing then with now – yikes! Who knew that I looked so good back then.

I married when I was a slender sexy single, and we moved into 4 kids and an observant lifestyle together….and I’m now in my sixties, with wrinkles, glasses, grey in my hair which is covered, and overweight….and my husband tells me he loves me more than ever. But I still look in the mirror and sometimes wonder what happened to that slim, sexy girl with the smooth complexion and long dark hair?

    Rebecca K. says:

    I hear you. And all the more so when I was never that slim in the first place! ;)

What bothers me most about getting older, rounder, more wrinkly and overall less conventionally attractive has less to do with relationships and more to do with my professional life. It is no secret that more attractive people (which often means younger) get better jobs, make more money, are generally more successful and are treated with more respect by both males and females in their every day interaction, i.e. the more attractive you are, the nicer people are to you and the more successful you will be (generally).

    Rebecca K. says:

    You bring up an interesting point, Alina. Among a whole menu of “aging fears,” though, that’s not one of mine. I know so many older women who are accomplished and have progressed in their careers as they aged, that it never even occurred to me (although there are many studies that indicate that appearance and age do affect earning potential, for example).
    Perhaps you’ve just given me my next anxiety! ;)

    I don’t know if younger people get more respect in the working world. attention? Perhaps. But respect? I’ve known plenty of older men and women who garner a tremendous amount of respect based on their knowledge and experience, grey hairs or not.

Marilyn Stoch says:

I love your honesty and generosity. We all have these moments, whether of vanity or insecurity, but how many of us are willing to let anyone know about them? It’s so much more productive to examine and share our feelings with the goal of understanding and bettering ourselves than to keep them closed up inside. Secrets and shame lead to bad behavior and breakdowns. Openness, examining, and connecting are much healthier. Please keep writing pieces like this!

    Rebecca K. says:

    Thanks, Marilyn. I appreciate how you identify the difference between “shame” and “examining.” I think that’s why I wrote about this experience as acknowledging the inner teenager as opposed to the yetzer hara (evil inclination). I could have labeled my vanity that way, but it would have forced me to judge myself instead of coming to grips with my emotions and dealing with them without disgust.

Judith Cohen says:

Loved reading your article, Becca. You are so normal and feminine. Having grown up in a country adjacent to Italy, I still remember the first time a construction whistled when I biked past, and it did raise my (then rather low) opinion of how I rated on the prettiness scale as a girl.

You hit the nail on the head. As girls growing up and as women growing older, we do wonder where we stand on the “good looks” scale, and other measuring devices too. You are not obligated not to notice when someone notices you (whether real or mistaken). It’s where you go with your thoughts and actions that defines you.

You went to talk it over with your husband!

    Rebecca K. says:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Judith!

    Natan79 says:

    Construction workers, that’s the ticket! Has any feminist pointed out the many services these dudes perform on a daily basis to the self-confidence of ladies across the nation? I see a book begging to be written there.

Monkish says:

Yet another article that lets men off the hook. If you believe that covering your hair and your skin will get men to respect you, you are sadly deluded. Afghanistan is a good example: women there are more covered up than in any other culture on earth and yet women are held in contempt by men, have next to no rights and are reduced to their functions as domestics and child-bearers. The NPR journalist felt better in a burkha for one reason: not wearing one would have exposed her to aggressive attention from men for whom women who show to much (and by that I mean, their hair) are no better than whores. Just goes to show that so-called “modesty” in dress is complicit with the most retrograde form of misogyny. As a happily married middle class orthodox woman you may have the luxury of ascribing your “modest” dress whatever meaning you like, but you should at least show awareness of oppressive character of that dress code in the vast majority of societies where it is socially prescribed.

    brynababy says:

    Oh, I so agree with you Monkish. “modes
    dress is succumbing to the worst attitudes of men towards women.

      Rebecca K. says:

      There’s a big difference between me and a woman in Afghanistan–I’m choosing this style of dress for myself. No one is forcing me into it.
      And part of the point I want to make is that the clothes we wear DON’T let men or women off the hook. Desire is still there, all covered up (in the figurative and the literal sense). We still have to be aware of our inclinations and take responsibility for them.

        Monkish says:

        And yet the anecdote you relate in your article (which has proven intellectually stimulating, thank you) illustrates that desire is NOT there in the café – that you have succeeded in rendering yourself invisible to the predatory gaze of the anonymous male. Here’s the rub: for “modest” dress to have any meaning at all the women who adopt it and the men who champion it must ascribe certain traits to the male sex as a whole. Men must be ESSENTIALLY (sorry I’d use italics but the text editor won’t do HTML) inclined to undress women with their gaze, male attention must be essentially intrusive. You end up fuelling precisely the sort of idea of masculine sexuality against which your dress is supposed to guard you. This isn’t just a theoretical point: in ultra-conservative societies such as Afghanistan (side point: not a good idea to mention the Burkha in an article that assumes that women are free agents) strictures about dress rest on such a bleak and negative image of men. Young boys are socialized to think and behave like disrespectful, misogynistic predators and young girls are socialized to think out themselves as potential victims. “Modest” dress becomes a way of perpetuating this deeply pernicious dynamic of gender relations. Something very similar was and is at play in Orthodox Judaism. Just because you “chose” to become a Baalat Teshuva does not eradicate the traditional meaning and logic of covering hair and skin. I hope that one day you will adopt the position that many feminists now hold: the body is an extension of a woman’s inner life – dress a manner of communicating to other women and men the nuances of a woman’s personality which is calibrated to INDIVIDUAL concrete men and not to some false abstract image of what men essentially are! Peace…

          Rebecca K. says:

          The Barthes article may be worth checking out. I’m not sure I think of my clothes as a carapace. More like a cell’s phospholipid layer, that selects what goes in an out. And the clothing doesn’t protect you from anyone (male or female) truly out to harm you–as you mention, the rape cases, etc., in Islamic countries demonstrates that. It’s more of polite warning to anyone without such intent that my body is off-limits to them. My personal experience with men is that they are very lovely. And 80% of them like to look at the round objects attached to my body. If I don’t like men other than my husband doing so, I can do something about it.
          My wearing modest clothing does nothing to harm the other 20%. Anyone who doesn’t believe in gender roles, doesn’t mind men’s interest, etc., doesn’t have to wear modest clothing. I think that the positive aspect described by the journalist in Afghanistan is probably because she was choosing the trip to Afghanistan, choosing to work there, and freely accepted the burka as part of the job.

          As someone who’s dressed modestly for over a decade now, I must admit that I love it (as I mentioned in passing in the essay). The biggest difference in my life before and after I started doing so wasn’t the fact that men stopped propositioning me on the bus or whistling from street corners–although these were pluses. It was a change in the way I viewed myself. I felt free to be the person I was inside with less self-consciousness. I think that the very real increased measure of respect that I’ve experienced (despite your disbelief) is largely because of that inner transformation. The exterior me isn’t invisible, just rendered secondary, and the spiritual/intellectual me becomes far more visible. Despite the jarring realization that the “me” inside the clothes has a certain measure of vanity, I’m not dropping my headcovering or sleeves anytime soon.

          For women (whether they be Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon) who take on modesty of their own free will, the academic analysis doesn’t matter. It’s the actual experience that does. If a woman has a negative feeling about her modest dress, then she has to consider why–and maybe that means no longer dressing that way, or changing her thinking about it, or maybe something else entirely.

          Monkish says:

          Thanks for your reply… There is a coherence to your arguments yet I see a discrepancy between them and your description, in the article, of this instance where you misconstrued the continual gazing of the café patron in your direction for a mild form of attraction. I take that to mean that you are at risk of projecting your prior experiences as an “uncovered” or “immodestly” dressed women back onto to male sex; of perceiving as real behaviours and intentions that are mere figments. Only a person exquisitely aware of the men in her environs would make such a mistake… isn’t the desired effect of modest headgear at the like that such concerns diminish to the point of not interfering with one’s daily experience at all (the clothes “chasten” the wearer)?

          An example from personal experience: watching a training video in Arabic class with a group of hijab-clad women. A scene in then video depicts a young male university student sitting down on some steps to make chit chat with a pretty young female student – not doubt with the intention to make her acquaintance. The scene was perfectly innocent, the young man well mannered and gentle. And yet, the frum muslim women were shocked – described it as “sordid” and “disgusting.” To me this exemplifies the distortion of perception wrought by the conservative-religious model of gender relations.

          There is a vast spectrum of ways a man can express interest in a woman (even initial sexual interest in a person who is “taken” can even morph into friendship – hell, in Plato erotic love is the basis of a gradual transcendence to the apprehension of the Good), but the frum mind (the male ideology and its male and female adherents) lumps them altogether and equates the fleeting gaze with a full on groping! I fully understand the impulse behind your choice – as an individual – to “cover up” but I think yours is a blunt instrument that dates from a time when the minutely regulation, by men, of every aspect of a woman’s life was par for the course.

          After all, that is the deeper function of public harassment and gazing that you seem to miss: the wolf whistles and bosom-fixation aren’t “men being men”, they are informal ways of policing women’s behaviour (ever notice how such unsolicited “compliments” are far more common when the man is in a group). What you believe to be “respect” on account of being covered is actually a smug sense of self-satisfaction on the part of men who see a women who has internalized the false (but male-empowering) notion that it was SHE who was to blame for inciting the interest in the first place!
          Lastly, your choice, if made by most women, would be hugely detrimental to human happiness and the possibility of equal, reciprocal relationships between men and women – even if that choice were made freely. The injunction to protect, conserve and cover a woman’s body, made by mothers to their daughters, is behind the deep sexual misery you can see in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Indonesia (Saudi and Iran are different as the law renders any notion of choosing the norm redundant). The norm that causes a country like Egypt to be the 4th largest consumer of internet porn in the world, or that confines Haredi women to a life in the shadows, cannot be good in any sense of the word, or can it?

          Rebecca K. says:

          I see that we will continue to disagree–but I appreciate that you feel deeply about the subject and have read my essay with more than casual interest.

          It’s interesting reading the comments to see the various directions people ran with my experience. I didn’t actually intend for my article to reflect on men at all or even upon modesty in the general sense–but on my subconcious desire for approval, and how the same person can want such divergent things at the same time. The interactions with readers in the comments section is definitely engaging. Thanks for being a part of it.

        Monkish says:

        PS: I recommend Roland Barthes’ essays on fashion where he elaborates the notion that the cultivation of a certain style of dress goes hand in hand with the development of a certain style of thinking. It’s a refreshing change from the strange idea of clothes as a sort of second skin or carapace, insulating and protecting the “inner me” from an essentially hostile exterior.

          arktikwolf says:

          In Rebecca’s case, the “certain style of thinking” comes with strict regimentation and conformity. She is adopting a uniform. These rules were created by men as instruments of control and suppression.
          (Can’t expose that elbow; it may inflame the desire of your neighbor. And we all know where that can lead. Please.)
          For the sake of discussion, let’s say a successful heart surgeon and a Mafia soldier both favor a cool Hugo Boss suit. Would you say they have similar “styles of thinking”? Probably not.
          Chasidic men all wear the same pricy Borsalino fedora favored by the late Rebbe Schneerson, z”l. It is a cool hat, but it is also a status symbol, pure and simple. Ya think HaShem is into conspicuous consumption?
          I believe in the sanctity of the individual. Conformity kills the spirit. People read way too much into appearances; wear what you like.
          If your community would ostracize you for so-called dress-code “infractions,” maybe you should find another community.

          Rebecca K. says:

          You can’t lump all Orthodox Jews together, or all Chassidim. Orthodox Jews wear many different colors and styles of dress, reflecting their personal preferences. On a summer Shabbos, I’ve often thought the ladies in my shul look like a flock of brightly-colored butterflies. And the men aren’t all penguins.

          arktikwolf says:

          It was not my intent to “lump” people together, but you must admit there is precious little wiggle room for men’s attire in Chassidic/Orthodox communities. One occasionally sees a man with a grey suit or light colored jacket in the warmer months. They would be “Modern Orthodox” and can even be clean-shaven. And – they are perceived as goyim by the Haredim. Prosperous Orthodox women are often quite “oysgepitst” in designer clothing and bling in shul; they look good – if you don’t mind the polyester sheytls. It is the height of absurdity for a woman to clip her hair so she resembles an Auschwitz inmate, and then pop for several hundred bucks for a stylish wig. This is no heavenly decree; this is misogynistic BS.

          Natan79 says:

          I would wear a coon hat instead of a sheytl. Now that’s modesty!

          Natan79 says:

          You can’t wear transparent tights because some men might become inflamed by desire and masturbate, thus wasting their precious seed. Singing in the shul? Same deal. You see, males have a short fuse and a yad chazakah. Makes sense.

    Of course, the flip side to your argument is that men also wear modest clothing.

as a former young woman, now rapidly advancing to senior citizen status, I am reminded of something I heard from a friend who had reached her 60th birthday. She said that the best thing about getting old was that she no longer “saw herself through a man’s eyes.” In other words, she could do as she pleased, dress as she pleased, wear no makeup, leave the heels to her past, etc. She was speaking of a level of comfort reached only in old age – no longer judged by the “surface,” she was truly allowed to be herself. Perhaps I take comfort in this, however as the inside of my head doesn’t feel any different now than it did 30 years ago, I sometimes wish that my ‘surface’ was still admired and desired. Unfortunately I’ve gone from that to invisible. Extreme adherence to overly modest dress has the same desired result, you go from woman to invisible once you throw a shapeless bag over your body. There is no honor is denying our beauty as women – or as men for that matter – whether that beauty is inside or on the outside. Skewed attitudes to our sexuality do us all a disfavor. I say we should rejoice while the bloom is on the rose. It will, unfortunately, disappear all too soon.

    Rebecca K. says:

    Your comment reminded me of the Red Hat Society (my mother-in-law is a member. The name of the group comes from the opening lines of Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning:” “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” I love the sentiment, but on the other hand, I’ve known truly elderly women who tell me that inside, they still feel like a young woman, and it’s hard for them to come to terms with other people treating them as old ladies.
    Thanks again for your comment.

Modest dress does not free you from objectification. Why is it so important for this woman’s self esteem to feel attractive to men? Focusing on what is below the surface is important in Judaism. I don’t agree with the Orthodox interpretaion of modesty as it casts only women as the objects of desire and only men as the ones who desire. Neither is true. See more at

    Rebecca K. says:

    Thanks for reading my article. I’d like to respond to one of your comments:
    “I don’t agree with the Orthodox interpretaion of modesty as it casts only women as the objects of desire and only men as the ones who desire. Neither is true.”
    The Orthodox interpretation of modesty goes far beyond clothes and affects men and women, albeit in different ways. My husband’s manor of dress and personal conduct is as distinct from those of the average American on the street as mine are.
    I had hoped that my article pointed out, exactly as you say, women aren’t merely objects of desire. We have our own thoughts and yearnings. As this was (at the end of my experience as expressed in my essay) validated by an Orthodox rabbi, I don’t feel you can say this belief is outside Orthodox viewpoints.

      First, I do relate to what you write. I am an observant ( but not Orthodox) mother of 3 who is 40 and dresses modestly (as in not conforming to the presure to dress “sexily” but I wear pants and do not cover my hair). The desire that you write about, though, is a desire to be an object of desire, to be seen as attractive by men, it is not an article about how you struggle with sexual desire when you see attractive men, which is the type of desire that men are thought to struggle with. The laws of Tsniut are designed to curb male desire getting out of control. They do not deny that women have sexual desire, but they also do not worry about it causing harm. This lack of parallelism underlies my problem with the Orthodox view of modesty.

        Rebecca K. says:

        Thanks for your additional comments and the intelligent distinction between the kinds of desire you refer to.
        However, I still would have to disagree. The laws of tzniut aren’t just about curbing male desire. They are about connecting with the inner nature of people, not the outer nature of people. Men are also supposed to cover their head (esp when outdoors), dress in a dignified way (no underwear hanging out, torn clothing, etc.), and so on. Both men and women are supposed to turn away instead of gape if someone is in a embarrassing position (snot flying out of their nose, etc.). These rules aren’t only about taming the raging hormones within–they are about remembering that they have a neshama, that is divine, that everyone else has one too, and they should choose actions that reflect those facts.
        Women’s sexual desire can indeed cause grave harm–which is definitely acknowledged in Halacha. That’s why men and women aren’t supposed to be alone in a room together unless married or in the immediate family, and there were laws about the Sotah (suspected adultress) and a true adultress in Temple times. But the nature of women’s desire is very different from men’s. I think the difference is nice.
        But I appreciate that we may never agree on this. It’s nice that you were still able to identify with aspects of my essay anyway. Be well!

I love this covering the hair has some mystic attraction, I always notice such women, in a good way and have plenty of respect for them.
This has medical benefits too. Hair do not get in food, Your skin is saved from direct sunlight and you look younger as the Suns ageing effect is negated.
When Mrs Obama went to meet the Pope she had a cover too over her head.

    arktikwolf says:

    Scholars of antiquity would agree that, besides the obvious and pragmatic shielding of the head from the sun and keeping out the cold, the more social strictures regarding covering the head had a lot to do with keeping the nits and lice contained.

Last summer I ran a series of discussions on these issues with a group of modern-Orthodox high-school girls. Several of them made an interesting distinction. They felt it was fine for good religious girls to dress in a way which is physically attractive; what modesty demanded was that they not appear to be sexually available.

    Rebecca K. says:

    Love your comment. I think there are many teachers who make a similar distinction. And it makes sense–midrashim say that the clouds of glory provided cosmetics to the women during our 40 years in the desert, if I remember correctly.

      Natan79 says:

      Do the midrashim say anything about how to change a tire? Just checking.

        If Eishet Hayil were written today, it probably would mention something about her being expert at changing tires! (Yes, I know it is biblical rather than midrashic) Come to think of it, if Haredi women are allegedly supposed to stay in their homes, how could it be that the Eishet Hayil “is like a merchant fleet, bringing her food from afar”? Oh well, what can you expect from a women whose “whole household is dressed in crimson.”

Natan79 says:

On my street there’s a bunch of burly construction workers forever replacing some broken tiles of a fine old building facade. I’ve never seen them working, but they’re very proficient at catcalls. Maybe you should visit! The garbage truck drivers aren’t too bad at this game either.

herbcaen says:

Some women want male attention, others dont. So decide what you want and dress accordingly. Why is this a story?

    Rebecca K. says:

    I’d hoped that readers might identify with my quandry: the same person can want both things.

      herbcaen says:

      It is very confusing to men, who get into trouble for giving women attention and also for not giving women attention. In part, it explains the decrease in dating going on with young men, and the replacement of women with computers. Not a healthy development for either men or women, but extreme feminism is in part responsible

janpolatschek says:

In my opinion, it is best to remember what Joe Namath, the NY Jets football player, once said, “I can’t wait until tomorrow, because I get better looking every day.”

This is beautiful and so true. How many times do we want the approval of those around us but not really, if that makes sense. I find your story to show the honest side of every woman or man for that matter. My husband tells me all the time I am beautiful but some days it’s so hard for me to believe it. Thanks for sharing and so honestly!

A woman fell in Walmart and I was the first to help her up. Everyone scurried around to help. I left to finish my shopping. When I returned she was lying on the floor with a circle of people around her. I stopped to see if she was all right. When she recognized my face I smiled. I knelt down and put my hand under her chin. She smiled and I said “You have a beautiful face.” She replyed ” I’m a hundred years old.” The folks around her assured me that’s true. I however. I Looked through those pale blue eyes and saw the 17 girl she had been. I have always felt blessed because for a moment, I was a time traveler. Ladies. You do not become invisible……….I promise…

adelaide says:

As a former Orthodox woman who at one time wanted to cover her hair, I now — blissfully married, hair free as the wind — find the whole hair covering thing terribly sad, sad that women buy into the fact (hardly supported in halacha) they have to hide their hair, their bodies, their voices, themselves. Would that you could be admired! Not ashamed to stand tall. To be free is to be lovely. God wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Time waits for no [wo]man.”
“Time flies.” – whether you’re having fun or not!
IY”H, I’ll be 50 come the end of this calendar year, but don’t even ask me how that’s even possible! I still think of myself & my friends as “girls”!
I just keep trying to remind myself that it’s not the amount of years in my life, but rather the amount of life in my years!

Marri says:

this is an interesting article for a few reasons. (to me , almost fascinating)
We want to be noticed for many reason. My cousins are smart and cute. They want men (and ppl in general) to notice they are smart and cute. My friends want to look pretty no matter how old they are. (they are also very kind, not just attractive)
I no longer worry so much about smart and pretty. They are both fine, but truly kind nice is what I need ppl to see. I wear makeup for myself.
And I’m one of those who never noticed how good I looked until more than 25 yrs later.
What I wish for others after helping each other and being caring is to know that you are attractive or pretty and PLEase see it before your 40s!!!
Also, beauty really does come from within. Which is why I finally noticed that I’m pretty. It all happened when I truly cared a lot about friends & strangers more than ever before. Once I cared about others, it became very easy to smile at myself.

Mariam Fitzgerald says:

As a Muslim woman of about the same age who also covers body and hair, I can strongly relate to everything you’ve said. It does take guts to admit it though!

Sophi Zimmerman says:

Are skirts more modest than pants? Why? I’ve been told that pants delineate the female form. Seriously? Then men should be wearing skirts too! I guess I should be reading and commenting on Simi Lampert’s article.


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An Object of Desire?

As an Orthodox woman, I relish the freedom from ogling that modest dress offers—but it’s nice to be admired