I’ve always been told that I am good at being tznius. I’ve always been confused hearing that.
I thought they meant tznius, like knees perfectly covered and wearing tights and non-fitted clothing, which honestly I am not so good at.
But now I realize they meant something else: The ingrained comportment of fading into the background, not drawing attention, the hesitant and demure body language when talking to men. And more: limiting eye contact with men, standing a little to the side of your male family member, looking to their approval when responding. The metaphorical curve inwards, the hyper-awareness of male presence, the uncomfortable but unmistakable feeling that this isn’t your place to speak up.
Does anyone know what I’m talking about? Does anyone notice themselves doing this? Is this what all frum girls do?
I didn’t even know that I did this until I experienced the opposite. Until it stared me in the face. Until I realized how much it’s been holding me back.
I have not been a good girl this year. I’ve tried out many scandalous experiences that are not befitting my position in my family and community. There are things I should be rebuked for, things I should feel guilty about, things I should never do again. It’s been another adolescence, full of acting out, differentiating, trying new things, learning about myself, being selfish and emotional, and not thinking too hard about the consequences.
Dancing. Energy. Freedom. Abandon.
“Don’t be afraid to be sexy.” I didn’t realize that I was holding back until that was said. And it hit me– my body is not letting me. I consider myself to be well acquainted with my sexuality and very comfortable with my body and desires. However, I could see in that moment that I was so socialized to not draw attention to myself, I simply could not get my body to move in a way that felt provocative like that.
But I’m full of contradictions because while others think I embody tznius, I notice that there has always been for me a pull towards men, wanting their attention, which I seemed to have masked with my modest demeanor and carriage of myself. Men were just close enough to be interesting and intriguing, but far enough to make them mythical, inaccessible, foreign, unapproachable, scary, unrelatable.
But now everything is different. By noticing the invisible walls around me, I have the power to push past them, and I do. I’m trying out a new way of being in the world– speaking up, feeling like I deserve to be seen and heard, getting noticed.
Ironically, I lost the self-consciousness that the internal war of wanting attention while not drawing attention brought me. I no longer care or think about what I look like, or feel that I need to look a certain way in order to be valued, listened to, or get attention. Paradoxically, I am less preoccupied with my appearance, or worrying about whether I’m attractive enough. I feel confident around men, and that I deserve to take up space.
I’m digging deep, trying to find the guilt or angst I know should be there. But the feeling that crowds all the others out is glorious pleasure of growth. I can’t think of a more enjoyable experience than watching myself learn about myself, grow, try new things, put my power to use for good, and have an effect on others. And I see that being tzanua in that way is no longer useful to me.
(Yes, there is a value to being modest and not attracting attention. However, I appreciate the awareness of knowing what it is like to take up space, so that I can have the power to turn it on or off depending on what is needed.)
Am I sure this is the right way to go? No, I’m not. But I’m enjoying the ride, the blessings, confusion, and new feelings the journey is presenting me. It is true that this comes with risks, and thoughts about how far is too far. It is true that there are risks of disapproval and judgment from others. However, I’m left with a hunch that G-d led me to this for a reason.
I’m a real person. I have the right to be here, to take up space, to be heard and be seen.