How The Power of Tzniut (Modesty) Gave My Body Back To Me by guest blogger Kate Sample

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Once in a while it's nice to hear a new perspective on the case of modesty, that ultra-controversial topic that ever so slightly buzzes below the surface of this pretty blog...the one that people hate to love to hate to talk about. 

For some, the idea of modesty or tznius may come with a lot of heavy, guilt inducing regulations that can feel burdensome. But I've learned that in essence, the Jewish concept of modesty is actually a beautiful idea that gives value and protection to us women. The idea that, our beauty is valuable and precious, yet we are so much more than just our bodies.

Our guest blogger, Kate Sample, a Jew by choice, understands this and embraces modesty as a gift of freedom, not oppression. She writes about how the power of modesty gave her back the power over her body. Read on:

        Admittedly, I’m not great at keeping tabs on the weather. You’ll often catch me discovering rain with equal parts incredulousness and exasperation, as though there was no possible way to see it coming (like that little icon on my phone that says ‘Weather’). Still, even I think it’s a bit much when women’s magazines insist upon screaming, “IT’S SWIMSUIT SEASON!” from their glossy surfaces from May through August—when the preoccupation switches over to holiday shopping.

       Speaking of that, the bikini body obsession really kicks off in January, when the aforementioned mags start exhorting you to lose those holiday pounds and get ready for—you guessed it—SWIMSUIT SEASON! The latest celebrity cleanse craze. How to cut calories throughout the day. Butt-blasting, fat-zapping moves from a professional trainer. Month after month, it’s a variation on the same topic, and the message is clear: Your body is for display.

        One attitude I consistently encountered (from Jews and non-Jews alike) during my Orthodox conversion was the suspicion that I was just swallowing beliefs without question, accepting whatever the Rabbis told me. Any Rabbi who ever found himself on the receiving end of my questions and stubborn rebuttals can confirm that—much to their amusement and sometimes chagrin—that was definitely not the case. On the contrary, Judaism has made me look at the world differently, causing me to question the cultural conditioning I did accept blindly pre-Judaism.

        And that included feeling pressured to look “perfect” in my nearly-naked state on the waterfront. I’m not sure what the unspoken consequences would have been had I blatantly disregarded this social contract (Excommunication from the beach? People running into the water screaming?) and just, you know, showed up without any dieting or boot camp beforehand. I never found out because I went along with it. Until, that is, I was introduced to this insane idea in Judaism that my body is—gasp—mine. 

       The concept of modesty is often misconstrued on one side and sometimes zealously monitored on the other. But for me, it’s as simple as this: My body is my own. It serves me well to take care of it—and I do work out and aim to keep my vegetable to Twizzler ratio at roughly 5:1. However, I am not obligated to spend excessive time or energy trying to whittle my body into the impossible ideal and then present it for public ogling. Let’s not kid ourselves about how long Western societies have imposed such an ideal—how much variation have you ever seen among ancient Greek statuary? Whether during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, or in the present-day United States, Judaism has always pushed back against the objectification of women.

         Put aside for a moment the requisite covered areas and focus instead on the modest mindset, which says, “I am not for display. I am an entire person, with thoughts, feelings, and ideas.” This is a way of thinking that any woman can—and should—adopt.

Maybe you think you already have. If you spend several months out of the year trying to attain physical perfection because of outside influences, maybe you should rethink that. I’m not here to preach the ultimate version of tznius—because trust me, I haven’t reached it. For some of us, putting on a skirted scuba suit at the beach is still too foreign. So in the interest of having a real and honest conversation, I simply propose starting with a new mindset. Liberate yourself from all of the expectations that come with SWIMSUIT SEASON and tiny two-pieces. Instead of losing weight, I hope you’ll gain a new perspective from a tradition that stands on thousands of years of wisdom, has outlasted all previous civilizations that tried to squeeze women into a standard size or shape, and most importantly, has continuously told us that it is our striving for inner perfection that truly makes us beautiful.

Kate Sample is a writer and Jew-by-choice living in Chicago. She spends her free time JDating, eating a lot of Zelda's, and resisting labels on her blog,

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  1. Kate really states the way all women should feel about themselves. Sharon thank you for having this lovely young lady guest post!

  2. This was super...I enjoyed her thoughts and writing...wonderful. I hope you have a sweet day xox

  3. This was a really thought provoking piece - thank you! xo

  4. I absolutely loved reading this post becuase this is something I can totally relate to. Kate is so inspirational! A lot of people think Muslim women wearing head scarves are being 'oppressed', and that may be true in some Muslim cultures, but for the most part, it's very liberating for a lot of women. As one of my friends said put to it, when we were cavemen, we were practically naked. As society gradually evolved, garments were created to cover the body. Covering yourself is only part of that evolution.

    Loved it, thanks for sharing!


  5. Sharon,dear....:)*

    HOW fantatsic is you post again!!!

    I like this last one qoute and can't more being agree with these very wise woords!
    Such a wonderful person Kate:)))*

    Thankyou so very much for share this story,Sharon,I have enjoyed to read about Kate!

    I want to say how beautful is you header again.....just dreamy beautiful:)))*

    Wish you lovely weekend,my dear friend!


  6. I loved this post, Sharon...a wonderful choice as a guest blogger...a brilliant piece...the last quote is so true...strive on inner perfection and see the beauty shine through.
    Happy Weekend

  7. This was really quite beautiful. I've never thought of things this way before. Thank you. :)

  8. Excellent post, thanks! There are so many external messages seeking to objectify women on a constant basis. It is liberating to not be on display, even if I don't follow tznius strictly. I am proud of my 11 year old son who questions what he sees and understands the importance of modesty and being appropriate. As he already knows, the human body is very beautiful but should not be "on display" as we too often see it on magazine covers, on the street. As pointed out, inner beauty, and inner strength and ideas, are what count.

    When I jogged 4 miles at the beach today (not in a skirt, but still covered in long exercise pants), it was not to make my body "beach ready." I did it for me, my health, my mind, to resolve issues/make decisions, and it felt so freeing!

  9. As a gal who experienced being almost 50 lbs overweight for years- I can tell you that being overweight gets you down. I LIKED ME (no self-esteem problems!) but I felt unhappy when I looked in the mirror or went shopping for clothes. Finally losing weight improved by life tremendously. I am no "hot mama" but I am not feeling fat- and most importantly, I've escaped the numerous health problems that plague my family. And the health challenges I did encounter were all easier to deal with, with less weight.
    As a Weight Watchers leader and a Private Practice Certified Diet Coach, I know that maintaining a healthy weight is MORE than just looking beautiful; it is crucial for protecting the holy body that houses our holy soul. Good health enables us to be an eved Hashem to the fullest. Coach Laurie

  10. Kate, another great article, beautifully written. Thank you, Sharon, for having Kate as your guest.