My Chasaq Speech - Part I - Lose the Shame

Friday, May 01, 2015

This past Tuesday evening I spoke at a beautiful Chazaq event arranged by the ever glamorous and inspiring Victoria Zirkiev, who, by the way, was one of my first Fashion-isha followers and friends.

Victoria and me

I wanted to share my very personal, and honest speech with you here on the blog, because sometimes we may feel alone on our journey,  and I want you all to know you are not.

My story.

Hi my name is Sharon Langert. I’m a wife, mom, grandma, one time fashion designer, kidney donor (read about that HERE and HERE) and modest fashion and lifestyle blogger. But mostly I’m just a regular woman like all of you here. I grew up in a humble home in Baltimore, and I remember loving fashion and craving a glamorous yet meaningful life as far back as I can remember. And although I was raised by wonderful parents, I also remember feeling shy and insecure as a child.
(Wow talk about pattern mixing...that outfit and couch are MAJOR 70's style statements!)

When I was about 12 years old I started to struggle with the rules of modesty. Unfortunately, and I think this is a big problem in many of our schools, modesty was not taught in a positive light. And like many young girls today, the concept of tzniut (modesty) became a negative one. If I looked too "pretty," I was made to feel bad about myself. I felt as if there were a constant push and pull between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to look beautiful. No one had ever reconciled the two for me.

Fast forward a few years. When my husband and I were engaged, we were planning on moving to Brooklyn. I am a city girl at heart and was excited to maintain my religious identity in a city filled with a rich variety of Jewish culture, and still be able to fulfill my dream of doing something in the fashion world. But G-d had other plans for us. During our engagement my husband told me that he got a job in Lakewood and that’s where we would be living. And the rest is history.

Now, I'm not going to lie, the idea of living in Lakewood was pretty devastating to me. I would be too far to work or go to school in the city, and Lakewood is one of the most ultra-orthodox communities in America. I knew with my history it would be very difficult for me to feel like I was on par or good enough. I felt like it would be hard to integrate into my community and still be able to be true to myself, it would have to be one or the other. Looking back I see that Hashem really wanted to put me in a place where I would be challenged specifically in this area of finding balance between living a beautiful life full of color, creativity, and fashion, and living life according to the standards of my community.

Fortunately I got involved in my kids' school events** and other chesed and charity endeavors. Getting out there and getting out of your 'self' for others is truly the best anti-depressant, and a direct pathway for meaningful and lasting friendships. These charity events saved my life in Lakewood because they gave me a positive identity outside of what I looked like in comparison to everyone else, and were an incredible way to channel my creativity.

Year after year, we grew events, procured prizes, brainstormed, designed and produced brochures, decorated elaborate auctions and food courts, and raised tons of money for local schools and organizations, all the while bonding with the most amazing people. These actions and connections bypassed any differences we may have had and I slowly realized that we were all different and unique and that was ok. It's the way it was supposed to be.

When my kids grew older, and when I had full days free, my husband encouraged me to fulfill one of my dreams to design and produce my line of clothes. At one point I had my skirts in several boutiques in Brooklyn including Junees! A few years later, encouraged by a friend (hi Sara Lasry), I started this blog.

The blog was a game changer in my life. It helped me solidify my own beliefs, and opened up my world allowing me to connect with so many amazing women.  And the positive feedback that streamed in confirmed that I was far from alone in my struggles. That there are thousands of like minded women who love being orthodox, but also love looking beautiful. And that we are all trying to find that balance where the two don’t contradict each other.

So, how is this done?

Well Hashem created us as spiritual beings in a physical world. This was not a coincidence or a trick. Merely by existing in a physical body within a physical world while being spiritual beings answers the existential question of why we are here. To elevate the physical in this world to spiritual levels. To actually bring Hashem into this world by emulating Him and thereby elevating everything that would otherwise be mundane. And this applies to clothing as well. When Chava sinned, that is when Hashem made Adam and Chava aware of their bodies and good vs. evil. It was through covering up that we were able to start the process of elevating the physical into the spiritual. Clothing actually has a huge spiritual significance.

And therefore, we actually have the power to create our own positive self image through our clothes. But we also must not neglect our physical need as women to feel beautiful. Modesty is not about ugliness or hiding who you truly are. That concept is the antithesis to Judaism. Each one of us was especially created by Hashem with a soul which was given to us by Hashem. We are all beautiful and special and have a unique purpose in this world, and we need to start viewing our clothing as the physical/spiritual connector to expressing this beautiful inner self.

So why all the covering up?

Well like I said, I struggled with the rules of modesty! As a girl I didn’t want to feel like there was all of this negativity associated with my body. It’s hard enough being a teenager! This feeling stayed with me for a long time, until I soul searched enough to find an explanation that made sense to me. I realized that modesty is actually a gift, a challenging one, but a gift nonetheless, given to us as a tool to portray ourselves to the world as we truly want to be seen.

I recently walked into a hair salon, and when I looked down at the receptionist…well I’ll leave it to the imagination to what was in full view. I wouldn’t even recognize the woman’s face if I saw her again because that was not what I noticed! Attention is nice, but too much from the wrong people for the wrong reason is like binging on junkfood…it feels good for a few minutes and then it makes you seriously ill. I want people to see ME not just my body parts! I want them to see my eyes, my smile, my essence...and yes, my outfits too :) But my outfits need to be a reflection of the colorful, vibrant, complex person that’s INSIDE my body.

A reflection of my soul.

To be continued...

At the end of the event I was approached by several mothers who were concerned with how to deal with their young teenagers' lack of motivation towards dressing appropriately.

I do empathize with the moms, but guess what? I also empathize with the girls. Mom's find it quite shocking when I take a daughter's side, but girls, I get it, I really do. Because I've lived it.

Most teenagers do not really have a enough of a developed positive sense of self to fully understand and accept the rules of modesty blindly. They just want to feel pretty and happy and loved.

It's simple, if we don't fill our daughters' very, very deep emotional 'tanks', they will do anything to get them filled. And on top that, many girls act like they don't want or need us, but believe me, they do.
And moms! Let's get over our own need to have "perfect" children. No one's perfect! Let's #LosetheShame! (Omg I'm so working on this one and want to make it a cause!)

So we must love them. We must compliment them.  And we must try to be kinder and gentler to our daughters when they express a desire to look good in their new bodies. When you catch them looking at themselves in the mirror, don't criticize or shame them, tell them they are beautiful and their body is precious. Tell them you are on their team. Be their advocate. We must first validate their inherent need for attention and not punish them for it. Only then will they hopefully be receptive to any advice we may have.

Thanks for reading and please leave your opinions and comments below, I'd love to hear from you!



Part II coming soon!

** The YTT Expo was one of the events that I was passionately involved in for many, many years and I am still proud to say that this event is one of the best in Lakewood. It is happening this Sunday, and all proceeds benefit the wonderful elementary yeshiva that both of my sons attended. You can buy your auction tickets HERE.

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  1. Sharon, I can relate to this so much. As a child I did not have the confidence and self assurance that took years to acquire. Now also a Mother and Grandmother I want to pass along the message of beauty inside and out, holding your head high, and being proud of yourself no matter what others may be doing or saying.

    You are a great example to young woman and to women of all ages!!

    The Arts by Karena
    Giveaway from The Enchanted Home!

  2. This is an issue that must be addressed more in the frum world. Often, morahs mistranslate "tznius" as body shaming and anti-chic, when there is no precedent for that. Even the great women in our Tanach were often described as "beautiful to the eyes" - aesthetics are not anti-Judaism!

    I went through the same hysteria when I was in school, but my parents simply rolled their eyes. It was after high school when I found the self-gratifying discovery of personal style (I call it "classic funk"), that, I think, represents who I am, with the obviousness that I am religious.

    "Tznius" harassment can have long term ramifications; I know of one rabbi who says it can drive girls off the derech.

    If we are taught proper values, proper dressing will automatically result. We must treat the cause, not the symptoms.

  3. Well said! Your a great mom and a beautiful role model for women and young girls alike.

  4. Beautifully written and so true! I was nodding my head along while reading the entire post. This is an issue that needs to be addressed more often.

    B"h I'm in an amazing place right now with my wonderful husband and our first baby (Girl!) on the way. I can only thank Hashem for helping me stick out my childhood years, because they were not easy. Added to that was the impression from my family that I "was never good enough", and the constant message of "why can't you just dress the way you were raised" "what will people/the street say". And why? Because I wanted to be my true self and express it in a different, yet still modest way.
    I recently had a simcha where I knew one of my very good school friends would be attending and we hadn't seen each other in a while. I found out she was being there the same time I was about to arrive so I tearfully begged my husband to make a u-turn and come back when I knew she'd be gone. When he asked me what the matter was I told him she'll judge me if she saw the way I looked. Again, dressed modestly, just more chic/colorful/different then I was raised. I was so ashamed at myself because I know that this is me, who I am, and that my "different" is only a unique take on dressing modestly without any transgressions.

    I pray every day that Hashem give me the right tools to raise MY little girl and inject in her a positive light and attitude towards modesty and all our wonderful customs and laws.

    You are such an inspiration, Sharon! Have a wonderful Shabbat and keep inspiring us!

  5. This is very, very good! A great topic and I can't wait to read Part II. I, personally STILL struggle with this issue and am a grown woman!!
    I have been following your blog/IG etc for a while but never comment for that very reason. I read a lot of frum bloggers but always remain at a distance because I am a bit shy to the fact that I haven't fully taken on all the Modesty rules. I know it sounds silly but it's my "thing" I'm working out.
    I was not raised Orthodox but have become more and more observant over the years. So it's definitely a tough transition when you weren't raised so and work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles! (oy vey)
    My friends and family can tell you how spiritual I am but you wouldn't always necessarily know that by looking at me.
    I am also the mother of two beautiful GIRLS (BH) and it's something I think about also constantly because of them, and how to raise them, etc.
    Thanks so much, looking forward to the rest!

  6. Amazing post! Thank you so much for sharing!!