Growing up, I always wondered what it would be like to be beautiful. A 2015 study (and many since then, I assume) found that I’m not the only woman ever to have fostered these thoughts.
I always figured it would be better to look like anyone but me. And to be honest? I had no clue how to address these insecurities.
Telling myself I was beautiful never helped.
Someone else telling me I was beautiful felt good at first, but the niceties wore off pretty quick.
And simply ignoring the fact that I wanted to change my appearance also failed to ensure long-term confidence.
I wanted to be secure in who I was. I wanted to direct my thoughts and energy towards anything but my body and myself—but I didn’t know how...
Recently, I read a few books by a Jewish lady named Gila Manolson. She wrote on modesty in a way unlike I had ever read or heard before...and somehow this message on modesty tied so perfectly into that long-lasting desire of mine to be beautiful.
As I read her words, I felt like I was taking in a much-needed breath of fresh air. I hope it’ll help you breathe a little, too.
THE JEWISH UNDERSTANDING OF MODESTY
The Hebrew word tzniut translates loosely to the English word modesty, but it means so much more than what most Americans associate with the term. Because I’m fairly new to this concept myself, I think it would be better for you to hear the more in-depth definition from the expert herself:
“Contrary to popular belief, tzniut is not just about what we wear, but about who we are...it means realizing that we are more than skin-deep and that we want to see ourselves, and be seen, for who we are—not for our looks or even for our talents, abilities, and accomplishments, which are mere external expressions of our essence. The real person is the goodness within. In Jewish terms: We are souls, made in God’s image. Tzniut conveys this soul-consciousness to the world.”
~ Gila Manolson, Choosing to Love
We live in a culture that emphasizes our bodies. We are defined by how we look & dress. But Gila Manolson reminded me of an essential truth: We have bodies, but we are souls.
Our bodies are an important part of who we are. They are gifts and they are good. But there is so much more to who we are than what can merely be seen.
The goal of tzniut is to let our bodies reflect who we are within.
The usual conversation on modesty tends to carries hints that the body is sinful or that we should be ashamed of it. But that is not at all what tzniut is about.
I love this explanation from Gila about why we cover our bodies.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve saw one another as souls. There was no need for clothing because their nakedness did not distract them from their essence. But as soon as sin entered the world, their eyes were opened to their nakedness and they could no longer see the internal without being distracted by the external.
So now, we wear clothing because we recognize that the temptation to see people only as bodies is real, and yet, we still want to be seen as our true selves.
Who we are, Not Just HOw We look
Tzniut doesn’t just help us love and appreciate our bodies, it helps us to be seen as more than bodies alone.
I never realized it before...but that’s what I always desired (and still do). This is the part of the 'beauty' conversation that I forgot.
Yeah, I want to be beautiful and I care about how I look...but deep down I know that “attaining” my idea of beauty will not suddenly make all my problems go away.
And really...what I want is this:
I want to be seen and loved for who I am—not for my body, but for me.
Isn’t that what you want, too?
What if modesty—and how we dress—isn’t just about covering up?
What if it’s about helping others see who we actually are?
Tzniut gives us permission to stop striving for perfection. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful (I think beauty and the love for beauty is actually a gift from God)...but I think it’s true that we shouldn't limit the concept to how we look.
Our bodies are a part of us, not all of us, and how we present ourselves externally has the potential to point others to “the goodness within.”
Maybe a beautiful heart & a beautiful soul aren’t so invisible after all.
Choosing to Love by Gila Manolson