I was talking to someone the other day about the topic of tznius. She is newly observant and she asked me about the halachas of dressing in a modest fashion – now that the weather was getting warmer, she wanted to know what she could and couldn’t wear, and in observing others, she was a bit confused, because she saw that everyone did something a little different. I gave her a quick overview of the laws – covering elbows, knees and collarbone, wearing skirts and explained that when it comes to the rest of it, different people do different things and the best thing to do is to speak about it with someone you trust.
She then told me a story that blew me away. She told me that for a year, she had an eating disorder. She was obsessed with her body and her weight, and she became extremely thin, to the point where she could no longer find clothes small enough to fit her. Her friends and family were concerned and kept telling her that she was too thin, but she couldn’t see it.
She then learned about tznius and the philosophy behind it. She was taught about how the neshama should be able to shine from within, and that it is what is inside a person that is important. Her eating disorder disappeared as she focused on her internal image rather than her external one.
This woman, before even knowing the laws of tznius, managed to understand and internalize the underlying wisdom within the concept. I was awed by the fact that, instead of focusing on what she was wearing to be modest, she took it a huge step further and let the concept make an incredible difference in how she viewed herself.
Many people get caught up in hemlines, stockings, colors and sandals (and whether or not to wear any of the above). But tznius is so much more. It’s a way of life, of interacting with others, and of viewing oneself. It’s often a challenge to remember to focus on what is inside a person, to see their essence. It takes more effort and time to see someone for who they are rather than what they look like. But that is what tznius is all about – taking away the focus on outward appearance to give others the opportunity to look beyond. This woman has found it within herself. May we all follow her lead.