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Sheitls

There is a concept amongst some Orthodox Jews called an Upshirin. When a boy turns 3, their hair (which has never been trimmed before) gets a drastic cut so that they are left with a regular, short hairstyle. Overnight, their entire image changes.

My little nephew had long, wavy hair. His baby face was in fact complemented by the gorgeous sandy brown locks that fell past his shoulders. But, in moments, that all changed. All of a sudden he looked more mature and older than he did earlier that morning.

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Something within me adjusted and it felt as if I expected a more aware and communicative child. Gone was the toddler, here was a little boy who would now don a capel and tzitzit. But, I realised, it was only my view which had changed, not him. He was the same child, he felt the same, he understood the same and he expected the same.

Why am I telling you this random moment in my life?

Two months ago, as with my chosen Orthodox way of life, I started wearing a sheitl after my marriage. To try and make it easier on my family, friends and colleagues, I wore a normal style that resembles my natural hair but still varied in some ways.

Obviously it’s different. Sheitls are always in perfect style whereas normal hair is not. As soon as you put it on, it looks as if you’ve had your hair professionally done. It smartens up most outfits changing the simplest clothing look even better. Those who know me and are around me on a regular basis can clearly notice the difference in my look.

The reactions I received were mixed; some that made me proud to wear it, some that made me feel torn about it.

Symbolically, the sheitl makes it apparent to everyone around me, everyone who knows me, and even those who only know me in passing, that I am a married woman and that my full self is only for one other person in the world.

Jews have a sort of radar to detect these things. No matter how real your wig looks, you can always tell what is real and what is fake. I like the fact that every person immediately knows there’s a boundary around me. This, combined with the rings on my finger, makes it apparent to all men that I’m off-limits.

But, at the same time, it has changed the way people treat me.

All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, some people’s view of me has distorted just like mine did with my nephew. There are those that take it as a change in personality; as if the real me underneath has been altered by my outer attire.

I confronted one friend about it and they admitted that it was the sheitl. They simply saw someone else. But the saddest part is that I am still the same Selena that I was before. My personality does not alter with my fashion choices.

As much as it’s a barrier of warning, it seems that the sheitl is a barrier of understanding and communication too. People expect more, they anticipate a mature, married woman. Just as the little boy didn’t change suddenly, I didn’t either.

It’s hard. Even though I see everyone that exact same as the day of my wedding, I feel like it’s not reciprocated. Sometimes, I feel like an outsider to those who act oddly around me. Even just the fact that I’m married has changed many relationships I have.

But I’m still that young, carefree person irrelevant of what I put on my head. It’s not going to stop me living my life to the absolute fullest that I possibly can. I’m not old and boring yet!

I just hope that in time, people look past the sheitl and see the real me again. The me that is just fun, silly, daft and rather stupid sometimes. I’m not any older or wiser than I was before; age and thought doesn’t modify in a day.

Yes I’m married, yes I look slightly different, but no, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to treat me different too.

So even though it has its downsides, I still love my new look. It’s the look of completion that I’ve found my soulmate. I’ll never give that up, I’ll always wear my sheitl because feeling that achievement every single day is absolutely priceless.

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Selena, a recently married 20-something from Manchester, England blogs for The Jewish Press Online under the title, "My Point of Jew." Selena also works for the Jewish Telegraph - Britain's only regional Jewish newspaper.