Dear Dr. Yael,
I am not sure if this issue should be sent to your column or to a rabbi, but I would like to hear your opinion on a hashkafic issue with practical implications.
A wife is supposed to be attractive to her husband, emphasis on her husband, not on another woman’s. Yet, if one walks on any main street in a frum Jewish neighborhood one will see women of all ages, particularly the younger ones, dressed to stand out. Sheitels, make-up and choice of dress, while meeting the standards of tznius in regards to length and coverage, are as eye catching as anything on the cover of any major courtier magazine.
And, yes, a woman has to feel comfortable with herself when she goes out. And she has to be appealing to her husband. But Klal Yisroel is an Am Kadosh, and Chazal teach us that a lack of tznius is the antithesis of kedusha.
What effect does this have on our young men when it comes to shidduchim? Too often one of the first questions asked is if she is pretty, is she slim, is she attractive, rather than what are her middos, what is her hashkafah, what are her Torah values. Those questions are often ignored, or are asked as secondary considerations. How many young women of character, personality, middos and values fail to make the grade of a Vogue model and suffer because of it?
And what is the impact on a marriage when a wife fails to live up to modern-day standards of beauty? Yes, it is easy to say a husband should not compare, but when the eyes are besieged by aggressive beauty standards, such comparisons are a natural outcome.
We raise grave concern over the immorality of the Internet and other forms of media and how it wears away the fabric of our communities and strains familial relationships and personal identity. But do we not have to appraise and take responsibility for how our own actions add to the tension and disruptions in our family and personal lives?
As a psychologist, how do you deal with segments of a culture that has traded in lasting values of tznius for values of beauty that are derived from the street and have a negative impact on the many who are straining to remain within the bounds of Am Kadosh?
Anonymous in Brooklyn
Such a timely and important topic – thank you for raising it.
Some time ago I had the opportunity to interview a rabbi who is a baal teshuva on my radio program. I was very impressed by his sincerity and his amazing marriage and children. He said something so interesting to me off the air. We had just spent Pesach together as part of a very frum program, one with an impeccable hashgacha, hundreds of guests and countless shiurim given by chashuve rabbanim. And yet, he said, he couldn’t understand why there were so many female guests who dressed not to be attractive, but rather to be attracting.
I agree with you and with the rabbi. There is halacha and then what is in the spirit of halacha. If a woman covers herself properly but wears clothes that are very tight and figure-revealing, is she really abiding by hilchos tznius?
I must tell you that in my experience, often it is not the woman’s choice to dress this way. Many times it is the husband who wants a very attractive wife walking by his side.
I will have a female client who wants to wear a longer skirt, a less-revealing outfit and the husband insists that she dress in the manner that he wants. I always ask him, “Why do you want other men looking at your wife? Why don’t you let her dress this way in the privacy of your own home but not in public?” And there is no answer that makes sense. The younger generation in particular has this dilemma. The men want to be proud of how their wives look and show them off. It seems to me that it is an ego thing. These men enjoy hearing that they married a “beauty.” When the wife asks, “Don’t you want me to be a Bas Yisroel and dress in a tznius manner?” the husband responds that he wants to feel proud of his wife and that he wants his peers to see what an attractive wife he has.
Certainly there are men who feel differently and many men beg their wives to dress in a more tznius way. However, for the most part, I have found that to be true with the older men; those in their 20s and 30s are pressuring their wives to dress in the manner described in your letter.
It is an issue that must be addressed with both a rav and a therapist, as when it comes to shalom bayis, a compromise area should be found.
I look forward to hearing from our readers on this issue – from men and women.