As a married Orthodox Jewish woman, I cover my hair whenever I am out in the world or when I welcome guests into my home. You can learn more about this practice here. Today, I want to speak less to the structure of the mitzva itself, and more to our experience of it as modern Jewish women.
This was a tough one for me. I always knew I would cover my hair in some way after marriage, the same way I check my food for Kosher supervision, the way I honor Shabbat each week. All the same, it was a difficult transition. My hair had become such a representation of my identity, made me feel so beautiful, so feminine, that the actual experience of the mitzva still took me by surprise. The beginning of marriage is full of questions about identity and gender roles and change, and the new hidden-ness of my hair only highlighted that with every look in the mirror.
How can I best maintain my sense of self in the context of marriage? What are my priorities? What are my responsibilities? What should grow and change and what should remain the same?
So each day, I slipped on an embellished beret, or a swishy new wig, or a bright scarf, and I wrestled with these questions. And, come evening, I would walk in the door and shake out my hair, tszujing it and hoping that it would return to its bouncy, shiny self. More and more often my hair would end up piled on my head in a huge messy bun, and I hoped my husband wasn’t disappointed that his shampoo commercial bride had turned into the spunky best friend in every romantic comedy I had ever seen. Cute, but no knockout.
Finally, it came to me. After looking around online, talking to friends and dropping a few Jo March tears for the loss of my one beauty, it hit me:
What if I covered my hair like I loved to do it?
What then? How do we deal with the things we love? We beautify them, we cherish them. How do we handle people who are precious to us? We make their lives as lovely as possible, we surprise them, we make them joyful.
I decided to give it a try with this mitzva. It definitely helped to find the Wrapunzel community, a group of women of many faiths who cover with gorgeous scarves and make themselves shine. They led by example, wrapping themselves in colors that brought out their joy, choosing yummy soft scarves that felt good to the touch, accessories that re-lit that sparkle I was missing.
I found hair-covering boards on Pinterest. I experimented with scarves and with chic Shabbos hats. I noticed how I felt walking down the street in my different hair coverings. It helped so much to notice what made me feel beautiful, feel like myself, and what did not.
And as I treated the mitzva with more respect, holding my head proudly and feeling beautiful in my coverings, the more I respected the mitzva. I found subtlety in it, and a connection to the women who came before me. I found that some days it was a badge of courage, of Jewish identity. I found that this mitzva, like so many others, was something I could not only live with, but enjoy and champion.
By covering my hair, by using my body in the service of a mitzva, by reflecting on it, by concealing it and then revealing it when appropriate, I realized that in some way I was also honoring myself. I was cherishing my own body, wrapping it in gorgeous colors and patterns. I was reverently giving it daily care, and making my body the vessel of my creative expression and personality. I was in control of what about me was public, and what was private.
I could send a message to the world: I am different, set aside, and precious. My body is mine to reveal and conceal. I don’t need to compete to be seen. I am worthy, honored, and confident in what I have to contribute to the world.
I’d love to hear what you have to say on this topic, either in the comments below or in a private email.
Interested in hair covering? Here are some wonderful places to explore!