I’m a ten-year-old girl writing this letter (with help from my mother). My parents want me to dress in a way that they say is tznius, and I’m unhappy with these rules. Some examples are the length of my socks or skirt or even the color of my sweatshirts. My friends all dress the way they want to, and I feel different than everyone else. My mother said if you agree with me, she’ll rethink her rules. Please agree with me. I’m not giving my real name because my mother won’t let me.
You sound like a bright young woman, and I’m going to be very straight with you. There are two separate issues in your email, and I don’t want to confuse them. The first issue is the one regarding “tznius.” You feel restricted and wish you could dress the way you want. Your friends seem to wear whatever they want, and you don’t want to be the odd one. The second issue is that you seem to feel that your parents are overly protective or overly strict. That’s not something I can discuss in this article, but it will be discussed in a future issue.
Tznius is an overused word that I’m not so fond of. Many people have been using it to describe the way people dress, but it’s so much more than that. Tznius is a way of life for all Jews. It’s not about being restricted; it’s about living life as a Torah Jew. Limiting it to just a method of dress is wrong. It also describes the way people should speak and act, both in public and in private. I know people who dress extremely conservatively and yet don’t act b’tznius, and others who don’t dress as carefully but behave in a much more tzniusdik manner. In other words, you can’t judge people just by the way they dress, and it’s actually a dangerous thing to do.
That being said, there are times that people need to dress in a specific way. For example, you wouldn’t go to a water park in a suit and tie, and you probably wouldn’t go to school in a bathing suit. Why not? Because there are certain times that you need to dress in a suitable way. As a Yid, that holds true all the time. We need to dress appropriately all the time.
Getting back to your question, how should you dress? That’s not a question I can answer. Using halachah and/or rabbanim to guide them, parents try to educate their children regarding the importance of being tzniusdik. Some people have certain customs that others don’t have. There are no specific guidelines that every person follows; rather, we follow our family custom. I’m sure your parents understand and appreciate the importance of you looking like a bas Torah. Their job is not to tell all the girls in your class what to wear; their only responsibility is to help you and your siblings. It’s unfair to compare the way your friends dress since they come from different families and backgrounds. Besides, let’s be fair — I’m sure there are girls who have parents even stricter than yours.
When girls complain about dressing appropriately, I tell them to look at pictures of the Queen of England. Why does she always seem to be dressed in a dignified way? It’s because she’s royalty! She understands that she is different, and how important it is to be more modest. Well, you are also royalty — you’re a bas Yisrael, a bas Melech!
Here’s what I suggest. If there is one aspect that is really frustrating to you, ask your parents if you can ask your rav or menahel his opinion. It can’t be a general “I don’t like to dress this way,” but you can focus on one aspect that is difficult for you. For example, there is a family I know whose daughter wanted to wear pink sneakers, and her parents felt it was inappropriate. The parents agreed to ask their rav, who said that it wasn’t a problem, and this girl is now the proud owner of a neon-pink pair of sneakers.
I understand that you want me to agree with you, but, unfortunately, I can’t agree or disagree with you. What I can tell you is that your parents are not trying to make you miserable; they’re trying to guide you. It’ll make more sense when you’re a mother, iy’H.
Interestingly, I received a similar question from a mother’s perspective a few months ago. I think you’ll enjoy reading that answer as well.
May you have the strength to grow into a true bas Yisrael in all aspects of your life and be zochah to fulfill the mitzvah of “Hatznei’ah leches im Elokechah” wherever you go.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.