Monday, October 1, 2007

Beauty and Modesty

Okay, I feel like I need to write one more article about beauty. As mentioned before I didn't intend to write as much as I am on this, but I think this one in particular is one that is just as important as the previous posts. Before I talked about what I found physically, mentally, and spiritually attractive. There other element of this is how a woman carries herself with modesty.

A few years ago before my grandmother Elnora Lyons-Ever passed away my aunt mentioned that my grandmother used to go out into their community and teach women how to be ladies, how to be modest, and how to raise their children. My grandmother lived to about 97 years old, and she would never admit that these were things that she did. At her funeral several women spoke about how when they were younger my grandmother came to them and taught them how to ladies, how to be modest, and how to raise their children.

My grandmother Elnora Lyons-Ever z"l

My grandmother would talk for hours about how a woman of modesty was to act. She would always remember how the women of her generation carried themselves and how they dressed. She always felt that the younger generations could solve many of their problems by living up to the standard or morality and modesty that was exhibited in the past generations. Now, more than ever I cherish what my grandmother stood for in the area of modesty.

Thinking about what I find beautiful would not be complete without thinking about what in Judaism is called Tzniut i.e. modesty; as it pertains to how a woman dresses. Tzniut (צניעות) is a term used to describe both a character trait and a group of Jewish religious laws pertaining to conduct in general and especially between the sexes. Traditional Judaism requires that both men and women dress in a way that is modest in terms of not showing off to much of the body. In this concept men generally wear long pants and often long shirts, and women wear long-sleeve blouses and below-the-knee dresses and skirts. Some women try not to follow the fashion, while others wear fashionable but modest clothing.

I believe that a woman can be modest in her dress while at the same time being fashionable. A woman who meets the Mishle (Proverbs) 31 standard has always been the type of woman to catch my eye. It is not just that she is physically beautiful it is also how she dresses. The cloths that she wears are a part of the package, and I am drawn to women who have a good fashion sense. It is how she conceals herself that also makes me notice her hidden and apparent beauty. It is the blend of colors that she wears that makes me think of her with high regard.

I am reminded of story from a friend of mine named Kerry Canada. His brother lived in Saudia Arabia for 9 years. One day he was with a group of young Muslim men who were looking at the women passing by. As different women went by each guy said, Wow look at her she is beautiful. What about that one she is wondrous. Now mind you this was in a Muslim neighborhood and the women were covered from their faces to their ankles. So Kerry's brother asked them, How can you tell who is beautiful since you can't see their faces or their bodies? The men responded, The toes. The toes never lie.

It is the mystery of the woman that also catches my eye. Her allure doesn't have to be how much skin she shows off, but it is more what she conceals. Finding delight in the woman that chooses to let her personality show in how she carries herself is something that some men respect and desire. For me, I am not impressed when I see women showing off their bodies for the public to see. I am captivated by those women who are modest and fashionable. Below are examples of what I described above.

Habbani Jewish Woman from Southern Arabia

London singing group Floetry

Singer Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

Indian Singer and Dancer Deepika Padukone

Maya Angelou circa 1972

Ethiopian American actress Senait Ashenafi

Berber women of the southern Sahara in Mali


jon said...

I don't believe that many people will understand how tragic the casualty of modesty is to this age and our future. It's funny you should talk about this, my friends and I were talking about what really moves our hearts and it's a woman who is in touch with the fact that her feminine mystique is a result of her character. And modesty and character were at the core of every woman who has ever really caught my eye. It will always be that way.

Ehav Ever said...

I agree with you 100% Jon. When I was still involved in Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity some of my line brothers were once talking about some of the women, who barely wore any cloths. A friend of mine named Latifah, who was always wore modest and stylish clothing, came to me to talk to me about something. When she left all of my line brothers in hushed voices said, Man I never realized how fine Latifah is. It was all because of how she dressed and how she carried herself.

It is tragic that the modesty of many societies are swinging the other way. Here in Israel there are women who are religious and modest, and then there are women who dress in cloths that either don't fit them, shows off to much, or is just scandalous.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Ehav,

Very interesting post (as usual). I must add that I think that modesty goes beyong dress. Mondesty I think should be a part of ones life in general. There are few things less attractive than a boastful person, man or woman. modesty is also a good thing in other areas of life such as business, friendships, etc.

Also I think modesty in attire is just as important for men. Men who are confident as well as women don't feel the need to exhibit for the world their bodies.

It's very interesting to observe different cultures as it relates to modesty. In the west (in general) modesty is not valued, in fact the opposite seems to be the standard. I think this causes many never to truly examine who they are since the focus is so much on how one looks. In contrast in non-western cultures (although many non-western cultures are now being influenced heavily by the west) I find it interesting how the value of modesty can translate into opression of women. I think that if one choses to be modest then great, but the imposition of modesty on women is a problem. Coversly, to be fair, that same oppression can be visited upon women in the west in the opposite way. Women are encouraged to be immodest, and then abused verbally for doing so. Just listen to any rap song and you will know what I mean.

So all in all I think modesty is best when it's a personal choice.

Thanks for your post

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Mes Deux,

As always thanks for stopping by and commenting. I may actually do an article about modesty amongst us men. One of the reasons is because in Judaism modesty swings both ways for men and women. Most religious Jewish men won't even wear shorts, I, for example, only wear shorts at home and only when no one is around. That has been my way my entire adult life.

Many religious Jews dress in suits or are at least in garments that don't show off their arms or legs. I have a number of pictures of Middle Eastern Jewish men dressed modestly that I may post. I wish I could go back to the days of wearing a fez and suit, or the garments of the desert. I would love to be able to dress like Jews did in Mali, Yemen, and Morocco several hundred years ago.

In Judaism modesty isn't forced upon people, God knows if you go to some places in Israel you see some really loose people showing off everything. Many times when people become religious as Jews they normally want to keep kosher and also they decide to dress more modestly. It is mainly because that is the context in which most religious Jews think, and it was a strong part of Jewish culture for hundreds of years. Even if they don't plan on doing anything else religious they often want to keep kosher, observe the Sabbath, observe some element of modesty. Israelis, like many people here in the Middle East, can be an argumentative so it would be hard to push or force modesty on anyone here. (smile)

I think it also boils down to when people have a tradition of modesty in their family or culture and they decide that they want to relate more to their culture that is when you find the free-will choice you mentioned. It is like saying, if you have a person who choice to dress like the gangster rappers and then one day they decided that they wanted to dress like their grandparents did, he or she may wear the suits or at least cloths that make them look descent.