We covered up everything.
Our knees. Our Elbows. The collarbone. Our body shape.
The female form was simply forbidden, and we had to wear loose clothing to make sure no one knew…I’m not even sure what.
Oh, and toes. Do Not Have Toes. I mean, don’t show them. Thick socks at all times.
I remember growing up and knowing that these were the rules and I did not question them. Modesty was the cornerstone of our faith and survival as a nation. Whenever anything happened in the community, say a young child died or there was some sort of accident or world event, the religious community leaders would gather together and write up documents extending the women and girls dress codes. We would be lectured in school that we needed to take it upon ourselves to increase our vigilance in ‘tzniut’ so we could save our nation.
It was scary having the nations crisis and tragedies ride upon the dress code of the women. We were not to cause anyone to sin.
As a young girl, we were not allowed to go to the library once we began attending the religious all girls school, and certainly had to throw our TV away.
The only reason we had one was because we recently moved from New York City and the schools there were more open minded.
There was not much influence from the outside world.
I found my mothers hiding place. Under her bed were her Good Housekeeping magazines. I would leaf through them, sitting on the floor of her room so that I could stuff them back if I heard anyone coming.
One day I came face to face with the woman I wanted to be. A woman like no other I had ever seen in my life. It was the Virginia Slims woman. Behind her or on one side of the page were the women in gray, brownish color, serving men and dressed the way we were, all covered up.
And then was the woman. The WOMAN. The WOMEN.
I knew when I saw that woman with big glistening white teeth, smiling, hair cascading and her colorful outfit…and her posture. She was..
and I was shameful. I was not sure exactly of what, but of just being female.
I wanted to be her. It was a terrifying thought.
I started tearing out the ads when I could and pasting them into a notebook for myself.
Each ad was different.
And each one and the same phrase,
“You’ve come a long way, Baby”.
I knew I had a long way to go, but that I was going one day, and I would get there.