Jewish Magazines that Do Not Show Women’s Faces are Not Truly Modest
Lately, more and more women are noticing the lack of photos of women in the frum media. While there are publications that do use photos of women (dressed with tzniut, or modesty, of course), there are many that do not. Some of those publications have taken photos from the secular media and then photoshopped the women’s faces out of it for their publication.
There are also invitations to honorary fundraising dinners that announce women as honorees but only include photos of the men. The publications and the groups justify it by claiming that it’s not tzniut appropriate.
Now that women are noticing this, there have been campaigns to reverse this trend. A lot of people (men AND women) are writing to these publications and canceling their subscriptions or not buying them. As for the fundraising dinners, many people have written and responded that they will not contribute to these groups as long as they insult the women this way.
The claim that not including photos of women/girls is tzniut appropriate is 100 percent wrong. Why is that?
I’ve become a myth-buster about tzniut and about style and how to dress well, and I’m writing this to debunk the myth that tzniut makes a woman less visible. In order to do that, we have to get back to what true tzniut really is.
True tzniut is achieved when the external trappings are an accurate reflection of the real person. This means that the person’s appearance (including dress) and behavior give you an accurate idea of who the real person is. It means that there are no external distractions. And this is just as incumbent on men as it is on women. If you cover yourself properly and you wear clothes that fit and flatter you and reflect your personal style, you’ll be able to share your talents and strengths.
True tzniut starts with knowing who you are and what you have to offer your family, your community, and Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people). And while you need not brag about anything or shove yourself in anyone’s face, you do need to share your talents and strengths with the Klal. That means that you need to be clearly visible.
“But what if I don’t want people staring at me?” Answer: it means that you don’t want to be conspicuous. That’s fine. It means that you do your best work when you’re “behind the scenes.” If you know that about yourself, that’s good. But if you’re invisible, that’s not good because whatever you have to offer is not getting shared. Your personal message is not getting across.
Part of dressing with tzniut is that we dress precisely so that people won’t stare at our bodies. We don’t show a lot of skin. Why? Because it’s distracting. Cleavage screams louder than all the voices in the room combined. We want people to notice our intelligence, creativity, kindness, etc., and not be distracted by how our bodies look.
When we women dress with true tzniut, we’re telling the world that women are not sexual objects and we must not be treated that way. But when we start thinking that even the face of a woman dressed with tzniut is somehow too provocative to display, that means that we are turning women into sexual objects. That’s exactly the opposite of what true tzniut is supposed to do.
There’s another problem regarding being invisible and that’s with role models. Our children need role models of Torah and mitzvot. But while the boys have the photos of the Talmidei Chachamim, Torah scholars, our girls do not have photos of female role models. The only photos of women that they see are the secular photos of women who are usually half-dressed. It’s not unusual for them to look as if they might fall out of their clothes at any moment.
This creates two problems. One is that they have these unhealthy images of how women are supposed to look. We do not want our girls developing eating disorders or feeling that they need plastic surgery to look perfect. Two is that they don’t have healthy images to counteract that.
We women need to be clearly visible. That is how we set the example.
Our girls need to see women with real faces who are dressed and groomed with dignity. That’s how they learn about tzniut and about true beauty.
But it’s not just that we need role models. Our children need role models whom they can emulate. Yes, there are plenty of people who are held up as role models, but they’re portrayed as larger-than-life spiritual figures to whom we cannot relate. We need role models who are real people with real human weaknesses like ourselves. These are the kinds of people we can emulate.
I remember a bunch of articles about Rebbetzin Henny Machlis zt”l. I loved those articles because they made her come off like a real person. How did they accomplish this? By using photos of her. I loved the photo from her wedding; she was so cute as a kallah, bride. And I loved the photos of her in her mitpachot (headscarves). I could relate to that. She’s a role model whom we can all try to emulate.
As Jews, we have a responsibility to set the example and be a “light onto the nations.” In order to do that, we all have to be clearly visible and not photoshopped, pixilated, or erased. That way, our children can learn about true tzniut and make it part of who they are.
Meira E. Schneider-Atik is a wardrobe organizer, personal shopper, jewelry designer, and fashion writer and speaker. She helps women look great while saving time, effort, and money, all within tzniut. And she’ll add custom-designed jewelry to the whole thing. She also has the YouTube channel “Look Your Best in Mitpachot,” where she does headwrapping tutorials and she is available for private demonstrations. She can be reached at MESAtik@gmail.com.