Hair covering butterfly

In thinking about my new (sometimes) practice of covering my hair:

I’m comparing it to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It has to cover itself up in order to transform.

The funniest thing is that it is the easiest way to color my hair. I can have blue or purple hair quite easily and change it very simply. No chemicals, no risk.

I’m of mixed opinions as to people commenting on it. Most people say that they like it and I like to think that what they see is not the covering or the color but they like the fact that I am transforming myself and trying to make myself better than I am. I like to think that what they’re noticing is my practice of self-improvement rather than my fashion sense.

I’m being transferred to a small library in a very close community. I feel that it is very conservative. I’ll be under the microscope for a bit, from the staff as well as the patrons. They are very protective and proud of their library, and they don’t want some stranger in there. I’ll have to let them know early on that I’m OK. Sticking out isn’t going to work.

Nothing sticks out more than covering your head, but it is for religious and modesty reasons. Thus, even though it is unusual, it is unusual in a very conservative way.

I have to work every Saturday now, unless I ask off. That will be tricky, because there are only three people in the branch. There isn’t any wiggle room. Sure, they can borrow from another library in the cluster if needed. I hear it is slow enough that two people can run the library with no problems. This is amazing to me since having just two people in my department was an emergency in my previous library. My department was one of three in that branch.

I’d started covering my head at the library on the Saturdays I work about four months ago. It was my way of remembering that Saturday was the Sabbath, and keeping it different and special. I’d cover at home on my weekends off. I worked every other Saturday on average. It was awkward when I was at work. I got asked questions, people would comment. Generally they liked it. They didn’t really understand, but they were kind. Explaining something as personal as a religious conviction is hard. I had to explain it and get it approved by the branch manager because there is a library policy against head covering (except for religious reasons). I only stuck out at work 26 days a year because I only covered at work every other week on Saturday. Working every Saturday at the new place, I’m going to stick out more.

I remember Jesus says that we should not make our piety obvious. We should pray in private, and not show others our religious acts. They are to be seen by God, not others. Jesus also worked on the Sabbath, and said that the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around. Jesus also reminds us of the words from the prophet Hosea – “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

So should I worry about working every Saturday? Is Saturday the Sabbath, or is Sunday? Do I have to take a full day off from work to rest, or am I covered if I’m doing God’s work? Should I cover my head or not?

This is all a work in progress.

I think like Jacob, we are praised for wrestling with God. God wants us to actively engage with our faith and our practices. God wants us to be mindful and fully alive. Our practices should draw us closer to God and to other humans. If they put up walls, then we have to stop.

For now, I’m going to modify how I do it. I have seen that opinions vary as to if women are to cover all their hair, or just their head. It is not a commandment to cover – just a tradition, inferred from a story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Christian texts, Paul has his own things to say about it, but Jesus is silent on the matter. So I see it as optional – if it draws me closer to God and reminds me to be kinder to others, then it is good. Since I can’t see my headcovering, it is the pressure of it that reminds me to modify my actions. I can achieve that pressure by tying the tichel like a headband. I’ll be covering my head, getting the pressure as a reminder, but my hair will be exposed as it falls from the back.

I’ll see how this works out. Hopefully it will be seen as a fashion statement and not a religious one. I’m not doing this to make other people change their ways. I’m doing it to change my own.

Cover part three

(The final part of today’s musings.)

I realized something else about today’s events, after going to lunch. I currently only cover my hair at home or at work on the Sabbath. It’s a new thing to start covering my hair among friends if we go out together. It is like I’m coming out.

I have never had my hair covered with a tichel and been alone around strangers. When I was in college I used a snood or a bandanna, but not for the same reason I do now. And the climate was more tolerant then. There was less paranoia about Islam. My haircovering isn’t a hijab, but most Americans aren’t that savvy. A cloth on a head is a cloth on a head.

When I cover my hair at work I’m around people who don’t quite understand, but I am in a place that I have worked at for 14 years. The patrons know me there and because I work at the library I’m afforded a certain level of respect. Generally they are supportive if they say anything at all. Sometimes they are concerned that I might have cancer. I have since started exposing a bit of my hair at the top or showing some bangs so that they don’t worry about that.

But I just thought about it in a different way. What if I was in a restaurant by myself? What is to stop someone coming up to me and challenging me or accusing me of being a terrorist, thinking I’m wearing a hijab? That’s really frightening.

Or saying that “You need to go back home!” even though I was born and raised here, and am very white?

Or even saying that I’m not a real woman because I cover my hair? So many people think that a woman who covers her hair has to do it, or is forced to do it. They don’t get that it is a choice. To do so in America is even more a sign of a choice. It is even harder to do it here, because it is so unusual, especially in the South.

Cover part two

(This is the second in a three part essay on headcovering for women, written over the course of a day.)

I returned from my diversity class that I’d attended with a coworker. She asked me how I liked it, and I shrugged. I thought about it further and decided to share with her one of my feelings about it that I’d shared with other coworkers.

I told her that I stayed afterwards to speak with the teacher about headcoverings. She’d said that some women who moved to the US stopped covering their hair because they became “more modern”. I was taken aback by this, as if it is primitive to cover your hair. Perhaps she thinks that women in other countries cover their hair because they don’t know better? But I digress.

So I said to this lady “Since I don’t work the same weekends with you, it might help if you know that I’ve started to cover my hair on the Sabbath.” She smiled and rolled her eyes a little and said “I was told.”

This gave me pause. This means I’m being talked about. Gossip has been a rampant problem here, but it has gone down. Apparently not enough. It isn’t necessary for her to know it, and I wonder who told her.

I gave my opinion on the “more modern” statement and she argued, but not how I expected.

She said “Only Jewish MEN cover their hair.”

I said “And Orthodox Jewish women.”

I said “How long have you been studying about Judaism?” (because I’ve been studying it for 4 years.) I paused, and answered for her. “Never.”

She argued back, naming a patron who is Jewish – that she doesn’t cover her hair.

I countered, “And she’s not Orthodox.”

And now I think about it, we’ve had two male Jewish coworkers – neither of which wore kippahs.

I was getting very angry so I had to stop talking with her. Later I thought – why am I getting angry?

Why do I care what she thinks? Her opinion didn’t matter to me when I stopped smoking, or started exercising, or wrote my book. All the things that I’ve done for self-improvement have been of no matter to her. So why does it matter now?

And then I have to think, why do I cover, and how much of that explanation am I required to give to anybody? How much of it do even I really understand? The more I understand about it the more I appreciate it. It is a very private and deep experience.

I don’t cover during the week in part because of where I work. I don’t want to upset people. I don’t want rumors and questions. I just want to be modest and show respect to God. But how can I be modest if I’m sticking out like a sore thumb, with a scarf on my head? How am I showing respect to God if I’m causing other people to worry about whether I have cancer or not, or appearing that I think I’m more pious or devout than they are?

Cover part one

(This is the first in a three part essay on headcovering for women, written over the course of a day.)

I was just in a class where they were talking about diversity. The presenter brought up the idea of different cultures from the US, using the Middle East as an example.

The presenter (a white woman, probably in her 60s) was speaking about how women cover their hair there. She said that some women from the Middle East who move to America don’t cover their hair here because they become “more modern”.

I winced when I heard her say that. It sounded so negative, so pejorative. As if covering your hair is archaic and backwards. As if covering your hair is primitive. I decided to wait until the end of class to speak with her about this, in part out of respect for her position and in part to not embarrass her.

I told her that covering your hair is not a sign that you aren’t modern. I said I have a lot of friends to cover their hair who were very modern. Now, I did not have my hair covered at the time. Currently, I only cover on the Sabbath, but after this experience I kind of want to cover more often. I considered covering that day but I didn’t. Would she have said what she did if I had been wearing a tichel?

I said there are various reasons for women to cover their hair. She on her own suggested modesty. That is a very important reason, but it is just the start. I didn’t feel like going deep into this, but I wanted her to think about what she said.

I just expect more acceptance of diversity out of a diversity class presenter.

Muslim headcoverings, and Christian guilt.

I always feel self conscious around Muslim girls who wear headscarves. Am I seen as not modest to them? Am I seen as not religious enough? Or am I once again making up stories about what people think?

When I go to the pool at the Y I sometimes see Muslim moms watching their children swim. The average American swimsuit attire goes way past the Muslim idea of modesty. Everything shows, and what isn’t covered up leaves nothing to the imagination because it is skin tight. These moms sit on the sidelines while their young daughters play in the pool. At a certain age the daughters will be equally swathed in fabric, but not yet. The moms can’t get in the pool in standard swimsuits and still be observant with their faith.

I think it is unfair that these moms have to sit on the sidelines because they can’t get in the pool. I’ve found out that there are companies that sell “modest” swimsuits. They look a little like the swimsuits you would see in a photograph from the turn of the century. Everything is covered from head to toe, especially the head. The material is a little thicker and loose so it doesn’t show curves. They can be bought online, but they aren’t cheap.

I’ve told some of the moms about this. I’m a big proponent of people staying healthy through exercise. I also am a big proponent of parents modeling good behavior for their children. If the child sees mom exercising as well, she will learn that exercise is for everyone, not just kids.

But I still feel weird. I’m standing there telling this woman who has something like 12 yards of fabric on her about modest swimsuits so she can swim too, and I’m wearing almost nothing. And I have tattoos. Lots of tattoos. There is no hiding tattoos while in swimsuit.

This is when I’m the most self conscious. But I’m also self conscious at work. We have a lot of Muslim families who use our library. Many are from Somalia and the women wear amazingly beautiful coverings. The fabric is patterned and bright, and sometimes has sparkly bits sewn into it. If I had to wear a hardcover, I’d want to do it the Somali way. But I still feel under dressed and not quite acceptable.

My faith doesn’t require that I cover myself. Modesty is part of being observant as a Christian in some denominations, but the definition is rather open to debate. Sometimes it means that women can’t wear pants, or short skirts. Rarely does it mean that women cover their heads, but sometimes it does. I wonder why all these modesty rules have to do with women being modest and not men, but that is a topic for another day.

But maybe my problem is that I think I’m not being observant enough. Maybe I think that when I see these women who are wearing fabric all over, in the heat, all day long, I think that maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe I’m not suffering enough. Maybe I’m not being a good witness for my faith.

Maybe that is just old-fashioned Christian guilt rearing its ugly head.