On Uncovering My Hair
It feels very good to finally be writing this. Three years ago I uncovered my hair. It was a difficult decision, but in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been.
I want you to know that this was not a decision that was made lightly or without asking the right questions of the right people.
I loved covering my hair. I blogged about hair covering here on my blog and on other sites. I blogged about uncovering after my divorce, how it felt like I needed to show my grief at the demise of my first marriage, and that removing my hair covering at that time felt like a symbol of grief for me. I wrote about covering again when my eldest became bar-mitzvah. I have had fun with it – wigs and scarves and berets. It spoke to the creative side of me. I remarried, and continued to cover.
But I suffered from terrible migraines. And putting something on my head just seemed to exacerbate the problem – to the point that I could barely function because migraines were taking over my life. And this in turn made me resentful about keeping this mitzvah.
So we decided, together, as a couple, to approach leading rabbis to which we were referred, to discuss the situation and maybe seek a heter, or something that would make my life (and my pain) easier. Daas Torah was very important to us. Unfortunately, we were not taken seriously, and I was asked questions like “does it hurt to put a Kleenex on your head?” (If not a constant yes, then no heter to uncover, I think) – and yes, some days even just having hair on my head hurt. So, yes, a kleenex would hurt. Some days, not. After doing the rounds of a few rabbis and getting nowhere, being dismissed and misunderstood, I decided, with the 100% full support of my husband, to uncover.
I felt naked that first day, that first week. It was weird, and my hair was horrible. I felt embarrassed leaving the house with nothing on my head. I felt eyes on me everywhere.
After a month my migraines had started to become less frequent. My quality of life had started to improve. I knew I had made the right decision. But with this decision came consequences.
At the time two of my children were in right-wing yeshiva schools, who expected (or demanded) the mothers of their students to cover their hair. No ifs ands or buts. So I was fearful that they would find some reason to throw my kids out of school, because I no longer fit the profile of the kind of parent they wanted in their school. Bumping into the kids’ rebbeim outside of school made me cringe because I worried they would judge me. Some people even made assumptions that the KoD and I were getting divorced – that one really hurt, especially as at the time someone made it their business to spread this rumour around.
I had women come up to me in the grocery store, at the library, various different venues, and say “wow, you uncovered? Good for you, I am so jealous.” And I wasn’t comfortable telling them that it wasn’t out of ideology or anti-patriarchal reasons that I uncovered – because most of these women were not my close friends, and I didn’t feel they had a right to my private information. And well, there were a few who were worried about my kids reduced chances now for a good shidduch. (Anyone that would not want my kid marrying theirs because my hair is not covered isn’t right for them anyway, so I am not worried). That word “jealous” though, it showed me how many women feel they have no say in the matter, who feel as if they have to cover no matter what.
It’s been three years now, and my migraines are infrequent. I am used to not covering, and on the odd occasion when I do cover (shul, or a simcha) it’s not usually a migraine-triggering event. I miss covering – but I do enjoy the feeling of wind in my hair.
What I find interesting, is that when I covered I was very careful to dress modestly too. I think wearing a wig or a scarf made me very much more aware of how I looked to others, and as a religious head-covering woman I had a standard that I had to show the rest of the world. Now that I don’t cover, I struggle with modest dress. It’s almost as if no one expects it of me, so why bother? I think that’s very much a product of our black and white religious world over here in Monsey. Either you are one way or you’re not.
But do I think that God cares if my hair (or my elbows, or my knees, or my collarbones) is covered? I think God would want a person to be happy in their observance, rather than keeping mitzvot angrily or begrudgingly. I don’t think God is so petty that He’s going to strike me down or punish me because my hair isn’t covered. I think God wants us to serve Him with joy, and how can we be joyful if we’re in pain? I am a much better person, a much better mother, wife, Jewess, without migraines.