July 18, 2019

Celebrating Covering My Hair

On my wedding day, I made sure I packed everything I needed before heading off to the venue. Wallet? Check. Veil? Yes. Toothbrush? Got it. Headscarf? Yup. 

I’d be wearing the headscarf immediately following the wedding. I decided during my Orthodox conversion process that as a married woman I’d be covering my hair. 

There are many reasons given for this custom. I’ve learned that holiness resonates from a woman’s hair and she should protect it for herself and her family. An Orthodox Jewish woman needs to keep a barrier between herself and the outside world, and covering her hair accomplishes that. It also communicates that she is married and unavailable.  

At the time, the reason behind my decision was simply that everyone else was doing it. The women in my Pico-Robertson community wore scarves, tichls, hats, snoods and sheitels galore, and I wanted to join them.

When I was going through my conversion process, I had imposter syndrome. I have blond hair and blue eyes, so I don’t exactly look Jewish. I don’t speak Hebrew. I pray in English, I can’t recite all the bentsching by heart and I don’t understand inside jokes about Jewish day school or camp. So I was looking for a way to fit in, by trading pants for skirts and tank tops for shirts with sleeves. Covering my hair was the final piece that would help me look the part.

“When I go out into the world, hair covered, I am demonstrating that I’m honored to uphold this custom.

And so, the morning after my wedding, I put my hair into a bun and attempted to tie the scarf around my head. It slipped right off. I asked my husband for help, but it started to fall off after a few minutes. There was just too much material on my head and it was heavy. 

Frustrated, and with nothing else to cover my hair, I took a bunch of bobby pins and awkwardly secured the scarf to my head. I walked downstairs, where our friends and family were hanging out beside the pool, and kept readjusting my scarf so that it wouldn’t slip. It was uncomfortable, but I was determined. It continued this way for the next few weeks, the constant messing with
the scarves.

Not long after that, I became fed up with the scarves and I was now self-conscious about appearing to be too religious in public. I was beginning to understand why women wore wigs, and I wanted one of my own. 

Orthodox women can tell right away when another woman is wearing sheitel, but the outside world usually can’t. It was the perfect solution. Plus, I was going to my brother-in-law’s wedding and I didn’t want to wear a scarf with a fancy dress. 

I went to a sheitelmacher in Brooklyn and tried on a bunch of blond wigs —  an incredibly difficult hair color to shop for, because many Jewish women are brunettes. 

The best wig didn’t look natural at all, but I thought, “Oh, well,” because I needed it. I financed it for $1,100. 

The wig was heavy and made me feel self-conscious. In pictures, you could see the netting. I didn’t feel like myself. It was downright annoying and awkward. Every time I walked past the wig, I remembered how much I still owed on it, so I threw it to the back of my closet. I went out into the world, hair uncovered, for two months. 

During that time, it was liberating to be able to show off my washed and styled hair, but much of the time, I felt naked. I realized that the head covering, be it a hat, a scarf or the wig, made me feel like I had a little tent over my head, protecting me at all times. I was reminded of HaShem when I wore one of them. I practiced more mitzvot. I liked that other Jews knew from seeing me that I was a married woman.

I learned from a few rebbetzins about hair covering and I liked their reasons for doing it. I slowly started covering my hair again. First, I just wore hats and showed my hair. Then, I got smaller scarves that were super cute and easy to tie. Eventually,
I ditched that first sheitel for a more natural-looking one that I could wear with the front of my hair showing. It was a little trick I learned from my fellow Orthodox Jewesses. 

Today, I cover at all times, with hats, scarves and sheitels. When I go out into the world, hair covered, I am showing that I’m happily married. I am demonstrating that I’m honored to uphold this custom. And I’m saying, above all else, that I am a proud Jew.

Read more from the 2018 Chuppah Edition here.