Women, Emuna, and Knowing Our Place

As a general rule, we women are exempt from “Mitzvot Aseh SheHaZman Gramah” (time-bound positive commandments). However, there are a lot of exceptions to this rule. One of these involves the mitzvot of Chanukah. The principle behind is “Af Hen Hayu B’Oto HaNess” (they too were involved in the miracle). So true. As a child, I remember learning about Chana and her seven sons and their Kiddush Hashem. Later, I learned about Yehudit and how she used cheese and wine to disarm the Syrian-Greek general. She killed him and brought his head to the besieged Jews, raising their morale and confusing the enemy. We just celebrated Chanukah last month and soon we’ll be celebrating Purim which is another exception. Not only are women involved but one woman is the lead heroine of the story. I always took pride in the fact that my middle name is Esther just like that heroine.  

             This shouldn’t be news. We women have always been the guardians of Emuna. We were the ones who never lost our faith in Hashem throughout history even when the men did. And our Torah gives our women full credit by telling their stories. We have our Imahot (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah), Yocheved/Shifra, Miriam/Puah, B’not Tzelofchad (Machlah, Choglah, Noa, Milcah, and Tirtza), Devorah, Yael, Ruth, Esther, etc. Later, our history tells us about such women as Bruriah, Ima Shalom, Gracia Nasi Mendes, Gluckel of Hameln, and others whose names I don’t remember right now. In modern times, we have such women as Sarah Schenirer, Nechama Leibowitz, Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. 

             Not long ago, I joined a group on Facebook called “Women Emuna Builders.” Our leader, Esther, goes on various treks to the kevarim of tzaddikim to daven. A couple of months ago, she was here in NY and I met up with her and other ladies at the Ohel Lubavitch.

On the left, I’m with Esther Avta, founder of Women Emuna Builders. On the right, I’m with the ladies. From left, Meira (me), Ilana, Maggie (@hopesandprayer), Esther, Jennifer, and Mazal.

None of us are Lubavitchers, but we davened and we hope that Hashem answers our tefillot with “yes.”

             Not long ago, I read things from people who think that I and others need to know our place. Well, you know what? I think that I and other women are precisely the ones who do know our place. We are the ones who have maintained emuna and bitachon even when the men didn’t.

             There’s an interesting irony. In the secular world, if a woman takes a stand for traditional values, then at best, she’s pitied as a victim of society’s sexist attitudes. At worst, she’s ridiculed as an old-fashioned prude. In the Jewish world, if a woman takes a stand for traditional values, then even if it doesn’t happen immediately, she becomes a heroine for the history books. For example, Sarah Schenirer had a lot of detractors at first among rabbis who didn’t like her innovation. But by the time she passed away, everyone recognized her as someone who had saved our girls and preserved Torah Judaism.

             A few weeks ago, we read about one of those heroines who did know her place when the men didn’t. Tamar did what she had to do and when Yehuda thought he had to punish her, she showed proof of HIS mistake, thus putting him in HIS place. To his credit, he acknowledged it with “Tzadka Mimeni” (she is more righteous than I am). Many scholars and commentators, including one of my teachers, say that when Yehuda said this, he earned the zechut of being progenitor of Melech HaMoshiach.

             We women have always known our place. For some of us women, that place is more behind-the-scenes. For others, that place is more front-and-center. Neither one is more or less tzniut than the other as long as it’s about the individual woman and where she can do the most good for herself, her family, and Klal Yisrael.

             Our Torah and our history have never erased our women. We need to take our stand for that tradition and not allow ourselves to be erased or silenced.   

 

In my last post, I focused on coats and boots. I think it’s absolutely fine to have pretty coats and boots as long as you have at least one coat and one pair of boots that keep you warm and dry in the dead of winter. While those warm items don’t necessarily have to be eyesores, it’s still better to go with not-so-pretty versions that do their jobs. However, what’s underneath those coats and boots can and should be attractive and flattering and it can even keep you warmer.

I don’t like bundling up for winter, but I do love layering. Smart layering adds depth and polish to an outfit and can make the woman appear healthier and attractive. It can also take something un-tzniut and make it wearable for those of us concerned about adequate cover. And in the dead of winter, it can actually keep you warmer.

Many women love chunky sweaters in wintertime because they feel warm and cozy. That’s because they do feel warm and cozy. I have a couple of chunky cardigans myself. They can look great if they’re fitted and worn with a slim skirt.

If the sweater isn’t fitted at the waist, it’s fine to add a belt. If the sweater is not fitted, the figure gets lost. But while all of this is fine indoors or in not-freezing weather, it’s actually not the best way in the dead of winter.

As I read it, medical professionals agree that 2-3 lightweight layers actually keep you warmer than 1 heavy layer. More layers trap your body heat better. And strangely enough, those 2-3 lightweight layers actually add less bulk to the figure. The lightest-weight layer should be closest to the body while each added layer can be slightly heavier. But be careful because if you wear more than 3 layers, you risk losing movement and that can lead to frostbite.

 

When choosing layers, I suggest having a little fun. Try different color combinations. I like to wear blends of rich, warm colors and then add one piece of jewelry for contrast. Maybe you look best in jewel tones or in lighter and softer colors. Maybe you look best in a more high-contrast look so try two tops in contrasting colors. Play around and see what works. And don’t be afraid of a color that isn’t “seasonally appropriate.” If the color flatters you, it works year-round. Plus, lighter and brighter colors brighten up the winter doldrums.

In general, I’m not a fan of layering skirts because most of the time, it gets bulky. I’ve seen women wear very lightweight and fitted longer skirts under shorter skirts and it does work (although I admit that it’s not to my taste). I’ve also seen women wearing trousers under a skirt. If the trousers are lightweight and fitted and worn under an A-line skirt, that avoids a bulky look (although, again, it’s not to my taste). The safest way to go with layering under a skirt is with leggings. They tend to be lightweight and snug-fitting so they don’t add bulk. Tights, of course, work great, but if it’s seriously freezing, they may not be enough. I’ve worn leggings over tights in freezing weather.

When putting on hose, tights, and socks, be careful and make sure you always have enough room to wiggle your toes freely. You need movement to prevent frostbite.

If it’s cold but not rainy or snowy, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a pretty pair of boots that are more for style. When trying them on, always make sure you wear socks so that you know if they’ll fit over them and give you room to move. But if it’s rainy and/or snowy outside, you need a pair of waterproof boots that will protect your feet. They may not be pretty but frostbitten feet are seriously ugly in more ways than one.

Staying warm in the dead of winter is a challenge but it’s nothing we can’t handle. And we can even look good doing it and have a little fun.

Cold Weather, Part 1

Cold weather has come. And as many people know by now, I really don’t like cold weather. I know that there are women who prefer the cold because they figure that you can always add an extra layer whereas in warmer weather there’s only so much you can remove. But in cold weather, there’s only so much you can add before you start to lose movement. And I don’t like putting on several layers, removing them indoors, and then putting them back on for outdoors. It may be a necessary potchky, but I don’t like potchkying. I feel like an onion. And when exercising, it’s actually dangerous because if your muscles aren’t warm, you risk injury. A warm muscle is softer and more flexible.

That said, if we live in climates with cold weather, we have to get through it safely. And we can do that while still looking good.

First is outerwear. When it comes to coats and boots, I’m strictly practical. My readers know how much I emphasize looking good and I’m sure some will be surprised when I say that coats and boots need not be pretty or flattering. It’s true. I don’t think they necessarily need to be eyesores, but coats and boots are supposed to keep you warm and dry and if yours don’t do that, then you need outerwear that does do the job. If you have coats and boots that are pretty and flattering but that don’t keep you warm and dry, you should keep them and wear them. Just make sure you have a coat and boots that do keep you warm and dry and wear those outdoors for protection. Frostbite and hypothermia are ugly in more ways than one.

The coat’s fabric makes the biggest difference. I was told many times that down coats are warmer than wool coats, but I’ve worn both types and I’ve found no noticeable difference in warmth. However, the down coats that I’ve worn were not water-resistant while the wool coats are. If you have a down coat that’s water-resistant and keeps you warm and dry, then use it well. Be warned that waterproof coats are not a good idea because they don’t breathe well and they’ll trap moisture.

Your coat does have to fit you. If it’s too big, it will drag and it will leave too much room for cold to get inside. If it’s too small, you’ll need to leave it open and then you’re exposed. Always try on a coat while wearing layers so that you can get a good fit. While it shouldn’t be too loose, it should still allow you to move. Movement is necessary to prevent frostbite.

The best lengths for coats are either just below the derriere or to the knee. If the coat doesn’t cover the derriere, it’s really a jacket and it won’t protect you as well as a coat would. If it falls past the knee, it might get in the way. And if it’s too long, it will drag in puddles and snow and get stained easily.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the coats that fit the above criteria, you may get back to aesthetics. It’s best to go with a sleeker shape as opposed to a puffy one- there’s no noticeable difference in warmth but the sleek shape will look much better. While classic neutrals are perfect, it’s OK to choose a pretty color. I had a wool coat with blocks of bright colors all over it that kept me warm for at least 5 years and brightened up the winter doldrums. Or you might prefer a classic neutral and add color for hats, scarves, and gloves.

Next is boots. If you live in a climate that features snowy and/or rainy winters, then you need waterproof boots. They need to fit well over socks and leave you with plenty of room to wiggle your toes. If you cannot wiggle your toes, there’s a risk of cutting the circulation and that can lead to frostbite. If your boots come to the knees, that’s best, but it’s OK if they don’t. Heels are not necessary here but good traction is necessary to prevent slipping. If you have trouble finding good waterproof boots, you may want to search in the men’s department- they usually have good boots. They’re not pretty but they do protect you and that’s the important part.

Smaller things do count. You do lose a lot of body heat through your head so you must make sure you wear a covering. Your ears are prone to frostbite so they need cover too. If you’re married and you cover your hair, a heavier-weight hat, beret, or mitpachat might be fine if it’s cold but not freezing. And you can adjust them to cover your ears as necessary. If it is freezing, your covering won’t be enough so you must add something like a winter scarf. If you wear hair, your own or a shaytl, leave it down to give your ears extra cover. Gloves might give you more dexterity but mittens keep your fingers warmer and protected from frostbite. A heavier weight winter scarf can protect your neck too so use that if you need it. If it’s seriously freezing, you may want to use that scarf to cover your mouth and nose. All of these smaller items can be in neutrals or in any flattering and fun color that you want.

Don’t forget skin care. The wind and cold can leave your skin chapped and uncomfortable. Make sure you use a gentle cleanser, lip balm, and light moisturizer. Remember that the sun doesn’t stop just because it’s cold out so you need sunscreen too.

Stay warm and safe.

 

To be continued…

The Man’s Preference

A few times, I’ve seen things on my social media feed about women wearing what men prefer. And I’ve seen different attitudes to it. There are women who feel that their husbands have every right to say something about what they wear and who feel that it’s a team thing. There are other women who feel that if a man wants a woman to wear or not wear something, that’s a red flag of a controlling type. Then there are the women like me who take the middle ground.

Before I go any further, I will say that no man has the right to dictate what his wife wears or doesn’t wear. That actually is controlling and abusive.

That said, I do say that a woman needs to look attractive for her husband. He’s the most important person in her life (not including her children) and he deserves to see her looking good. This does not mean that she has to get dressed up fancy except for situations that call for that. It’s OK for her to wear a jeans skirt and t-shirt for those casual times. The key is to make sure that her jeans skirt fits her properly and makes her bottom half appear long and shapely and that her t-shirt fits her, flatters her top half, and is in a pretty color that makes her face glow.

If finding something pretty and flattering is difficult and time-consuming, then you need to make time to weed out your wardrobe. Go through everything and get rid of anything that doesn’t flatter you. If something needs cleaning or tailoring, get that done. Then, organize your clothes- tops here, dresses there, skirts there. Finding a flattering outfit, even a casual one, should be as easy as opening your closet and/or drawer and grabbing the first items your hands touch.

Some women think “he’s supposed to love me no matter how I look.” If he’s a truly good guy, he will, but in that case, why wouldn’t you want to make him happy too? You might think it’s a small thing, but it’s those small things that make a difference. While most men don’t care much about fashion or style, they do notice how a woman looks.

I also think a man has the right to state his preferences and a woman is right to respect them. Most men are not into girlie things like fashion/style and couldn’t care less about what their wives wear. But some men do have preferences. It could be because they do actually like fashion and style- I know men who do. It could also be because he travels in certain circles and wants a wife who will fit into those circles. I know at least one woman who specifically wanted a husband who would fit into her circle and I don’t see anything wrong with it. I do agree that no one should sacrifice any part of themselves for the sake of fitting into any social circle, but it just means that if the woman doesn’t fit naturally into the man’s circles, they’re just two good people who aren’t bashert.

Regarding the man’s preferences, I do not think the woman needs to sacrifice her own style, but there’s nothing unhealthy about respecting his preferences and incorporating them into her look.

For example, if he has a favorite color, work with that. Find versions of that color that flatter you and have them in your wardrobe along with other colors you love.

My husband’s favorite color is blue. Here I am wearing versions of blue that flatter me. But as my friends and family know, I love other colors too and my favorite color is green. I don’t limit myself except to colors that flatter me.

I’ve read many times in secular fashion magazines and books that men prefer a woman in jeans and a t-shirt because she looks natural and approachable. If your husband does prefer jeans skirts, have a few in shapes that fit and flatter you and wear them for casual times.

Some men even have preferences about hair covering. Maybe it’s about what his mother wears or maybe it’s about the women in his social circle. As with base items, work with that. If he likes hats as a hair covering, then have a few flattering hats in your covering arsenal and wear them at least sometimes. If he likes shaytls, find a great shaytlmacher and get yourself one that flatters you and wear it. If there’s a covering that he likes but that you don’t like, talk with him and figure out a compromise.

My husband loves my mitpachot and so do I.

Ultimately, if he’s a good guy, he’ll remember that what you wear is up to you. But if he is a good guy, there’s nothing wrong with making him happy even on this seemingly small thing.

Face-ing Our Maker

I think Elul is my favorite month of the year. OK, it’s my birthday month so that does give me a bias, but it’s also a good time for soul-searching and reconnecting with ourselves and with Hashem. We’re getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and on those days, we need to be prepared to face our Maker. Pun intended.

Hashem gave us this time of year precisely to remind us that He wants to see our faces and hear our voices. We can’t hide ourselves from Him nor should we. And we need not hide ourselves from each other either. 

As my readers know by now, I am adamantly against the erasing of women from Jewish media. There are publications that won’t do a story on a woman so that they won’t have to use a photo. Or they’ll do a story on a woman but they’ll use photos of her husband, her father, and her sons, but nothing of her. They’ll show ads for professional services featuring photos of the men but not of the women. There are also groups that honor men and women for their fundraisers but they’ll use only photos of the men for the ads and mailings. 

This policy is harmful and dangerous for a number of reasons. 

They claim that it’s about “tznius,” but it’s actually a corruption of tzniut. True tzniut demands that women and men be seen as human beings and treated with basic human dignity but this policy turns women into objects and that’s the opposite of tzniut. 

It demeans men by implying that they’re not capable of controlling themselves and behaving like mentschen.

It deprives us of needed role models. We do not hold up our tzaddikim and tzidkoniot throughout our history for nothing. Plus, according to my friend, psychologist Daniel Hoffman, PhD, when dealing with body image issues, people need healthy role models, including women. When we erase women from view, we lose out on that. 

It erases part of our history. Judaism has always recognized women, from the Tanach through the Mishna/Talmud through the Middle Ages/Renaissance all the way up to and including modern times. We have enemies trying to erase our history and we shouldn’t be doing it to ourselves. 

It makes a Chillul Hashem. There is still a prevalent belief that Judaism is biased against women and policies that erase women only reinforce that belief. Of course we don’t water down Halacha for the outside world, but this policy has no basis in Halacha or Mesorah. 

It’s wrong for mental health. Daniel Hoffman points out that when people have anxiety about something, avoiding that thing only makes the anxiety worse. Here, we have men who are anxious about getting impure thoughts over the mere sight of an Ishah Tznu’ah. Avoiding the sight of women only worsens that anxiety. 

So now we know it’s wrong. What can we do?

Last spring, before Shavuot, my friend Merri came up with the hashtag of #Iwontdisappear as a way of going into Shavuot and receiving the Torah. We women were there too and we deserve to show our faces and not be erased. Now that we are in the Slichot week before the Yamim Noraim, I think it’s a good time to use that hashtag along with my hashtag of #facingmyMaker and the one of my friend Ann, #frumwomenhavefaces. We need to raise awareness of this so that more and more people will speak up. 

As we approach the Yamim Noraim, instead of hiding, let’s try to present our Maker with the best face possible.

Best Beauty Buys- Drugstore Brand Exclusive- Part 2

I’m a girlie girl and I love most things beauty. I love reading beauty books and magazines and learning new and different things I can do to look better. However, there’s one thing I don’t like. Most, if not all, of the books, have lists of recommended products. And the beauty magazines often have spreads listing their best beauty products. The problem is that most of their recommended products are high-end and expensive and many of us civilians cannot afford them. Sometimes they do list inexpensive drugstore brands, but other times they don’t.

If you feel that a higher-end brand of any beauty product does work better for you and you have the money for it, then it’s worth it. But many of us are on tight budgets and cannot afford to spend $25 on a lipstick or $60 for a microdermabrasion kit. So I crowdsourced on social media asking people for their favorite beauty products that are available at places like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Target. And I got a lot of great recommendations. It’s good to know that I’m not alone on this one.

Here is a listing of the products that my sources use. I had two criteria for the list. First, the products have to work well. Second, they have to be available at major chains such as CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, or Target and not cost a fortune.

 

Skin care

Purpose cleanser

Cerave cleanser

Cerave cleanser

Biore facewash

St Ives Apricot scrub- generic from Target

Biore toner

Biore toner

Neutrogena Hydroboost

Neutrogena moisturizer with SPF

Neutrogena moisturizer with SPF 15- I love this one in the generic form seen above

Olay moisturizer with sunscreen

Roc wrinkle cream

Olay Regenerist cream

Neutrogena Pink Grapefruit

 

Makeup

NYX eye primer

L'Oreal shadow

L’Oreal shadow

ELF shadow

Almay liners

Essence liners

Physicians Formula liner

NYX waterproof eyeliner

L’Oreal 24 hour eyeliner

L’Oreal Voluminous mascara

Maybelline The Falsies Push-Up Angel mascara

Rimmel mascara

Rimmel mascara

Maybelline Age Rewind concealer

Maybelline Ink crayon

Neutrogena Lip show

Revlon Colorstay

CoverGirl outlast lipcolor

CoverGirl Outlast- I don’t usually use long-wear lip color, but I used to and this was the best one I found.

Sonia Kashuk

 

Hair care

Horse Hair Shampoo and Conditioner

Cantu conditioner

Simple Conditioner

Garnier whole blends conditioner

Garnier Whole Blends conditioner

BioSilk hair serum

 

Nail care

  Essie nail polishes             

Essie Nail Polish

Sally Hansen quick-dry nail polish

 

Body

Dove body wash

Dove body wash

Dr. Bronners soap

Neutrogena baby sunscreen

Aveeno baby sunscreen

Honest and Co baby wipes

 

Here are the general brands that people liked:

Acure

Milano

L’Oreal

Maybelline

CoverGirl

ELF

Wet n’ Wild

LA Colors

Aveeno

Jordana

Revlon

Garnier

 

Readers, feel free to comment here on the drugstore brand beauty products that you love.

Best Beauty Buys- Drugstore Brand Exclusive- Part 1

I’m a girlie girl and I love most things beauty. I love reading beauty books and magazines and learning new and different things I can do to look better. However, there’s one thing I don’t like. Most, if not all, of the books, have lists of recommended products. And the beauty magazines often have spreads listing their best beauty products. The problem is that most of their recommended products are high-end and expensive and many of us civilians cannot afford them. Sometimes they do list inexpensive drugstore brands, but other times they don’t.

If you feel that a higher-end brand of any beauty product does work better for you and you have the money for it, then it’s worth it. But many of us are on tight budgets and cannot afford to spend $25 on a lipstick or $60 for a microdermabrasion kit. So I crowdsourced on social media asking people for their favorite beauty products that are available at places like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Target. And I got a lot of great recommendations. It’s good to know that I’m not alone on this one.

I’m going to start by listing the products I use. I’m a die-hard drugstore gal and I love these. I’m aware that my beauty needs will change over time because that’s true for everyone and I’m prepared to adapt. I’m just not planning to spend a fortune. I also love saving even more money by using generic versions of name brands, but I’ll list the name brand too. Here goes:

Facial Skin care

Cleanser: Neutrogena oil free anti-acne cream cleanser or deep clean cleanser or Clean and Clear deep clean cream cleanser- generic.

Acne treatment: Neutrogena anti-acne cream- generic

Lip balm: Blistex ointment (in the red and white tube). I can’t understand how this one hasn’t made any best beauty buy lists because NOTHING works better to really moisten the lips (maybe I just haven’t seen it).

Blistex ointment

I use this every night. For daytime, I like Blistex balm with SPF. I’ve never found a generic version of the ointment.

Daytime moisturizer: Neutrogena oil-free daytime moisturizer with SPF 15- generic

Eye cream- L’Oreal anti-aging and firming eye cream- generic

Overnight firming cream

Nighttime moisturizer- L’Oreal firming cream- generic

Exfoliation: I use either a clean washcloth or some plain white granulated sugar mixed with a drop of my cleanser and enough water to make a paste. I do this microdermabrasion once a week plus dermaplaning once a week.

I came late to skin care and it left me with pink blotches and dark acne scars. Once I started using the right products, my skin started looking much better. I just wish that the magazines and beauty books would show women with skin like mine.

Makeup

Primer: ELF. I like either the tone correcting primer or the illuminating primer.

Brows: Tweezers plus brow scissors and brush by Revlon.

Eyeliner: Wet N Wild pencil in dark brown. I like that I can sharpen it as needed.

Green eyeshadow palette

Shadow: CoverGirl TruNaked Palette in The Goldens and Maybelline Expert Wear Eyeshadow palette in Emerald Smokes. I apply with brushes that I bought at a drugstore many years ago.

Mascara- Maybelline Volume Express, The Falsies in Blackest Black or Very Black

Trublend foundation

Foundation: I always loved CoverGirl Ultimate Finish 3-in-1 makeup, but I haven’t found that in most drugstores lately. I recently started using CoverGirl TruBlend foundation and powder and I like the results.

Powder- CoverGirl TruBlend powder or Clean Powder foundation.

Blush- CoverGirl Cheekers in Pretty Peach. I apply it with a fluffy brush.

Bronzer- CoverGirl Cheekers.

Lipstick- Maybelline Color Sensational lip color in Touchable Taupe

Lip gloss- CoverGirl Colorlicious in Give Me Guava

This is a basic face of makeup that I wear for work or for dressy casual situations. I just defined my eyes, evened out my skin, and added subtle color on cheeks and lips. I always do my eyes first because I can easily clean up any fallout. Other women apply face makeup first so that they can work with a more even skin tone and see what they need beyond that. It’s your call.

While I agree that most women can look good without makeup (if they have the right skin care), I also firmly believe that no woman really looks her best without a little makeup. It doesn’t take much nor does it cost much.

Here I am wearing a special-event makeup look. I’m using evening light here. I just took my basic makeup look and added a little extra eyeshadow, powder, blush, and layered lipstick for staying power.

Hair care

Cleanser: As a curly girl, I don’t use shampoo. I like VO5 conditioners for cleansing

Conditioner: Suave Essentials, Garnier Fructis Color Shield, Herbal Essences Color Me Happy.

Gel: Garnier Fructis curl activating spray gel.

Hair color: Clairol Natural Instincts.

Body care

Cleanser- Suave body wash plus a clean washcloth.

Body lotion- Vaseline Intensive Care- generic. My favorite is the one with aloe

Vaseline hand lotion

Hand lotion- Vaseline Intensive Care for hands and nails.

Continuous spray sunscreen

Sunscreen- Any generic brand of continuous spray sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that’s water-resistant. If it’s labeled for “sport,” that’s good. I find this easier and less cumbersome to apply.

Even if I have to change some of these over time, I don’t plan to spend a fortune. And it’s good to know that I don’t have to.

Next blog post will feature the products recommended from my crowdsourcing on social media. If you have anything you recommend (that you can buy at drugstores or Target), say so. Remember that you can look your best without spending too much time or money.