[pullquote align=right] I feel like our traditions have some interesting lessons for this age of underwear and overshare.
[/pullquote]Kim Kardashian recently posted a nude photo of herself on social media just in time to honor Women’s History Month. There has been some backlash, to put it mildly.
Some of the criticism Ms Kardashian-West received was from people who didn’t believe it was in the best interest of women to have a role model for so many young girls posting a nude selfie.
I feel like our traditions have some interesting lessons for this age of underwear and overshare.
We are taught that the Purim story starts with a dethroned queen and a beauty contest. Queen Vashti, we’re taught, refused to dance for King Ahashverosh when he called for her to dance in front of his friends one night at a royal party. Queen Vashti is a righteous feminist character, and she maintains that her body is her domain, regardless of King Ahashverosh’s wishes.
Queen Esther is our heroine, and a great beauty. She wins King Ahashverosh’s heart by being the most attractive maiden in the beauty contest he throws, and when she becomes the new queen she is in the perfect position to speak up on behalf of the Jewish people when they’re all going to be killed by the evil Trump — I mean Haman.
[pullquote align=left] Real tzniut is about focusing on women’s thoughts and actions rather than their body parts.
[/pullquote]I celebrated this story with Hebrew school lessons and costume contests every year as I was growing up, as did many of us. Interestingly, I don’t know exactly what Esther wore in the Purim story. I don’t know what Vashti wore either. What I do know is that Vashti was proud and defiant, and that Esther was smart and brave and that her actions saved the Jewish people. For all its pageantry, my Purim tradition has left me with more knowledge of the thoughts and actions of the women in the story than of their bodies and clothing.

That, my friends, is real tzniut (modesty).
While our traditional code of tzniut requires women to cover their bodies in certain ways so as not to be distracting to men, I would argue that real tzniut is about focusing on women’s thoughts and actions rather than their body parts. It doesn’t matter if a woman is in a hijab or is completely nude–she deserves to be respected as a human being with thoughts and feelings of her own. Real tzniut is the responsibility of every person who looks at a woman to push themselves to wonder what the woman in question is thinking and feeling.
It isn’t easy. We are all fighting an uphill battle to untrain ourselves from objectifying the female form, while so many advertisers constantly use women’s body parts as a ploy to get our attention. However, we can make the world a better place one moment at a time when we pause to ask ourselves, “I wonder what that woman is thinking?”
[pullquote align=right] We respect women and ourselves every time we pause to reflect, “I wonder what that woman is thinking?”
[/pullquote]As righteous people devoted to repairing the world, we can use that simple line of inquiry to respect both the Esthers and the Vashtis of our society. We can applaud Vashti’s choice to refuse to dance for King Ahashverosh, and we can also applaud Esther’s choices, regardless of how much or how little of her body she chose to reveal in the King’s beauty pageant. We respect women and ourselves every time we pause to reflect, “I wonder what that woman is thinking?”

For the record, Ms Kardashian-West was apparently thinking about clothes, as she captioned her nude selfie on twitter, “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL.”