| Take 2 |

Chana and Leah

My friend's tzniyus standards seem to fall way below mine in the summer heat
Hi, my name is Chana.

Summer is around the corner, and I couldn’t be more relieved. This year has been a whirlwind of activity, and I’m excited for the chance to relax and take it easy. I decided not to get a summer job this year and to spend the next eight weeks enjoying the sunshine and hanging out with friends. At night, I’ll be tutoring children ranging from ages seven to nine. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope it works out that I enjoy myself and feel productive at the same time.

One thing I’ve always been grateful for is my ability to tolerate the summer heat. I know its’s hard for a lot of frum girls to be tzniyus in 90-degree weather, but thankfully, it’s not like that for me. I rarely feel overheated or need relief from the sun, and I’m not the sweating type, baruch Hashem. I have a friend who is, though. Her name is Leah, and every summer we have the uncomfortable awkwardness between us about the fact that her tzniyus standards seem to fall way below mine in the summer heat.

I really don’t want to seem judgmental. I try very hard to be dan l’chaf zechus. Her family is less frum than mine, and she has a lot of cousins who dress immodestly, so she’s surrounded by that kind of dress much more often than I am. But it becomes awkward when we hang out and other friends of mine see her lower standards. I never allude to the fact that sometimes I’m uncomfortable around her, but I think she feels it, and I hate that. I try very hard to pretend I don’t notice the changes in her clothing but occasionally, I’m human, and I slip. Like last summer, we were going to a barbeque at one of my cousins, and I invited her to come along. When she showed up, I was embarrassed by her dress.

I didn’t think my cousins would feel comfortable, so I tried to hint that she could borrow a dress from me if she wanted, and she got really insulted. She refused to come, and we had a very awkward silence between us for a couple of weeks.

I want to avoid incidents like that. I don’t want to insult her, ever. But I also can’t help that she makes me uncomfortable. Do you have any advice for me so I can handle this the right way?

Hi, my name is Leah.

I love the summer. I love the beach, swimming, and spending quality time with friends and family. This year, my friend Chana and I decided to keep our schedules open so we can hang out and have a nice, relaxing time and enjoy ourselves. I honestly can’t wait.

There’s just one thing I’m not looking forward to — the heat.

In the summer, I constantly feel like I want to douse myself in cold water or I won’t be able to take another step. I’m really not good in the heat, and I always make sure there’s some form of relief around, like the ocean at the beach, a pool, or even a spray bottle with a mechanical fan nearby that can keep me cool. Otherwise, I’ll just spend all my time inside with the air conditioning!

I struggle a lot with keeping myself properly covered like the rest of my friends. I don’t know how these girls do it. I really can’t handle how hot I feel. I feel bad about not adhering to the proper standards of tzniyus, but it’s something I’m trying to work on and hopefully will get better at, with Hashem’s help. In the meantime, though, I need help and maybe encouragement to get me going in the right direction, because to be honest, my friends seem to be more of a deterrent. I hate the feeling I get from them, like I’m disappointing them or even worse, embarrassing them. It makes me want to spend more time with my family instead. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

Last summer, I got into an argument with my friend Chana about something she said when she invited me to a barbeque at her aunt’s house. I could tell, even though she was trying very hard to hide it, that she disapproved of what I was wearing and even hinted that I should change! I was so insulted. At the end of the day, though, I understand why my mode of dress can make other girls uncomfortable, but it doesn’t stop me from dressing how I dress. I know I should work on it, but it’s really, really hard for me. I don’t want to be awkward around my friends this summer. Can you help me figure out the right approach?


Dear Chana,

I am impressed with your appreciation of your spiritual strengths.

The ability to stay tziynus in the oppressive summer heat is an admirable trait and a priceless gift. I love the way you are so respectful and non-judgmental toward your friend and her specific challenges, and I recognize that at times you feel uncomfortable around her.

I want to clarify the idea of when and how to remain silent, and hopefully you will find that helpful for your current dilemma.

When I was younger, huge, clunky penny loafer shoes were in style. They were basically regular loafers with a huge platform sole. They were so heavy that it was hard to walk in them. But we all wore those ugly shoes.

I am sure that my mother prides herself in the silence she held back then. She must have bitten her lip many times and did not say a word. But she seethed inwardly, and her disapproval was obvious to us. Every time I clomped down the stairs, I saw my mother glance at my shoes, sigh, and clench her teeth in martyrdom.

I love my mother dearly, and I appreciated her silence and the tremendous amount of energy that restraint took.

I also felt her disappointment and criticism louder than any shout or rebuke.

I can imagine my mother talking to her friend and proudly explaining how she remained positive and quiet. She did remain quiet, and she deserves credit for that, but her silence spoke louder than words and definitely did not give off positive vibes.

So what is a person supposed to do?

The rule of thumb is as follows:

Silence and respect is golden — if you can make something not bother you.

However, if something bothers you and you cannot get over it, then respectful communication might be better than seething in silence.

Your heart is in the right place, and words that come from love and sincerity are usually taken in the right way. Prepare what you want to say and daven that the words should have the right effect and should not chas v’shalom hurt her.

When speaking with a friend, it’s important that you use “I” messages. Those are sentences that start with “I” and not with “you.” “I feel…” and not “You are…”

Reflect on what you need in order to feel comfortable as opposed to asking her to change her standards because you are disappointed in her. “I would feel more comfortable if…” and not “You need to stop wearing…”

Here’s an example of what the conversation might sound like: I love you for who you are, and I can’t even imagine your struggle in the summer. At times, like when we’re hanging out with my cousins, I feel uncomfortable because it’s uncomfortable for them. I don’t want this to come between us, so I’m bringing it up now. Let’s make a plan. Do you prefer I go places alone or that I give you a heads-up, as in, “I really want you to come to the barbecue but it’s a ‘black tie event’ so I understand if you prefer to skip”?


Dear Leah,

Your struggle is real, personal, and difficult. I stand up for girls like you who are aware of their struggles and never stop trying and growing. Ask Hashem for help with your struggle as without it we cannot possibly overcome our difficulties.

We know that as Jews we are responsible for who we are in our surroundings. We cannot say, “I will do what I want to do and too bad for anyone else it affects.” Therefore, when we have a struggle which is visible, and it may affect the people around us, we are responsible to only remain in settings and among people that we will not impact negatively.

You find yourself in a dilemma. You are a good girl, and you want to remain in positive surroundings with girls that reflect your true standards despite your outward struggle. Of course, you do not want to make them feel uncomfortable or impact them in a negative way. This puts you in a tough spot. I think you know deep down that the answer is to try and match the environment that you desire to be part of. You obviously value your friendship with Chana, so you need to have an open discussion with her. Discuss the fact that despite your struggles you don’t want her or anyone else to become uncomfortable, and ask her to be open with you when she needs you to better conform.

I am assuming that when you go on a trip to the beach, pool, or boardwalk, your mode of dress is not as noticeable. However, during a more formal or public event, like a Shabbos kiddush, it can be more harmful. During those times you can always decide whether to attend the event or not.

In life we often see the end result of a struggle as the victory, but in reality, we are rewarded immensely not only for the end result but for the struggle itself — every boiling hot second of it.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 918)

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