First presented on www.annkoffsky.com
Earlier this month, noted speaker, philosopher and author Gila Manolson was kind enough to reach out to me, and tell me her feedback on an article I wrote. I took the opportunity to pounce, and asked her for an interview! She graciously accepted, and here is the result:
The value of Tzniut (modesty) is a major theme in your work. How would you define tzniut to someone completely unfamiliar with the concept?
Tzniut is the ability to define myself as a soul and to let my outer appearance reflect that inner awareness.
You’ve suggested that tzniut can be the antidote to the media’s ‘culture of beauty’ that todays women are constantly pressured by.
What do you think is the right age to introduce concepts of tzniut to young children?
As young as possible. It’s never to young to begin to instill spiritual self-awareness in a child, by connecting their outward appearance to their essence. Even saying something like “You look so pretty today–it must be because of all the mitzvot you’ve done” can transform a girl’s understanding of what true beauty is.
How do we instill ideas of tzniut within our homes for our daughters? Must we deny them disney princesses and barbies?
It’s all about answering the question, “Who am I?” If we don’t want our daughters to emulate Disney princesses and Barbies, then why would we want them to have them? Disney is sexist, and a real-life Barbie’s chest would be so heavy she’d have to walk on all fours. Is this what we want for our daughters? And skirts and sleeves should never be the focus, but rather the expression of who our daughters (hopefully) know themselves to be. A girl who knows who she is will want to look pretty in a way that says, “I look good not because that’s what gives me value, but because a person who HAS value on the inside deserves also to look good on the outside!” Just as a diamond ring doesn’t go into a cheap, painted-up cardboard box but into an elegant jewelry box, so too a girl whose inside is precious shouldn’t look frumpy but beautiful–in a way that draws attention past her outside to her inside, just as the jewelry box makes you aware that its contents are precious.
I think a lot of mommies look in the mirror and think about about how much weight we want to lose or how to eliminate the new wrinkles forming in the corners of our eyes. Our self critique can impact our daughters. How do we stop ourselves from passing those insecurities on to our daughters, even when they still are so much a part of our own personalities? It’s hard to fake tzniut, so the first thing to do is to work on it for ourselves. Do we really accept the youth-worshipping values of our society, or do we want to buck them? Is it a bigger compliment to be told, “You’re 60? You don’t look it!” than “I can feel the happiness and wisdom you’ve gained from being in this world 60 years”? Practice looking into the mirror and seeing the deeper you. Then deliberately let your daughter hear you expressing satisfaction with what you see. Over my bedroom mirror I have head shots of a beautiful model with gray hair. A lot of beauty, as we age, has to do less with having had a facelift than with joy and authenticity
What concepts of modesty are important to discuss with our sons? Regarding their own modesty: That blowing their own horn about their scholastic achievements or riding around on a motorcycle without a muffler is just as superficial as a woman parading her body. Regarding females: That they shouldn’t write off a woman just because she doesn’t initially attract them. Real, enduring attraction combines outside and inside, so give the inside a chance to show.
You also write about love, dating , relationships and marriage. What drew you to these themes? The fact that they’re handled so senselessly in the secular world and result in so much wasted time and emotional pain. It kills me to see people causing themselves damage when it’s so easily preventable with a little common sense about relationships.
As our children grow, and begin to look for their bashert (hard to imagine but my oldest is 14 so it’s not here yet…but it will be someday!), what is your best piece of advice we should share with our daughters? Our sons? First, that love isn’t a feeling you get when you meet the right person. It’s the attachment you feel to someone when you appreciate his or her goodness. Starting off with the right definition of what you’re looking for can steer you away from wrong connections. Second, that love has less to do with finding the right person than with being the right person. The best preparation you can do for marriage is to work on yourself, since you can be only as good a spouse as you are a person.
Has there been any surprising reactions to your writing from readers that you would like to share? The most surprising reaction was when a girl, upon hearing that I was the author of The Magic Touch, burst into tears. It turned out that, thanks in part to my book, she and her boyfriend had become shomer negiah (Translation: they chose to refrain from any physical contact-Ann) a month ago, and she was overwhelmed by what it had done for their relationship–”It’s a different world, it’s a different plane,” she told me. And then when her mother came up to me after a class in New York to give me a gift, she too started crying. I guess it’s in the family.
Have you received any negative reactions? If so, what were they? I’ve been told that while I’m famous among seminary girls, I’m infamous among their boyfriends. One guy told me there’s a contract out on me. Another guy told me what I have to say is @#$*. But I take it all as a compliment–that what I wrote was provocative enough to evoke a strong yetzer hara response!
Yeah, you always know you are doing something right if folks are yelling at you!
This is a broad question but I am curious…you are an international speaker and author. How does one become an international speaker and author? How have your books and lectures gained recognition and popularity–what has the process been? You become a public speaker and author when you have a very strong beliefs, have a big mouth, and are incredibly frustrated that more people don’t have access to the wisdom that has been so life-changing for you. It started small, with talks in Jerusalem and local book sales of The Magic Touch; then kids brought the books back to the U.S. and their friends wanted them, and Feldheim Publishers got so many requests for it that, despite the fact it’s considered risque by frum standards, they asked a sh’ailah and were told to take it; then it eventually got into their catalogue. It was a process. My subsequent books then rode on the fame of the first one. (And all this without a web site…!)
What led you to launch your new website gilamanolson.com? The need for it arose from the fact that I’m putting out a book on shmirat negiah for Christians, who don’t know me, so I have to have a web presence. It should be up any time now. And thanks to your totally on-target article in Jewish Action entitled “Please Put the Women Back In,” it will indeed have a photo of me, which I initially viewed as a bediavad and now view as a lechatchilah. (Thank you for that!)
Well, you must have done many mitzvot as well, beacuse your photo is beautiful! Love the beautiful view in the back.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about your work that would be of particular interest to young parents? Parents, please realize that the beauty industry is hell-bent on making your daughter as superficially self-defined, and insecure, as possible, in order to make more money off of her. Strengthen her. Build her up. Don’t let her succumb to the garbage out there. Be a role model for her. And be there for her as she navigates an increasingly difficult and anti-spiritual world. With a really strong mom who believes in her, she can still turn out great.
Gila, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I am quite inspired!
Gila Manolson is the author of the best-selling Outside/Inside: A Fresh Look at Tzniut
and Choosing to Love: Building a Deep Relationship with the Right Person–and with Yourself.
Her other titles include The Magic Touch: A Jewish Approach to Relationships
and Head to Heart: What to Know before Dating and Marriage
. Her books are available on www.feldheim.com
and on www.jewish-e-books.com
. If you’re interested in having Gila speak in your community on her upcoming lecture tour (April 15-30), please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org