Changing Perceptions of Normality

27 03 2010

It’s interesting to note how quickly your view of social norms can change based on the society that you find yourself in.  About five years ago, I was a practicing and strictly observant Orthodox Jew who wore only long skirts and modest attire.  Though I was studying at a university, I had many interactions with the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish world.  At the time, I was asked to purchase a pair of jeans for myself as part of a costume for one of my college dance teams since I did not wear or own any pairs of pants.  I went with a friend to the local mall and tried on pair after pair.  Each time, my friend told me that they fit perfectly but the jeans were so tight and felt completely immodest – I couldn’t possibly have worn them outside the changing room.  Finally, I settled on a pair of jeans that was twelve sizes too big (I realized in retrospect – I still have the pair and it still doesn’t fit) that I bunched and belted together to keep it at my waist. The fabric of the jeans flowed very loosely down my legs.  Yet even when I was swimming in these practically skirt-like pair of pants, wearing them was still a huge decision as the jeans felt incredibly revealing.

Fast forward five years and here I am wrapping up my six weeks at a naturist resort where it is completely normal, comfortable and even liberating for me to walk around unclothed.  Every individual here is viewed and treated as a person who deserves respect, and not just as a body.  Putting on clothes is what seems to make people stand out and be sexually attractive here, and everyone seems so much friendlier and without pretensions when they are sans clothing.

While I totally and completely dread having to put my clothes back on tomorrow morning, I still understand and appreciate the social norms and values of the Ultra-Orthodox world.  This post is not about anything as grand as moral relativism, but it is interesting for me to have experienced such a variety of personal truths regarding something as small and seemingly inconsequential as the clothes that we do or do not wear.

posted by amybetho

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10 responses

28 03 2010
rach g.

would love to hear more at some point about the transition to a “naturist” resort from your regular day-to-day life. also interested to hear how the transition back goes.

nit-picking here, but ultra-orthodox and orthodox are two pretty different approaches. ultra-orthodox and modern-orthodox are almost two different religions (or at least that’s how it can often feel). i don’t think the label you mean to be using is “ultra orthodox.”
though it is crazy to think of the difference in your brainspace over the last five years…

29 03 2010
amybetho

@Rach: I’d love to speak with you about the transition to and from naturism, though I have a hunch that the ‘to’ will have been easier than the ‘from’. Regarding the distinction between Ultra Orthodox and Modern Orthodox, I agree with you that they each have a very different approach to religion that results in markedly different types of communities. To that point, my post did not say that I identified as Ultra-Orthodox, but rather that I found myself in their world quite frequently and quite comfortably at the start of college. I studied in an all women’s learning program with Beis Yaakov girls during the summer before college and proceeded to spend most Shabbatot during my freshman year with the Ultra-Orthodox Baltimore community in Pikesville. (I know that we weren’t in touch too much at the time, so we may be missing a couple of years of each others’ experiences.)

28 03 2010
Cherie @ Technomadia

That is indeed quite a change in five years… congrats! It’s been awesome to follow you guys over the past several weeks. See you on the playa.. if not beforehand 🙂

29 03 2010
amybetho

@Cherie: Thanks for keeping up with our adventures! I just saw the post today about your plans for the Spring – exploring Texas and the Gateway Burn?! I’m definitely excited to hear more about those on the playa.

As for summer suggestions, while the DR was amazing, Jay and I spent last June/July in Peru and caught the Inti Raymi festival which was fantastic. Would definitely recommend.

28 03 2010
Allen

I’ve been keeping up with all the beautiful adventures you (both) have shared, but I always have trouble expressing myself in the quick bursts that are comments.

Your story was really wonderful—and surprising!—to read. I had no idea you were so religious(/frum/tzniut/??) even five years ago.

Are you guys heading back to New York now?

Miss you!
joey

29 03 2010
amybetho

@Joey: We miss you, too! And yes, we just got back to New York last night. (Post to come this afternoon.) Jay and I were chatting about you yesterday on the ride home – generally because we want to catch up but also because you’re likely the only person of our friends group in NY who would turn out if we threw a naked party later this month. (Nothing crazy, just no clothes either.) Hope to see you soon!

29 03 2010
Yoni Markman

Jay may have mentioned me and my recent experiences in Panama. I feel compelled to respond to your post about clothing, and that about the self-contained environment with whole-hearted agreement and enthusiasm. These are topics that have been on my mind a lot lately. My thoughts align with yours and Jay’s and I thoroughly enjoy following your explorations, even at the distance of a blog reader.

29 03 2010
amybetho

@Yoni: Jay has definitely mentioned your adventures to me. Yacht living in Panama sounds pretty incredible… Perhaps you’ll blog a bit about your experiences and we’ll have the pleasure of following your explorations from a distance? Looking forward to meeting you at some point in our world journey!

1 04 2010
Yoni Markman

Hi Amy,

Jay invited me to write a guest post about my Panama experience and I am excited to do so. I will try to answer the idea of writing my own blog in the post I send you. For now I use my facebook account to post my favorite pictures of the places I go, and comments are always welcome there. At present, I am still working at my job and have not yet ventured out entirely on my own. But I see myself moving around more soon and continuing to strive after the spirit that you and Jay are exemplifying.

By the way, we did meet once or twice at the Y, a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, I look forward to future meetings when we can speak more.

-Yoni

7 04 2010
amybetho

@Yoni: Jay shared your drafted post with me and it looks great. I’d love to hear more about the specifics of your experiences in Panama (what you are seeing, who you are meeting) in the post, but overall it’s fantastic and Jay will write you soon. Thanks again!

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