Monday, April 28, 2014

Tzniut and Depression?

A friend recently sent me to a video advertisement for Pristiq, an anti-depressant. Click on the picture below to go to the 1-minute video (the video's poster has blocked embedding on Blogger):

Pristiq's "wind-up doll" ad campaign has been criticized for various sins over the past few years, but my friend's point was unique: In this ad, all four of the depressed women wear long skirts and long sleeves. All four of the happy women wear pants or shorts, and two of them have no sleeves.

Of course, a commercial for medication is not a planned statement against the tzanua [perhaps best translated as "private"] attire traditional among observant Jews. However, I think this ad demonstrates a negative social stereotype which casts tzanua dress in a bad light. As reflected in this ad, people tend to view long skirts and long sleeves as signs of negative body image, or avoiding the world's gaze.

This is upsetting, of course. From a traditional Jewish perspective, being private - with one's body, one's thoughts, one's life - is an active choice, designed to promote self-development and a strong relationship with Gd. Tzanua conduct isn't supposed to be about flight from the world or a sign of insecurity. Tzniut is a healthy lifestyle decision, whether regarding the way one dresses, or the way one speaks, or the way one socializes.

I find the message this ad sends regarding tzanua dress, and tzanua conduct in general, depressing.


  1. OTOH, in a society that doesn't value tzenius, a depressed person is more likely to be uncomfortable with their appearance and hide it behind clothes

    Tzenius more addresses the insecure person, who therefore needs validation from others, and to get it draw attention to themselves. In terms of tzenuah clothes, it's easier to get positive attention from members of the opposite gender by using sex to sell.

    The depressed person isn't seeking outside validation, they are secure in their knowledge that the world, and they, stink. They are less likely to be looking outward, and so clothing would tend to be more about embarrassment vs price than insecurity vs personal dignity.

    I would therefore assume (I never took statistics) that the depiction in the ad is quite accurate.

  2. The concept of modesty in secular society is either non-existent or warped. I recall years ago reading about a particular model who was called modest because she insisted on wearing a one piece bathing suit at the beach instead of a bikini.
    The treated depressed patient, according to this view, is outgoing and flashy. In a secular society where a woman's value is tied directly to her physical appearance increased happiness results in increased visible skin.

  3. It is an interesting observation for sure. I'm also noting the lack of color in the depressed person's clothing and the way the clothing is just sort of blah, shapless, formless, colorless. I could walk around my neighborhood today of fully clothed people (it is quite cold today) and there will be those in tzniut attire who are spunky and confident and those in similarly tzniut attire who look disheveled and sad.

  4. I thought that tznius is based on the idea that exposing to view some parts of a woman’s body is always a sexual action that must be avoided. Where did you get the idea that tznius is merely "a healthy lifestyle decision"?

    1. Tzvee-
      As I understand it, you are referring to the male's reason for avoiding seeing parts of a woman's body. Tzniut, though, is a separate matter, applicable to both men and women, and applicable to many types of human conduct having nothing to do with dress. Tzniut is Malachi's imperative, "v'hatzneia lechet im Elokecha." No?

  5. Interesting take on modesty

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