“In Our Own Words” is a series of blog posts exploring why we wrap, and how it makes us feel, in the words of our wrap sisters and siblings. Today, we speak to two of our UK Jewish customers, Jen and Anna, who don't wrap for the 'usual' in Judaism.
The Jewish style of wrapping is called Tichel (Yiddish) or Mitpachat (Hebrew) and is worn by married Orthodox Jewish women, who observe the practice of covering the hair in public after marriage. While many women nowadays wear wigs, the wearing of scarves is gaining popularity again.
What called you to wrap?
Jen: I had always been a bit jealous of women in hijab and, since moving to London, African and Caribbean head wraps, but thought this was something I wasn't allowed to do. Last year I started exploring my Jewish heritage having grown up knowing I was Jewish but with no-one in my family practising.
I found the Wrapunzel website while looking for something else and was pleased to discover that I was totally allowed to wear head wraps and that it was a Jewish thing. I looked at the tutorials and photos for a few months before trying it out with some scarves I already had. I have never really worn decorative scarves and couldn't get them to look nice, but this was different and felt creative and fun. The first scarf I bought specifically for head wrapping was a jersey hijab which was too short for tichel styles but I didn't know that.
I also have chronic migraine so spent a while working out if this was something I could do without making myself more ill (short answer: yes, with modifications, nothing too heavy). I now wrap about half the time and always in Jewish spaces or when praying. For me, in order, it's about creativity, my religion and health. The wraps feel good and comforting on my head, although there are days when my head just says no. I don't wrap at work- I could probably wear a plain dark coloured Regal wrap but if it's not creative or colourful then I'm not wrapping it! I have been wrapping about 9 months. I usually call it a headwrap, or a tichel (which is the Yiddish word) in Jewish spaces.
Anna: Health problems - I have horrendous eczema on my scalp (as well as the rest of my body) and spent over 10 years trying every medicated shampoo I could find. Most made it worse and ruined my hair. I've begged for medical help, but even though my scalp was weeping and bleeding my doctor just shrugged and said "it's not that bad". My scalp flakes so I look like I've got a horrible case of dandruff, and eventually I stopped wearing dark clothes and became paranoid after a few nasty comments from strangers.
Wrapping has enabled me to wear dark clothes again, forget about flakes being visible in my hair and on my clothes, and actually improved the condition of my scalp. I don't know if it's because of the actual wrapping or the prevention of scratching, but I'm glad. I'd love to shave my head to rub soothing cream into it, but my husband has begged me not to.
I'm also Jewish, though not orthodox nor particularly observant, but it was nice to explore this aspect of my faith.
What are your personal feelings on wrapping in relation to modesty?
J: I understand why some women do but it's not part of my practice. I would consider wrapping part of my appropriate dress for religious spaces e.g. would not wear anything very revealing or very casual.
A: I don't really have any feelings about it to be honest. I've never been one for short skirts or revealing clothes, which made my mother laugh at me and call me a prude, so I'm pretty modest in my clothing choices anyway just because it feels more comfortable and practical. I don't really think much about what other people wear - although I'm quite likely to ask someone where they got their pretty dress!
Do you think wrapping is a feminist statement?
J: Yes, as in my body, I get to choose what I do with it and what I put on it. Also that tichel wearing is for anyone regardless of marital status.
A: It can be, depending on what the woman wrapping thinks. Choosing for myself when and where to reveal or hide parts of my body is certainly feminist. A lot of 'femininity' seems to be tied up in hair - I got a horrendous shock when I decided to get a pixie cut a few years back and googled it, people (men) were saying really horrific and nasty things about women with short hair. It bothers me that women are expected to spend so much time and money and effort on their (expected to be long) hair, especially when my health problems make that even more of an issue. I fretted for a bit about the Jewish bit, and the idea that I should not show my hair to any man but my husband, because that seemed against my feminism. However, I realised that it is 'normal' and accepted that there are other parts of my body which are not displayed to anyone but him, so it doesn't feel oppressive (especially as Jewish men are expected to cover their heads as well, although my husband is not Jewish so he doesn't).
Is wrapping a form of empowerment? If so, why and how?
J: Yes. I'm doing what I want with my body and my head. If people are choosing to wrap, that is, I don't think anybody should be made to cover their hair or body if they don't want to.
I also see tichel wearing as a liberal queer Jewish woman as something I am reclaiming as a visible symbol of Jewish identity - which has traditionally been the preserve of married Orthodox women. I would like it to be a symbol that any Jewish woman (or non binary, gender queer person) can wear. I'd say the same about kippot and tzitzit. I'd be up for wearing them too at some point.
A: It can be. People have described head wrapping as oppressive, to which I point out what I actually find oppressive - being expected to have long and beautiful hair for others to admire despite the impact on me, jokes on TV about dandruff flakes on shoulders, people screaming at me in the street to "try some Head & Shoulders love!", medical professionals telling me they won't help and I should just use baby shampoo even though it brings me out in weeping sores. THOSE are oppression, and wrapping has freed me of those things.
Thank you both for your insights and experiences, it's a pleasure to get such diverse perspectives from you both.
We will be back at a later point on the blog (or possibly YouTube) with Jen's tips for wrapping with migraine!
Harmony Headwraps is a dedicated UK tichel shop, selling scarves and accessories for all your wrapping needs.
*Not her real name