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Brazen: from long sleeves to lingerie by Julia Haart

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New York: Crown, 2022
405 pages, $13.99, Kindle

Freedom has been the only driving force in my life. —Julia Haart (398)

Imagine being unable to touch your spouse for twelve days each month because of an ancient superstition.1 Imagine going an entire day each week without using electricity, traveling or working in any way. Imagine never watching television and rarely, if ever, watching movies. Imagine having to cover your hair, collarbones, knees, ankles and elbows no matter what the weather. Imagine that you are only allowed to shop in certain stores, eat in certain restaurants, dance in certain ways, and read certain books.

This is the reality for women living in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities such as Monsey, New York, where Julia Haart grew up (men face similar constraints). Her parents brought her to this community as a young child after fleeing Soviet Russia, and in Brazen: from long sleeves to lingerie, she tells in great detail the incredible story of her personal journey to freedom. It is a story of personal achievement, in which she developed her love of clothes and shoes into a career as a fashion designer, overcoming the irrational restrictions of the religion in which she was raised. So how did she go from being covered from head to toe to creating lingerie?

After Haart and her parents moved to the United States, distant relatives encouraged them to descend deeper and deeper into Orthodox Judaism. Eventually they moved to Monsey, an ultra-Orthodox community, where she went to an all-girls school that focused heavily on religious studies, prohibited girls from playing sports, and strictly limited their activities in other areas. like dancing. Growing up, she learned that the most socially acceptable career for a man was as a rabbi, and that the only jobs allowed for women were as teachers or secretaries, and only in religious institutions.

Haart, like other women in these communities, must have wanted to have many babies (she would be considered biologically deficient if she had fewer than six) and support her husband’s extended studies of Jewish texts. Outside the home, she and other women and girls were almost always separated from the men; Monsey buses even feature heavy curtains to separate men and women. Women are expected to dress modestly, in soft colors. The reason? The mere sight of a woman, even covered from head to toe, could distract a man from his Torah studies.

Haart was frequently chastised, from her preteen years into adulthood, for wanting to wear bright colors and high heels. And his theology-defying questions were brushed aside, unanswered. After marrying a man chosen by a matchmaker and her parents, she had four children with him. Her life consisted only of the work of a “woman”; in addition to raising the children, doing all the cooking and cleaning (including following all the strict rules of the Sabbath), she sometimes held two teaching positions. She often asked why God wanted her to lead a life that made her so unhappy. Her parents and teachers castigated her for even asking such a question. In heartbreaking detail, Haart illustrates how such circumstances drove her into a deep depression.

But little by little, she began to free herself. The changes were at first minor: she started reading philosophy and secular literature, watching old movies, and she allowed her eldest daughter to choose her husband. She began spending nights away from home in Monsey so she could design shoes for her luxury shoe line, which she named after her: Julia Haart.

In Cheeky, she makes it clear how the ultra-Orthodox upbringing she received left her woefully unprepared to face the outside world. For example, his Jewish teachers had taught him only about historical genocides involving Jews, such as the Holocaust, and had taught him that such atrocities were God’s punishment for Jews mixed with non-Jews (188). It wasn’t until she met an Armenian model who told her about the Armenian Genocide that she learned otherwise: “I was so shocked I could barely breathe. . . . I devoured the book that Alin had suggested, and a giant crack in my connection to religious Judaism was created” (266). She had to learn countless important things, from business to date rape drugs to how to defend herself.

She took her first steps outside the confines of Judaism slowly, carefully, testing the waters as she began to wear slacks instead of long skirts, to travel on the Sabbath, to go out in public without a wig or headscarf, and to eat non-kosher food. . Her process of experiencing all of these firsts was that of a woman learning to love life and live it to the full.

But the fear and guilt of her ultra-Orthodox upbringing had imposed mental and emotional shackles on her that took time to unravel, a process that readers from illiberal backgrounds could relate to. “It took me years to give myself permission to wear what I wanted to wear as opposed to what I was brainwashed into believing God wanted me to wear,” she explains (312 ). She also wanted to preserve her relationship with her children, which was difficult when they lived in a community that pitied them for having a mother who had strayed from the “right path”.

Haart’s writing is engaging as she details the process of challenging her deepest beliefs while going to fashion shows, meeting manufacturers and buyers for her shoes, and making friends. non-Jews. Her journey was strewn with obstacles and an emotional roller coaster, but she persevered. His drive to succeed is an inspiration to anyone with ambitious goals. “It never occurred to me that I would fail,” she recalls, determined to design “the most amazing shoes anyone has ever seen” (385). And despite many setbacks in the form of embezzlement, shoddy workmanship, betrayal, heartbreak, threats, and deception, she began designing shoes for an established lingerie company called La Perla, which initially era was selling clothes in 127 places around the world. major success.

While breaking through the isolation and immaturity that religion had imposed on her – living true romance, traveling, tasting fine food – Haart began to realize how isolated she had been from the world and how how cruel his upbringing was. This angered her, but she blamed her struggles, and those of others like her, on well-meaning religious ideas developed in ancient times that have not changed since. Unfortunately, as is clear in passages like this, she doesn’t seem to see the fundamental problem with religion:

Like other religions around the world, Judaism is about love, caring for one another, and living for a purpose greater than your own self-interest. I think all religions are beautiful and have these moralistic concepts at their core. It is only when perverted by extremists who see any change to archaic laws as a direct challenge to God that something meant to improve the world and humanity becomes an intolerable prison. (vii)

Haart’s experience itself reveals the problem with this position. If God exists and wants men to spend all their time studying Torah, then friendships with women, watching television, and exercising are intolerable distractions. If God expects and wants his people to “be fruitful and multiply,” then, of course, women should have as many children as possible. These are not positions of crazy extremists who can be refuted by arguing that they are archaic and make life miserable, these are positions of those who take their sacred texts seriously. To live a beautiful and fulfilling life, as Haart discovered, you have to explore, learn, and decide things for yourself. And an honest exploration of the idea of ​​a god reveals that there is no reasonable basis for believing in the existence of such a being. Haart, at least so far, does not appear to have challenged this fundamental premise of her upbringing (although in all fairness she has challenged many others).

Despite this, Haart is now committed to personal success and happiness, determined to ensure that her children have more choices than she had, and eager to soak up information about the world around her. surrounded. She has created great value with Cheeky (and the related Netflix series that follows her in her fashion business today). The eye-opening book not only details the deep misery that necessarily follows from trying to live according to religious scripture, but also the personal changes in mindset necessary to escape that tradition.

Cheeky is the inspiring story of a determined woman who fought back against oppression and used her newfound freedom to build a life she absolutely loves, including a career in an industry that inspires her. Haart didn’t just run away; she also continued to create opportunities for others to do the same. She has set and continues to set an example through her audacious independence; her previous role as CEO of a modeling company, which prioritizes the health, comfort and careers of the models she works with, creating lasting, win-win relationships; and her clothes and shoes, which help women look comfortable and feel sexy. As she puts it: “The whole concept of women suffering for beauty was ancient, archaic and abominable” (312).

Freedom is often taken for granted in the United States, but island communities and strict religious groups such as Monsey make it nearly impossible for the people living beneath them to exercise their individual rights. In Haart’s words, to lead a fulfilling life, we must understand the importance of personal freedom, the freedom “to be yourself – to not have to hide your curves, your personality, your opinions.” (397). His book is a striking testimony to the essential value of personal freedom for the happiness of an individual. Her joy of wearing and then creating clothes she loved, of traveling to find inspiration for her shoes, of meeting people with whom she could discuss philosophy and literature, and of becoming an independent-minded and loving life, is a welcome reminder of wealth and the world is beautiful and why everyone should be free to enjoy it.

Brazen, the story of how @JuliaHaart grew into an independent, life-loving woman, is a welcome reminder of the richness and beauty of the world and why everyone should be free to enjoy it.
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