Wrapunzelistas Offer a NEW TWIST On an Old Practice
The head scarf may elicit more assumptions than any article of clothing in Western culture. Is she a terrorist? Is she allowed to speak? Did she go crazy and find God?
According to most media depictions, the head scarf signifies which group owns a woman. Countless Wrapunzelistas, however, do not feel the fear and anxiety of oppression when they wrap their heads in tichels,
or crowns, and scarves. For the first time in their lives, actually, they feel liberated.
Andrea Grineburg started Wrapunzel, a business and community devoted to head scarves and the art of head wrapping, in 2012. Growing up “Jew-ish” in Canada, Grineburg says she was a fiercely independent atheist. But in her 20s, she recognized similarities between Judaism and her own beliefs.
“Somehow, wrapping my hair with a head scarf felt really right to me,” she said.
When she moved to Chicago with her husband, she was told that devout Jewish women in America generally wore wigs, not scarves. Isolated and unable to work due to visa issues, she began posting YouTube
‘I made this choice coming from a place of liberation,’ said founder Andrea Grineburg.
tutorials and writing a blog on head wrapping. “There weren’t the resources out there to [explain how to] wrap with the head scarves,” said Grineburg. “It’s definitely an art.”
Although Wrapunzel was originally intended for Jewish audiences, Grineburg estimates that now only a third of the community is Jewish; the rest includes Muslims, Christians, Pagans and atheists, among other backgrounds.
Two years after Grineburg began blogging, she expanded Wrapunzel into an online business that sells scarves, and the community banded together to form a Wrapunzel fan group on Facebook. “The women in this group, we’re not supposed to be talking according to the politicians. We’re certainly not supposed to be friends,” said Grineburg. “But through head wrapping, we have common ground.”
Though not religious, Rivka Spicer began head wrapping after she came out of a long, abusive relationship. “Wrapping is such a powerful statement for me about my bodily autonomy and who has the right to decide who sees what of my body.”
“Getting involved with the Wrapunzel community changed my life,” said Spicer. “Women from all walks of life, all colors, all faiths, all creeds, just lifting each other up.”
Spicer says she never thought she’d find refuge in a group of like-minded headwrappers. “I’d always (mistakenly) assumed that many women saw it as a chore, something that’s mandated by their faith or their menfolk,” she said. “It was quite eye-opening to realize that actually it was their choice, that modesty as a concept is a form of freedom rather than oppression.”
No matter where they’re coming from, Wrapunzelistas describe a new sense of agency and connection. “My entire life has been one roadblock after another, but wrapping has somehow given me an inner strength I didn’t know I possessed,” said Mary McKinstry-Whiteside, a middle-aged black Christian woman who survived a violently abusive relationship. “These are some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Through the Wrapunzel fan group, I, too, feel a part of a sisterhood. We are jewels. Precious, strong, yet gentle and full of love.”
College student Michelle Hodges recounted an assault experience in high school which made her feel “worthless” and led to anorexia and an array of emotional disorders. “My soul demanded to be expressed by a scarf, and I finally figured out why: I was once powerless and ashamed,” she said. “Today, I’m powerful, forgiven and fabulous. My scarf says this: ‘I am valued, and I value myself. I have thought about my femininity. I do not need your attention, and I will not compromise my boundaries to win your affection. I was once victimized, violated, but today I am valued, and I cover my head with art.’”
Through Wrapunzel, Hodges met Lexi Noor. Growing up in Indiana to an atheist family, Noor converted to Islam when she was 16 years old. But her family disapproved, compelling her to wait until her first day of college to begin wearing the hijab. “I had mixed feelings that day — the joy of becoming my own person, the joy of finally being able to identity with my faith,” said Noor, “but also I was somewhat afraid of the reaction I would get from fellow classmates.”
Inevitably, issues arise, such as when Noor’s roommate would bring her boyfriend over, which prevented her from taking off her hijab. She plans to move to an international dorm next year.
When Noor connected with Hodges, they began discussing the shared travails of covering in the dorms and on campus. “Really, what separates me from her,” said Hodges, “is the fact that she’s a Muslim and I’m a Christian — that she knots her scarf in front, while I knot my scarf in back.”
In just a few months, Noor’s relationship with the head scarf has been transformed multiple times. “I no longer belong to just my religious beliefs, but to a bigger community of women than I ever imagined,” said Noor.
“Wrapunzel has taught me two things,” said Hodges. “Number one: Normal people aren’t real, but love is. And number two: No one is ever that different from you.”
Steven Davidson is a Forward editorial fellow. Contact him at davidson@ forward.com
WRAP STARS: From left: Tikvah Nadia Womack, Laila Shaffier and Tzila Zeif.