Wra­pun­zelis­tas Of­fer a NEW TWIST On an Old Prac­tice

Forward Magazine - - Fore­ground - By Steven David­son

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.

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