When I was younger, I liked to coast on what was termed "natural beauty". As a die-hard tomboy who found all things girlie (dolls, makeup, ballet, gymnastics) BORING, I had the sense from very early on in life that I should not have to find my self-esteem in attracting a boy. I mean, I was my own person, with ideas and likes/dislikes. Why would I ever want to put on mascara just so some boy would like me? I wanted to be a beautiful person on the inside.
I have long outgrown my tomboy-ishness and learned to embrace my feminine side. Several years ago, I came to understand that after a certain age, a woman is expected to wear light makeup under most circumstances (in the workforce, at simchas, on shidduchim). And so I replaced my slightly over sized, "comfortable" skirts and turtlenecks with properly sized clothing, my "sensible" shoes for pumps, and find myself always on the lookout these days for a new fabulous lipstick or eyeshadow shade. I learned, in other words, that to be valued as a person, I had to act like a woman. After all, would we respect a man if he acted unmanly?
Speaking of men, one mitzvah that I take very seriously is doing what I can to remain attractive to my husband. While I do not, B'H', feel pressured to always be seen with a full face of makeup on, as some women do, I do always try to have a bit of makeup on when my husband is home, to ensure that my hair is neat and my clothes clean. And of course, this consideration for appearance is a two-way street; a man should attempt to remain appealing to his wife. That means showering enough and laundering your clothes enough to banish odour, trying to refrain from wearing hole-ridden clothing (especially socks) in our presence, and striking up a relationship with your barber. Because one thing any woman appreciates on a man is a good haircut.
I had a conversation recently with my husband about tznius, specifically internalizing the concept of tznius versus superficially adhering to the the letter of the law. The conversation turned to the wearing of clothing that may cover all the "important" parts but are tight enough to leave nothing to the imagination, spike-heeled boots, and/or shaggy-maned sheitels.
I mentioned that most girls/women who wear such styles do so to be deemed attractive by men- all men. The intention is to invoke a look on the street, to turn a head and garner attention. The impetus for such intention is a hyper form of that sensibility evidenced by most girls (tomboys excluded) to be considered the most physically beautiful. Girls fuss with makeup, with fashion, with hair, in an attempt to find the most attractive look for themselves. We could come up with several reasons for this general preoccupation, but that's a whole other post. Rather, the point I would prefer to focus on is that there needs to be a balance for everyone, men and women, between attractiveness and modesty.
I go on record as not being a fan of the snood. While I can appreciate that a mother of 6 would wear a snood out of necessity, because she has not time for herself and because her children would ruin anything else she might get a chance to shove on her head, I think we would all agree that it is nobody's best look. Having been in hospital several times in the past year and a half and having experienced the difficulty involved in keeping your tichel on under such circumstances, I can to a degree relate. And, as someone who wore the simplest of clothes for many years, I understand the comfort factor, as well as the sense that somehow "frumpier" clothing is more tznius. But, let's face it, frumpy is not more tznius; we are obligated to not render ourselves repulsive to our spouses. So those who dress in too understated a fashion could move a bit more to the "attractive" side of the balance and those who dress too provocatively could move a bit more to the "understated" side.
Similarly, while we are bombarded from within the frum community and from outside sources with pressure to "put ourselves out there", we should not believe that overtly "come hither" hair, clothing, or footwear is tznius- no matter how well our body parts are covered. Certainly, one should be physically charming to one's spouse. And certainly, one should present a pleasant appearance to the outside world, since our appearance reflects upon our families and even our community, not just ourselves. And, just as the frumpier side of the spectrum can be inappropriate, so too can be a "too attractive" appearance.
I know I am always striving to strike the right balance in my appearance. And maybe, when we all have it down pat, both men and women, our minds will be better freed to focus on other, equally important aspects of life. Such as that idea I had first as a child: to make ourselves into a nation of people who are beautiful on the inside.