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Beneath the Goth Look
Mom with a View

Beneath the Goth Look

There’s a real person inside whose book is deeper and much more substantial than his cover.


“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” How many times did your mother tell you that? The irony is that in the world of book publishing, that’s exactly what happens! But of course that’s not the point of your mother’s lesson. We tend to judge and label people based on superficial appearances. And sometimes we can be very wrong indeed.

A recent case in point. The other night my daughter and I went to see a musical performance. We had seats one and two. “You take two,” my daughter whispered to me when she saw the inhabitants of seats three and four. Beside us sat a young man, dressed in the Goth look with straight black hair shooting out in all directions and black leather everything dotted with metal studs. His female companion had hair that was definitely not her (or anyone’s) natural color and similar attire. I sat in seat two, my body carefully angled towards seat one.

We had a little time before the show and my neighbor got up to visit the snack bar. I exhaled a little and spread out in the seat – until he returned, popcorn in hand. I scrunched lower in my seat.

He seemed oblivious to my initial aversion and graciously offered me some of his popcorn. “It’s really good – cheese-flavored.” In that moment, the world turned.

Embarrassed and humiliated for being so judgmental, I politely refused and we fell into a wide-ranging conversation about Broadway shows, stars and performances. I was able to see the person beneath the mask (a particular irony since we were there to see The Phantom of the Opera) and to remind myself that my mother had some wisdom after all.

There are certain lessons that we seem to have to continue re-learning. I hope this is no longer one of them.

And yet, I think there is an onus on the other side as well. Our clothing does reflect who we are. It does say something about the community we identify with. It says something about how we want the world to see us. Dressing “Goth” is making a statement – I confess that I’m not sure what it is. Dressing provocatively also says something about our goals and priorities. (How many times can I tell young women that if they don’t want to be treated like an object they shouldn’t dress like one?). And dressing in a modest and dignified manner says something else entirely.

So the responsibility is two-fold. We should dress in a way that accurately represents our values and is consistent with who we would like to be and the message we would like to give others.

And, on the other hand, we need to look beyond the surface when meeting others to try to find the human being underneath, to connect with the essence of the Divine that resides within each of us.

Punk, Goth, hip, cool, whatever the fashion, remember there’s a real person inside whose book is deeper and much more substantial than his cover.

August 18, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Robert, August 31, 2012 4:23 AM

Deeper than the surface

I have to admit that I went through a Goth phase when I was a teenager. Teens tend to do things to get some kind of attention - even negative attention is still attention. Some like to challenge society at large by dressing in a dark or weird way but by trying to be good or smart people underneath - as if they are playing the role or being the living example of that saying that one should judge a book by its cover. Though I prefer that my sons won't have green or dyed black hair and wear dog collars or earings - I hope that if they do, they will be good people underneath that. Much more important than those older adults who look proper and do terrible things.

(3) Scott, August 26, 2012 5:47 AM

Do something

There are many ways to get attention. One way is to look different. One way is to behave in a way that attracts attention. The best way is way is to do something worthy of notice. All these people that dress funny are doing is trying to get attention by the way they look and fit in with a bunch of people that they think get attention by the way they look. That's it. Sometimes that dress code comes with obnoxious behavior, sometimes not. Their music and literature is all about feelings of alieniation. Their unifying theme as a subculture: feelings of not being important and not getting noticed. Guess where that comes from? When I see these goth kids I tend to feel sorry for them (unless they are of the stoned obnoxious tribe...then not so sorry as I should). The lesson I take from them is that I need to focus on giving my daughter an appropriate level of attention and teach her positive ways of feeling significant. Help her find how she can get the attention we all crave through good deeds and accomplishment. She doesn't have to join some bizarre tribe for that. There's enough room in our little bizarre tribe right here at home. It really is all about the parents. Hopefully with Hashem's help we'll do a good enough job as parents ourselves. I do not want to see my daughter in a dog collar. I've seen her splashing in the dog's water bowl...that's more than enough.

(2) ruth housman, August 21, 2012 6:51 PM


I was just in New York.. a true melting pot of culture, people, style. I saw lots of tattoos on old and young and really out there clothing. It's all The Greatest Show on Earth. The diversity of everything is probably no more visible than in The Big Apple. Do not judge a book by its cover! Good advice. We are all beating hearts and some more battered by life than others. Enjoy this moveable feast. The Goth turned out to be a very sweet guy. There ous a great book called The Book of Love and I think we are all part of the Show and there is certainly a lot of fun in a this.

(1) Chana Ruth, August 20, 2012 4:24 PM

Don't judge

Thanks so much for your article. It's true, how we look/dress is (or should be) a reflection of how we want to be seen and what we deem important. And you're right, we should not judge people who look differently from us. This is especially true amongst Jews. There is unfortunately a bad habit I've noticed amongst some "religious" people who judge very quickly when another Jew dresses in any way differently from their particular style. A woman might wear a scarf instead of a sheitl. Or a man might wear blue jeans instead of slacks. Some men wear their tzitzis inside their pants instead of outside, and some women wear knee-length skirts and others wear floor-length. Not wearing a "uniform" does not mean someone is any less observant or less dedicated as a Jew. Please, let's stop judging one another. There is a saying in Spanish: "Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos" which translates as "We see the face, but we don't know the heart." Some people "look the part" but act very poorly towards others, while others might look very different, but strive to live according to the laws of Torah. Don't judge a book by its cover. Let's all love one another and strive to live up to the ideals of Torah and particularly "love the Eternal your G-d with all year heart, and love your neighbor as yourself." Thank you.

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