Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self-Loathing Something, aka Shiks-Appeal

An article in Saturday's Washington Post about parents hiring image consultants for their daughters ages 9-15 led to a lively shabbat lunch discussion between David and me. Although appalled, as a once-insecure teenager (ok, and as a now-insecure adult), I was far more sympathetic to the parents' plight than he was. We talked about what beauty is and who has it. David told me that I've bought in to some notion that Jewish women aren't beautiful -- a notion that he flatly challenged and rejected. Thank God, right, or he wouldn't be with me! He was on the money, because I could only think of one Jewish woman whom I think of as beautiful; David raised an eyebrow and told me that one of her parents isn't Jewish. Busted! I thought of a friend today who is, in my eyes, Jewish and beautiful. One beautiful, Jewish friend, out of many who are pretty, cute, or as we say in the South, "darling!"

I feel really bad about this, thinking that it's some kind of self-loathing. David thinks that I was socialized this way, and I think there's a strong likelihood of that. A friend asked me if my opinion extended to Israeli women, which it did not. That lifted my sprits, a little, until I found my heart (Bret Michaels would say, "I knew it in my heart, in my soul, and in my loins") thumping at the character in Spring Awakening who looked like he walked right out of a Hitler Youth march.

This led to more feelings of self-loathing guilt that, with a couple of notable exceptions, I'm generally not attracted to Jewish-looking men, something that was definitely in my husband's favor since he is not of Jewish parentage. I felt slightly better that I recognized the inherent cuteness of the Jewish actor playing the male lead, Malchior. But visions of Hitler Youth Hanschen in a field of daisies definitiely carried the day. Who was I kidding? I think the fact that his character is gay was a big part of my turn-on. Ugh! I am such a cliche! (I have to share David's very dry, knowing response to seeing a picture of Andy Mientus as Hanschen: "Oh, he looks like a vampire. That's why you like him.")

I hate to think that I don't see the inherent beauty in Jewish people. I can't blame this on some notion of "only tall, thin, Caucasian blondes are beautiful," because I easily see the diverse beauty in non-white populations. Just not my own. I feel guilty, but won't own all of this; I certainly have some cultural burdens I'm up against. David reminded me of an old Yiddish phrase that translates into "pretty as a shiksa" (colloquially translated as a non-Jewish woman). Today I was thinking of the phrase shiks-appeal. I thought of all the Jewish girls in Memphis who got new, non-Jewish noses for their 18th birthdays.

I've been thinking about this since Sunday (I still have to blog in pieces; I can't type as much as I used to pre-Lyme), but haven't had any great revelations. I read an article on the subject that basically confirmed that I'm not the only Jewish woman who feels this way, and that we indeed shoulder a huge cultural burden. I'm eager for comments, but particularly from Jewish women about their perceptions of Jewish beauty.

Worst of all, the Hanschen attraction persists and even has evolved. I'll just pretend it's because he looks like a vampire.


shoshana.danon-perkins said...

I read the article in the Post as well. At first I had hope about it. I thought it would talk about young woman who could use some self-confidence through helping them look like the best "them" (that is, not turning them into something else but helping them wear colors that are flattering, the right make-up to be worn in a very minimal way, flattering and age appropriate clothing, etc). I was sorely disappointed at what the article really covered. They touched on the making the kids older at a younger age, which I think is true. I don't think it is a good thing.

Lillie said...

I know my husband would disagree with you. Not only does he find me attractive, but he has a celebrity crush on Sarah Silverman. Also, I thought of two stunningly beautiful Jewish women from Memphis.

S said...

Ah, beauty. What a crazy topic, that can lead to truly crazy behavior. [And I mean CRAZY behavior!!]

I held the POV of “I’m not pretty” for a very long time; and only through intensive internal, emotional and spiritual work have I come to be able to see myself as pretty most days, and even beautiful some days.

It’s all inside – cliché as that sounds. People who are beautiful souls I naturally, instinctively see as attractive; people who have souls in trouble I generally don’t see as beautiful, much less pretty – just mostly sad.