Friday, August 28, 2009

Fancy pants, blond Jews

-It has come to my attention that Paul Gowder - the very same Paul Gowder - spent $125 on jeans. I'm not sure whether to read this as a belated victory or as the right idea but the wrong approach - I remain in favor of respecting self-presentation-through-dress, but am not sure expensive jeans are necessarily the way to go. Then again, since I've recently 'improved' my wardrobe via not one but two Gap dresses that are actually nightgowns, I'm not sure I'm one to give advice.

-In the course of my blog-post-long campaign against the concept of 'natural beauty', I mentioned that 'natural' is sometimes used to describe hairstyles, especially those of black women, that do not involve use of a relaxer, even when a given style is far removed from wash-and-go. The idea being, however painstaking the style, however far from the hair's natural color or shape the results, if the one politically-significant process did not take place, the look is natural, 'natural' defined not as accepting one's hair in its natural state, nor as liberation from grooming routines far beyond that of the average man, but as being true to one's origins or standing up to a racist past.

An example, then, would be Piper Miller's description of her hair as "100% natural" - even when dyed blond, and more surprisingly, even when straightened, so long as the process doesn't involve chemicals. I clicked on her interview thinking her hair, which in the photo is an obviously artificial shade of blond, but not straightened, looked fabulous. Natural? Only if that peroxide rained down from the sky.

This definition of 'natural hair' as something more about ethnic solidarity than about letting hair fall as it may is, now that I think of it, not unique to black women. Jewish women, if thinking politically about hair at all, are far more likely to identify going blond than hair-straightening as ethnic treason. Yes, there are blond Jews, straight-haired Jews, and then there's Alicia Silverstone, but of the many, many, many of us born 'white' but with neither, it is my sense that the Jewish woman's version of 'natural' - the look that's least likely to be accused as a manifestation of self-hatred - involves above all else keeping the color dark.

Why is bleach to Jewish women what relaxer is to black women? (Assuming it is, as I clearly am. Thoughts from members of either group, or interested third-parties?)

I'm guessing it's because of the Nazi obsession with blondness. I mean, doubtless the Nazis frowned on frizz, but their desire to kill off non-blonds is, to an extent, their legacy. That obsession, known to everyone with even a sentence-long understanding of that part of history, was best illustrated to me in a book I found at the Heidelberg university library, which had a photo of a young child sitting in what looked like a doctor's examining room, but instead of getting checked for an ear infection or whatever, he was having his race 'tested' via the comparison of his hair color with a range of tufts of different shades, sort of like the ones at salons and in drug stores that let you pick your color dye.

Of course, there's also the fact of shtetls having been in Poland and not Shanghai (not that there weren't/aren't Chinese Jews, and not to malign their importance to world Jewry), not to mention the Roth-Allen Two-Headed Monster, or the fact that once Jews are defined as 'white', all features that challenge this definition grow more salient. Or perhaps there are just more straight-haired than blond Jews in this country - that's certainly the case in my own family, but the only statistics I found on this were from a more eugenicist age, and could well have been philo-Semites looking to defend the Jews by exaggerating the number of fair-haired among us.

< where I get side-tracked > One sees this today as well - it's still supposed to be somehow an insult to point out that Jews in American tend to have dark hair. Those who believe it 'racist' to say that there is such a thing as 'looking Jewish' nearly always offer up as evidence that many Jews are not visibly so, and the ones they mention are, almost without fail, Jews who look whiter than Jews stereotypically look, as in, 'There's no such thing as looking Jewish because plenty of Jews are blond/don't have massive schnozzes/OMG Gwyneth's grandfather was a rabbi'. That many Jews also look less white than the stereotypical Ashkenazi-American - darker hair, less 'white' features - presumably doesn't help the cause, a cause that's - again - claiming to be anti-racist. Jews' persistence in going around and looking, in many cases, phenotypically-identifiable is seen by those of this mindset as unhelpful - Judaism's supposed to be a religion, not a race, blah blah, and so forth. As I've babbled here before, it's in no way an insult to atypical-looking American Jews - black or blond - to say that the bulk of us look like Sarah Silverman, give or take. < /where I get side-tracked >

Anyway, clearly, the desire to make hair blonder and straighter than was already the case cuts across ethnic lines - what interests me is the significance of these terms depending on the group, even among groups who tend to come by neither trait naturally, and, of course, the use of 'natural'.

-Final item on the agenda: For better or worse, I have perfected the Eiskaffee.


Miss Self-Important said...

As a Jew with blonde hair, I have always wished I had been born with brown hair so that I could look more Jewish. But I don't dye it b/c that would be unnatural.

In short, I am your worst nightmare.

Withywindle said...

Dorky glasses ... blonde ... why, shayna maidel, I've fond a photo of Miss Self-Important!

Petey said...

If the all important Francophile Zionist demographic would get behind healthcare reform with the public option, everyone could get genetic therapy to grow hair in whatever color they prefer.

Withywindle said...

Britain has a two-year wait for hair therapy. And half the time they give you frizzy when you wanted straight, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

excellent, introspective piece!!