At home in the Jewish body | Loolwa Khazzoom
“Can you believe she’s Jewish?” “
The photo showed a young woman with straight blond hair, blue eyes and a small upturned nose. It was in the 1990s, and I was watching an ad for a Jewish dating site.
I was a young Jewish woman with curly, dark curly hair, black eyes and a classic Jewish nose highlighted on my face. Girls like me were regularly told – by family, by peers, by the media – that we weren’t pretty, because we didn’t look like, well, that picture on that Jew over there. dating website.
In high school, I scanned many major magazines targeting girls and young women, counting how many models had dark hair and eyes. In this whole collection I could count the models with dark hair on the one hand, and there was exactly one with black eyes – in an advertisement for the brand new blue and green contact lens option, with the slogan ” Now you too can have beautiful eyes!
It’s been almost four decades, and I still remember that slogan word for word.
At Barnard College, I loved the sight of classmate “Tamar”, a gorgeous Jewish woman with jet black hair, shiny black eyes, and an exquisite Jewish nose. Seeing her and recognizing how gorgeous she was, not despite her Jewish appearance, but because of it, reflected the beauty of my own features, especially my nose.
Then, like so many Jewish girls and young women on the east coast, Tamar had her nose done.
After that, it seemed simple to me. Ordinary. This realization, perhaps the most powerful of all, made me realize not only that I was beautiful, but that my own Jewish nose was a distinct part of my beauty.
As most people forget or choose to ignore, the Jewish people are originally from the Middle East and therefore historically share the physiological traits of others in the Mediterranean region – including the “JewFro” and the “JewNose”, which are not, in fact, exclusive to Jews but are shared by Arabs, Italians and others. As it mingled with the inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe, over the generations the skin and eye color of the Ashkenazi lightened, but other racial / ethnic traits remained.
For decades, a nose job – the act of erasing one of the last remaining physical marks of indigenous Middle Eastern roots from Jews – has been a rite of passage for Ashkenazi girls. By way of comparison, through generations of interbreeding with other ethnicities in the United States, there are now African Americans (including Jewish African Americans) with fair skin and blue eyes, who for the most part can pass for White, but still have the frizzy hair and nose shape of their African ancestors.
Here, too, black women regularly change their appearance, most often by chemically straightening their hair, erasing a physical mark of their African roots. While the cut nose and straightening of the hair can certainly be a matter of personal preference, that preference, in turn, can be the result of internalized racism passing, unchecked, as an aesthetic trend. Like when I bought blond Barbie dolls as a kid because they were “prettier” than darker ones.
Today, 30 years after graduating from Barnard, Jewish women still mutilate their beautiful Jewish noses, straighten their fabulous dark brown JewFros, and dye them blonde, even if it requires the use of chemicals that were previously used. proven to cause cancer. . All in the name of “handsome” or, more precisely, “not Jewish” appearance.
You know, so they may look more like this Aryan woman in the advertisement for the Jewish dating site.
For all of these reasons, and a handful of others, my band is releasing a new single and a new music video, “I love my JewFro! “in which I exhibit the very Jewish characteristics that have been denigrated for centuries, and that I and other family members have felt ashamed or self-loathing about growing up. The song incorporates the traditional song. Iraqi Hanukkah, and I am releasing the single and the clip on Hanukkah. This is because the holiday celebrates a daring uprising, an uprising against assimilation, an expression of radical self-esteem, a willingness to resist the forces most powerful people on the planet and defiantly declare, “I am a Jew. This is my home.”
And I want the Jewish body at last, at last feel like home.
Loolwa Khazzoom (loolwa.com) founded the band Iraqis in Pajamas (iraqisinpajamas.com), which combines Iraqi Jewish prayers with original punk rock. Her work has been featured in the NY Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and other leading media. Her two books, The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage and Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape, have been taught at Ivy League schools and universities across the United States.