November 6, 2003
Okay, full disclosure about ... full disclosure: I write emotionally revealing memoirs, but won't wear see-through blouses. Which is to say, I'm not the type of person who posts naked pictures of herself on the Web. But when a women's magazine asked me to write about joining an "erotic amateur photo site," I was intrigued. Let me repeat: they asked me, a petite Jewish woman who bears no resemblance to the cast of "Friends," to publicly display my body.
Now I don't know about blondes or porn stars, but I've never heard anyone utter the phrase, "Nice Jewish Girls have more fun." It's not emblazoned on bumper stickers because, when it comes to sexuality, we Nice Jewish Girls are reputed to be boring. And when it comes to beauty, well, let's just say that "she's really Jewish-looking" isn't a ringing endorsement in the dating world.
Add to these negative stereotypes the explosion of young men -- including Menschy Jewish Boychicks reading this very column -- who casually click on Internet porn sites several times a week. As the Nice Jewish Girl Naomi Wolf wrote recently in New York Magazine, this onslaught of even the so-called enlightened guys making cyberporn a part of their daily lives has resulted in "young women worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, [male] attention."
If that's how women with naturally straight hair and no hips are feeling, we Nice Jewish Girls have it worse. Sadly, while Jewish women have been spared religious guilt over sexuality -- the punitive attitudes, the talk of sin, the whole burning-in-hell thing -- our would-be Jewish suitors are trolling the Web for airbrushed photos of naked shiksas when they could have -- ahem -- us. What's up with that?
The Naughty Jewish Feminist in me wanted to find out.
And here was a perfect opportunity: an amateur porn site. Instead of competing with a gaggle of Heidi Klum clones, I figured these "real" women would have cellulite, lopsided breasts and dimpled skin. In a twisted way, it seemed like going porno in the farm leagues might help me feel more comfortable with my body. And besides, it was all being done under the guise of "journalistic research." But could I really post a buck-naked version of myself on the Internet?
The stickler, for me, was my breasts -- or lack thereof. But just as it's easier to tell strangers your intimate secrets, it seemed easier to flash my A cups at a bunch of anonymous eyeballs. So instead of going with an innocent photo and the handle "Left to the Imagination," I decided to take the plunge (albeit hiding my face) with "All Thongs Considered." The name was nerdy NPR, but the picture was pure porn star. So what if I needed a bikini wax? I felt giddy!
But the next morning, I woke up with a sense of dread. What if I didn't -- so to speak -- measure up? I raced to the computer and checked my "feedback section." Bracing for a dis, I clicked to find 50 praiseworthy comments -- ranging from the wholesome "super sexy belly button" to those utterly unprintable in a family publication. It was like my own personal version of "Are You Hot?" minus Lorenzo Lamas and the public humiliation. I checked the site as often as I checked my Amazon ranking when my memoir, "Stick Figure" -- also, incidentally, about body image -- was published. By week's end, instead of looking away when men eyed me at Whole Foods, I stared right back, bolstered by my thrilling secret: "You, sir, can see me naked!" Soon the positive feedback ("lovely Lolita!" "bodacious booty!") went to my head. I posted two more photos, and even considered revealing my face. I mean, if my body was getting rave reviews, shouldn't I get some credit?
Then it happened. One guy called me "scrawny" and a cyberfight broke out on my feedback page. Dozens of men came to my defense, but suddenly I stopped caring. I realized I was as pathetic as contestants on "Jerry Springer" baring themselves for public approval. Why did I need strangers telling me my body was okay?
"You go, girl!" one guy wrote, and so I did. I took my pictures off the site.
Weeks later, I spoke to a young rabbi friend about the contradiction between Judaism's liberal "Kosher Sex"-style celebration of sexuality and its denigration of Jewish women as the butt -- no pun intended -- of jokes about lack of sex appeal. I told him that growing up, I heard that Jewish women were zaftig, unadventurous lovers. Then there was the perennial joke repeated in mixed company at Chanukah dinners, the punch line having something to with Jewish women who lie there motionless, asking "Are you done yet?" Jewish women were the ones you were supposed to marry, not fantasize about.
"Wait, let me get this straight," my rabbi friend said. "You have naked pictures on the Web? Like, anyone can click on a site and see you naked?"
"Could," I replied. "I took the photos down."
"Oh." I heard the rabbi sigh through the phone line. "So, what makes you think we don't fantasize about Jewish women?"
I hung up glad that I'd gone porno for a week. Because while I don't expect to see WomenOfTheShtetl.com cropping up any time soon, in my mind, "Jewish-looking sexpot" no longer seems so ... counterintuitive. Now if only I could get myself to wear a see-through blouse.
Lori Gottlieb is author of the memoir "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self" (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and "Inside the Cult of Kibu: And Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush" (Perseus Books, 2002). Her Web site is at www.lorigottlieb.com .