Sex & Love

The Goyls Next Door

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week marked the launch of the sixth season of “The Girls Next Door,” E!’s reality show about life at the Playboy mansion. Kendra, Holly and Bridget are out, and Crystal, Kristina and Karissa … Read More

By / October 23, 2009

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week marked the launch of the sixth season of “The Girls Next Door,” E!’s reality show about life at the Playboy mansion. Kendra, Holly and Bridget are out, and Crystal, Kristina and Karissa (the latter two are twins) are in. As I curled up with Hef and the ladies, sipping a cup of Bedtime tea and rocking my sympathy pajamas, all seemed right with the world.

But as the half hour progressed, I couldn’t help but be struck by something peculiar. The prevailing aesthetic, I noticed, was one that screamed “Aryan Nation”: mounds of bleached blond hair, svelte hips…mounds of bleached blond hair.

Where, I wondered, were all the Jewish Playmates? Well, it turns out they’re not that easy to find because indeed, they are few and far between. Out of approximately 670 Playmates since the magazine’s inception, only a handful are known Jews. Cindy Fuller kicked it off in 1959, then Susan Bernard followed in 1966. Sally Sheffield posed in 1969, and Hef’s longtime girlfriend, Barbi Benton (nee Barbara Klein) was also a Jew. Lindsey Vuolo was next in 2001, and most recently, Anita Marks in 2002.

And so, when I first sat down to write this, I thought, “How unfair! Playboy gives preference to the goys, promoting a singular notion of beauty.” I thought I would be speaking on behalf of all Jewish women when I expressed my outrage that Jewish beauty is being overlooked or underappreciated.

But the more I look around, the more I realize that may be a bit out of touch.

Let us look first at Vuolo. Of all the Jews that have relieved themselves of their garments on the pages of Playboy, she seems to be the most notorious. Following her spread (haha), she was vilified by the Jewish community for the most part, and a nice summary of said vilification can be found here, in an interview she did with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. It’s a painful read, but if you feel like a humiliating smackdown, go ahead and click over. I’ll just wait. Done? OK. If you skipped that part, I’ll summarize for you: Vuolo felt she had done nothing wrong by posing in Playboy, and Boteach took her to task for it. By the end, Vuolo said that she had begun to feel “like a bad person.”

And Boteach isn’t the only one who feels like Vuolo let the Jews down; the same sentiment was expressed here at Jewcy. At other websites she was called stupid, blog commenters openly wondered what “happened to her,” and the general message was one we’ve all heard before: this is simply something that nice Jewish girls don’t do. I’m beginning to wonder: is the lack of Jewish representation in this mainstream magazine a result of narrow definitions of beauty, or have Jewish women opted out of the running? And if it’s the latter, is it because they truly don’t want to do something like Playboy, or because they’re afraid that if they do, they’ll risk rocking the Jewish community boat to such an extent that they’ll knock themselves right off?

Looking into our history and culture, it doesn’t take much digging to speculate about the root of our unease with exhibitionism, or nudity for any reason besides procreation or showering. In the strictest branch of our religion, a woman’s sexuality is literally hidden from everyone but her husband. It hearkens back to the notion that men will be too tempted to control themselves when confronted with female sexuality (ahem, Adam), and so it’s the woman’s job to cover up — which frankly doesn’t give much credit to women or men.

Additionally, typical antiporn arguments — which can be found at both of the above links — rely heavily on the notion of respect, or lack thereof, for women. Porn results in men respecting women less, society as a whole repsecting women less, and women respecting themselves less…in short, the complete undoing of everything feminism has accomplished to date.

But I would argue exactly the opposite. What is disrespectful is assuming that women who pose for porn magazines don’t know what’s best for themselves. What is disrespectful is analyzing porn only from the point of view of the consumer, thereby taking away the voice of the subjects, and all the while arguing that porn takes women’s voices away. And what is disrespectful is relying solely on stereotypes to understand the decisions a woman makes.

And besides — just to lighten it up a little here — broader representation of beauty is a good thing, whether it’s us Jewesses or another underrepresented population. I personally would like to see more curly hair, more dark skin, more curves. And I’d like for women who assume that being told that they “look Jewish” is a bad thing to have a change of heart (you know who you are).

Now, I’m not suggesting that every Jewish woman wants, or should want, to pose for Playboy. No doubt many don’t want to, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

But I’m disheartened, friends. I’ve always liked to think of Judaism as slightly more open-minded, but apparently we’re just another organized religion frantically waving our moral compass over the heads of our congregations (particularly, of course, our young women), and while we like to couch our panic in intellectual discourse, it seems we’re really no better than all the rest.