I got really excited when the press route for Wonder Woman began and Gal Gadot suddenly made strong, stunning Jewish women the hot flavour of the month.
Then, as time wore on, I began to laugh at my own excitement. I don’t know anyone who looks like that. I may have seen one or two on Gordon beach or waiting by a trempiada in Emek Ayalon or standing gorgeously against a window on a #16 bus in Haifa.
But no, we’re not all 6 ft tall, confident beauties with adorable smiles, sexy hoarse voices and endearingly honest senses of humour.
I naively entertained the idea that, maybe here… here’s one for the ashkenazi girls. We can be tall, strong and gorgeous AF.
That idea crumbled pretty quickly.
Like other girls my age who are proud owners of ashkenazi genetics I end up in the short, dumpy pear shaped woman pile. Excuse us, but we do try to play to our strengths.
We know we’re not pretty unless we’re blonde (or blonde streaked).
We’re not skinny unless we’re wearing something high waisted.
Our legs spans mean we have to take three strides for every one of Gal’s.
We’re not confident unless our mother’s are mute by choice.
We are basically relying on a sense of humour, cooking skills, and the ability to nab a steady but unthreatening job.
You don’t see girls like me anywhere.
Not in books.
Not on TV.
Definitely not in theatres.
And if you do, we’re almost never the heroes.
When people say representation matters, they’re not being overly PC, they’re not pretending it will solve all insecurities, nor are they saying it is the one way to create inclusiveness.
Growing up on a healthy dose of TV meant I constantly took note when someone came on who looked different.
I looked different.
I knew from a very young age that just because I was caucasian didn’t mean I was white.
My parents weren’t loud about ethnicity or race, but being religious, I knew I stood apart.
My mother’s best friend is Catholic. My neighbour in Canada was a black Jehova’s Witness.
My streets looked more like Sri lanka, Trinidad, the Philippines and India than anything else.
Despite the tapestry of faces, limbs and smiles, it was always obvious that my features didn’t fit any culture’s ideal. This was effectively cemented in my mind on a bus ride (public bus) home from school. A man approached me and pointed to my nose, drawing out its abnormal length with a swish of his hands as he said “very Jewish.”
Yes, I am very Jewish. I have a massive nose. It’s a part of my Jewish face. It’s a part of my Jewish je ne sais quoi.
Lots of people in my community may do something to change a nose like mine.
I never could. It’s mine. So invariably big in the middle of my unremarkable yet mercurial face. It’s specially mine. No amount of tweaking it will suddenly make me beautiful.
Other girls didn’t have my nose. Not even the ones in my community, not even the ones from far off places, but especially not the ones on billboards or in ads(Rachel Berry in Glee barely counts).
I didn’t resent them for that.
Burning inside me amongst the isolation and low self esteem was the sense that I could be other things If I tried. I could be skinny like Mary Kate if I ate differently. I could be cute if I dyed my hair.
My Jewish nose would always be Jewish.
But did that have to mean the heroines on the big screen always had to be the opposite?
I questioned, then soon ignored the flagrant blindness producers and casting directors seemed to have when choosing people to play a female lead. I saw no real women when I turned on the TV and watched the blonde, brunette, and redheaded variations of the same size zero girls, find the love story of the century or beat the odds, or triumph over their own inner demons.
In my late teens I held out hope for change.
When my favourite legendary character was given a makeover, turning from vapid, cruel temptress, into a two dimensional, kind, strong and worthy figure, I was happier than ever.
Lots of people had things to say about her new portrayal and none of them were remotely relevant.
“She’s a historical figure. She’s meant to be white and blonde.”
My favourite character was being played by a black actress with curly hair and a gorgeous smile. This seemed to really bother people.
Who gives a shit if the legends made her white and blonde?
Why did it matter?
She was being improved, made to be more than a sexualised doll, even given a better origin story from which to grow and progress her character arc, and all people cared about was making her more like the awful depiction from 1000 years ago that wouldn’t inspire me for a second?
I more than liked this new version of the character(a LEGEND by the way. Not a historical figure). I loved her. She was beautiful, partly because her god given bone structure fit the right parameters for modern TV beauty, but mainly, because she was real beautiful.
It doesn’t matter that I’m not represented (big nose girl). It matters that real people are.
I watch these movies and these shows because real stories grip me, real stories are important and real stories have their own magic.
I still hate it when the main character is perfection with glasses on, and swiftly swiping them off her face makes her suddenly hollywood bangable.
Being perfectly, abnormally, impossibly skinny, or having perfect skin doesn’t make me relate to you, adding a layer of disconnect between these characters I’m meant to invest in, to feel a connection to and to possibly learn from.
I’m not saying TV is the place to go to for role models, but since we consume so much of it, maybe it should be more role model friendly.
It’s why I watch more British TV or more Israeli TV or even Scandinavian TV because I’ve seen boys and girls of all shapes and sizes and people without makeup on. I’ve seen zits and strangely formed noses.
It lends a sense of immediacy, drama and beauty to the whole thing.
Because being real isn’t ugly.
This girl in a hijab I am talking about is amazing.
She’s a character in a Norwegian show I watch.
She’s strong, with a tough exterior and a vulnerable interior.
She wears the coolest lipsticks and is top of her science class.
She wants to be a surgeon.
She also strives to be a better Muslim, setting reminders on her phone for prayer times.
She struggles to balance her social life with her religion.
She loves her non muslim friends and going to parties with them, though she doesn’t drink when they do.
She needs her girl squad like any girl does, for support, for companionship, for togetherness.
She thinks about sex, even though she tells herself her faith is stronger than casual satisfaction.
She tells herself that, but it’s hard to listen to.
She’s good at basketball and likes rap (Tupac) and pop.
She likes a boy.
His family is from Morocco too, but he’s not frum like she is. In fact he says he doesn’t believe in God.
She likes him because he’s funny, and smart and the kindest person she has ever met.
He gets her weird and her tough facade.
He respects her and makes her laugh.
He’s really cute.
They talk about religion. He thinks it’s a bad influence on society but is willing to listen to her argument.
They talk about the basics required to be a good person. They agree one one thing. Always strive to be kind to others.
She also has a best bud who is struggling to come out of the closet. She saves him from an abyss at one point. He, in turn, saves her from going dark inside when a group of people target her because of her religion.
She does something mean. She does something good and grand.
She’s visibly a more modest dresser in a crowd where no one is, even though she’s still stylish.
She’s never in a scene without her Hijab or a hair covering.
She says F**K when she’s with her friends.
There is no perfect waist line or delicate Scandi features but she is absolutely beautiful.
And for some reason, I felt her.
I felt her struggle to love her friends and please her parents at the same time. I recognised the pain she felt when she watched as everyone was being young and adventurous and she felt the strain of being prohibited to feel someone intimately.
I felt how protective she got over her friends and how much she just wanted to be better.
I completely understood her when she described prayer.
To her, the world was all this noisy chaos, but when she prayed, it all became calm, it all became quiet. Nothing mattered, because there was something greater. For five minutes your small chaotic life, is not so chaotic.
I understood her angers and her joys and her yearning.
Don’t blame religion, she begged,
Don’t let them use religion for evil.
I understood her when she fell in love.
I understood her doubt about a non believer, because I understood her desire for a relationship based on tradition and similar values.
I understood when she wanted to love him so badly but didn’t want to show it.
I understood a Muslim girl, felt her my reflection in her, more than I did an Ashkenazi woman from Rosh Hayain.
And that’s ok.
Nothing strikes me as odd that I related to this girl. Israeli TV has yet to create a complex Modern Orthodox Ex- North American Olah character I can get on board with.
I’m not going to fault the media for that.
It took them long enough to create an amazing female Bedouin character (played by a Palestinian).
Ethiopians are still rarities on the Israeli silver screen.
I know I still need to wait.
I lament the fact that I’m not Gal Gadot either. I didn’t grow up here. I don’t have that special wisdom that adds a sparkle to her smile, or that breezy confidence and careless honesty that make her eyes endless dark pools of gorgeousness.
I don’t have model like proportions.
I don’t speak the language like i’ve made love in it.
My cheek bones and jaw bones don’t arch beautifully likes her do.
I don’t know what it’s like to live thoroughly outdoors with some caffe turki, humus and hukah or go camping at a waterfall or a desert.
I don’t have those years of a breathtaking country burnished on my skin.
I’m Sana. The girl in the Hijab. I grew up in a cold climate. I’m the optimist clinging to her religion.
I’m the girl who can’t a get a cute boy to love her. I’m the one who is protective of her friends and who buys different lipsticks to show attitude and character.
I’m not small waisted.
I get angry.
But I always strive to be kind.
Her image on TV, her vagaries, daily highs and lows splashed across a computer screen, an iPad, or a phone, meant the world to me.
I’m sure it meant the world to other girls too.
Beautiful, strong, religious girls being real is freaking stunning.
I’d say we need more depictions of girls, just trying to be human beings, wearing their religion.
Look at us kindly.
We’re real beautiful too.
Representation matters. Seeing someone different but recognisable on screen, tells me, tells us, tells the world, that we are part of the narrative. We are here, we are not obscure constructs. It brings us moments of understanding and inspiration.
I’m the girl in a Hijab.
Maybe one day if i’m lucky I’ll have kids, and they’ll feel like Gal Gadot.
Both women deserve a right to show who they are to the world.