Miss Sheitel 2008

News that two young Jewish women, Leah Green and Samantha Freedman are in the running for the Miss England title was apparently meant to make me feel proud. After all, Miss Green told the Jewish Chronicle, “I thought that maybe I could try to get the message out that it’s not a bad thing to be voluptuous and a size 12 [a medium in the U.S.],” while Miss Freedman does the tzedaka shtick, “All the contestants have to raise money for a particular charity.”

Their accidental Jewish birth hardly seems relevant. They are not being judged on answers to soul-searching questions about their Jewish identity and they are just too skinny. Neither have the zaftig [Yiddish for ‘plump’ or ‘juicy’] beauty we associate with a little too much lokshen [Yiddish for ‘noodles’] in Friday night’s
chicken soup. Are we so insecure that we need to prove that Jewish women can also aspire and achieve the socially acceptable paradigm of Western beauty?

Advocates of the hijab have come up with the perfect counterpoint. In May 2008, Denmarks Radio’s youth club, ‘Skum’ announced a competition entitled ‘Miss Headscarf 2008’. The idea was to present ‘cool Muslim women’ who ‘often make up a very fashion-conscious and style-confident part of the Danish street scene’.

While only the actual hijab was being judged, the rules suggested “it should not be too flashy, expensive, show class or race differences, or draw too much attention to the wearer.” Muslims and non-Muslims were allowed to enter and 18-year-old Huda Falah was chosen because of the bright blue colour of her headscarf..

Here’s my plan for ‘cool religious Jewish women’ – Miss Sheitel 2008. Send in a photo of yourself in your favourite sheitel [Yiddish for ‘wig’]. Whether it’s the
‘Jackie’ with cascading curls, ‘Sandee,’ with luscious locks, or ‘Randy’ with a hint of mystery, you could be in the running for this prestigious award.

There are rules: no hair from the undernourished please. As one sheitel seller explains, “nutrition affects the quality of hair. Therefore, we do not buy hair from
the poorest places in the world and we do not take advantage of people’s misfortune. Rather, we buy the hair at decent price, and use only virgin, healthy and strong hair…So the hair we provide is healthy, gorgeous, bouncy, silky-soft and full of life.”

Good thing the hair is full of life, because I don’t want any faces full of life, otherwise I can’t publish photos of the winners in the haredi newspapers where
photographs of women are not allowed, or when they cannot be completely eliminated, their faces are airbrushed out.

In Golders Green, women who use George may have the competitive edge. Gorgeous George – half man, half Greek God – he has the Jewish women swooning as he snips and shapes their sheitels. With his bag of tricks, he performs trichological miracles for women behind the safety of their oak panelled doors and expensive security systems. Anyone winning this competition would have to dedicate it to George.

Bushra Noah, a young Muslim wannabe hairdresser could learn a lesson or two from George. She recently brought a case of discrimination against Sarah Desrosiers, the owner of a trendy hair salon owner who did not offer Bushra a junior position. Sarah argued that when Bushra made it clear that she would not, for religions reasons, remove her headscarf at work, Sarah felt that this young Muslim woman would not fit in with the image of the salon. Bushra was angry, appealed to the English legal system and to the public’s horror, a judge actually ruled in Bushra’s favour and ordered Sarah to pay £4,000 for “hurt feelings.”

While Bushra might be feeling vindicated in the short- term, if she had any sense, she would learn a long- term lesson from George and others who service her sheitel-wearing cousins. Here is a perfect opportunity to become THE Muslim hairdresser for Muslim women who may want their hair trimmed in the privacy of their own homes. Combine this with door-to-door hijab selling (cash only) and Bushra could be on the way to running a real yiddisher business.

–Modesty Blasé

Cross-posted to The Jerusalem Post blog.

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