In the slightly dysfunctional, overly simplistic, but ever-popular game of categorizing Jewish national figures as good or bad for the tribe, putting Mila Kunis in the good for the Jews category is pretty much a no-brainer for me. She’s beautiful, talented, smart, outspoken, and even bilingual. It is little surprise that Esquire has crowned her the Sexiest Woman Alive. While my reaction to the Sexiest Woman Alive announcement usually ranges from eye-rolling to maddening jealousy, these initial inclinations were transformed into a little spark of Jewish pride upon hearing Kunis had garnered this year’s title.
As America salivates over Kunis photo spread and charming interview with the magazine, I would wager that Jews are just a little more pleased. I, like many Jews, kvell when a member of the tribe, regardless of how observant or even willing they are to acknowledge their Judaism, accomplishes something big. This phenomenon is magnified when the accomplishment is in a field not typically associated with Jews, or something we’re stereotyped as being bad at, i.e. playing sports or being sexy. Centuries of telling us we’re weak, unattractive, and the like have made us burst with pride when our counterexamples hit the national stage.
For this reason, many of us, myself included, suspend our usual sensibilities, nee even our beliefs, when a co-religionist is involved. Not for nothing do I, a die-hard Yankees fan, adamantly refuse to boo Kevin Youkilis, even when he played for the Red Sox. Similarly, I took enough Women and Gender Studies and Jewish history courses to know that Jewish ladies have a legacy of being stereotyped as whiny, emasculating, sexually repulsive creatures. The cover of Esquire was glaring proof to the contrary, and I felt proud.
Then, I realized how ridiculous that was for a number of reasons. First, there are plenty of hot Jewish female celebrities out there already (Scarlett Johansson, Bar Rafaeli, Dianna Agron, the list can go on), so I/we shouldn’t feel like there’s anything to prove. At the same time, I have male friends whose favorite pastime is fantasizing about Natalie Portman and still make JAP jokes. A single, albeit nationally known, sexy Jewess isn’t going to drastically change things. Sometimes a figure comes along that can radically alter ethnic stereotypes, but it’s really rare, if not impossible. For those who have negative stereotypes of Jewish women, Kunis and her well-kept body aren’t going to change their ignorance and preconceptions. For them, she’s just another hot girl, not some ethnic/religious cross-bearer.
Moreover, as someone who strongly believes there are major problems with the media’s distorted standards for beauty and body shapes, it doesn’t really make sense for me to feel proud when a tan and fit woman with lustrous hair gets to grace the cover of a magazine. Kunis is Jewish, but she also easily fits the mainstream norms of what is considered sexy. While it’s nice to see a Jewish gal chosen, I can now take a step back from my initial member of the tribe pride and realize how insignificant and unexceptional Kunis’ honor is.
The fact that Kunis is Jewish isn’t enough to override my beliefs and allegiances as a non-size 2, feminist-minded American woman. I’d feel greater value and pride if someone who didn’t fit those molds were considered sexy by Esquire. Seeing Lena Dunham, Rebel Wilson, or Amber Riley on the cover would be much more impressive on Esquire’s part and rewarding to me as a woman, Jewish or otherwise.