Every school has a different name for them. The plastics, the Barbies, the Cool Girls.
In my school, a large co-educational Jewish school in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, they were the JAPs: Jewish Australian Princesses.
They were the girls with designer jeans and bottle blonde straight hair, who received a VW Golf on their 16th birthday. We would also call them the “popular group”, but in reality, they probably weren’t. They were a small group, and they kept to themselves. The other girls were partly scared of them, and partly wanted to be them. They were glossy, perfect and impenetrable. Best to admire from afar.
These are the girls I grew up with. Curls straightened flat, expert makeup, and a love of neutral tones. I was an oddity from the beginning. My hair was and still is a “Jew-fro”. I remember wearing tie-dyed pastel jeans to school once, and being looked up and down by an incredulous boy in my year group. “Are those leggings or pants?”
When I got to university, I realised that there were much broader fashion influences out there than the fish bowl I came from, ones that reflected my way of seeing the world. I could wear my curls out and big. I could apply dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. I could clash colours, wear bright florals and rock two types of leopard print.
I wish I had known these options a little earlier. I might have found the school experience a little less suffocating.
“We’re just 2 Jewesses trying to make a buck”.
And so types Ilana into a Craiglist advertisement, ushering us into the first adventure in Season 1 of Broad City. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a Comedy Central television show about two young Jewish women navigating employment, relationships, and friendships in New York City.
Broad City features Ilana and Abbi, two best friends who prioritise each other above any other relationship in their lives. They wear their hair out and natural. Abbi’s straight hair is unbrushed, her fringe constantly falling in her eyes. Ilana’s curls are huge and bouncy, an extension of her own effervescence. They hardly ever wear makeup. They dress entirely for comfort, for easily navigating the metropolis in which they live, usually in sneakers and stretchy leggings.
They also treat the men in their lives with merely casual interest, focused mainly on their capacity to provide good sex. When men passing them on the street tell them they’re pretty and “you should smile”, they respond by pulling the corners of their mouth up using their third fingers in a delicious mocking charade. When one man tells Ilana of his many capitalist ventures, she responds with “ew”.
These are two young women whose Y-front underwear clashes with their lacy bras. When they put out the abovementioned Craiglist add to clean apartments in their underwear, it’s to make money to attend a Lil Wayne concert. Sometimes, you just need to make a buck.
Ilana is best described as a shape-shifting Bacchanalian trickster, who flits around New York City pursuing pleasure while perpetually high on dope. Her style trademark is a feature bra: a strappy number peeking out from the crop tops she wears to her office job, or a red lacy one that finishes off off a discounted power-suit that she wears to lunch.
Her style icons are Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Missy Elliot. She wears black lipstick and baseball jerseys with short-shorts. She sports hoops that say Latina, because she thinks that the summer heat wave allows her to pass for several ethnicities, and is relishing the fluidity that this brings. She never wears full-length pants: it would make her impromptu gymnastic routines too difficult.
There’s an episode where Ilana dresses for her grandmother’s Shiva (a Jewish wake) in her own version of muted, respectful chic: a leopard print pillbox hat, a form-fitting skirt with sheer panels, a see-through lace shirt with bra showing, and neon pink lipstick. This is her most authentic way of celebrating her Grandma’s life: being entirely herself.
Abbi’s style is similarly comfort-focused, but subtler. She wears army jackets, oversized striped tees and skinny jeans, but underneath it all has a lower back tattoo of Oprah Winfrey’s face.
In one episode, Abbi buys a bright blue bandage dress for a rooftop party. It fits her like body paint; a display of her curves and her body confidence. She’s a more mature accompaniment to Ilana’s Puck persona, but she pursues the same life aims as her best friend: to have fun, to get high, and to pursue adventures at all costs.
Broad City features women who are not afraid to be exactly who they are. They speak about their bodies with confidence and pride. They heap enthusiasm and respect on one another for being gorgeous and having “a good tush”.
This show doesn’t always get it right, probably because it navigates a lot of serious material within a 20 minute blazey haze of doped up humour. But its presentation of two young women who display body confidence, individuality in fashion, and deep love for each other above all else is a huge inspiration to feminists like me.
These Jewish women proudly own their cultural identity, even if Ilana categories Abbi as a “high-class WASPy Jew”. They don’t let the weight of expectation stop them from doing what they want. I wish these sorts of female Jewish characters existed when I was at school. They might have made things a little bit easier for all the girls and boys crushed by expectations around appearances, or at least allowed us to enjoy our natural curls a little bit more.
Jessica Bellamy is a playwright and theatremaker based in Melbourne. She has written plays for Australian Theatre for Young People, Sydney Living Museums and Tamarama Rock Surfers, and is an Artistic Director for Outback Theatre for Young People. Jessica likes to write about pop culture, intersectional feminism and clever ways of flavouring tofu. You can read more of her writing at www.wouldjesslikeit.com