'America's Next Top Model': Esther responds to the Shabbat scandal
She may have been one of the quieter members of the household, but until she was eliminated in Wednesday night's episode all eyes were on 18-year-old Esther Petrack this season. Not, as you might expect, for her particularly curvy frame -- she wears a bra size that would make Pamela Anderson blush -- but because she keeps kosher. Esther is Modern Orthodox, which posed particular problems in the modeling industry. Modesty aside, there was the question of working the runway on the weekends -- would she break the Sabbath for a designer? In the first episode Esther hesitates, and then replies, "I would do it."
Esther's perceived lack of observance caused an uproar in the Jewish blogosphere, even prompting her mother to leave a widely read comment on a rabbi's blog that defended her daughter. The assent to breaking the Sabbath was a result of bad editing, she noted, and came out of an extensive conversation with the judges on how Esther would work around her religious strictures to appear on the show.
"It's so frustrating," she said in a phone interview. "It's just not true. And the people who are writing these articles, sitting in their rooms typing, well, good for them. I'm glad they feel good about themselves at night. But I still kept kosher; I'm still a good person; I still give money to homeless people. It's not like I opened fire on a group of children or burned down a prison."
Esther was born in Israel but grew up in Brookline, Mass. While on the show she was never the first to jump in with a wisecrack, over the phone she was whip-smart and eloquent, dishing about the strenuousness of the competition and how her 30G chest foiled her designers photo shoot.
In the last challenge, the professional models you worked with were instructed to be particularly catty toward the competitors. Some of the ladies took it to heart, but you seemed to shake it off. Were you on to the act?
Yeah, Ms. Jay gave it away. He said something when he visited the house like "Don’t expect them to be the sweetest people ever." It’s a random thing for him to tell me unless it’s a hint. The camerawoman might not be the nicest person ever, my grandmother might not be the nicest person ever, but you wouldn't ever mention that. So I knew that we were going to be tested. Some people didn’t get it. I remember Chris and Liz and Kayal were really upset, asking why the models were so rude. I was like, "I know! Call me!" Guys, we knew this in advance. There’s no point in being mean back.
The scenes where they showed you in the house made it seem like keeping kosher isolated you from the rest of the girls in the house. How difficult was it?
It’s true that, for example, Chris and Liz would cook a meal for the other nine girls. I would be eating with them, but there were things that I just couldn’t participate in. I would have to say, "That looks delicious, Chris. I just can’t have it." But in a sense, we all had our own food drawers. You keep it with whoever you buy your groceries with, so for example Sara and Chelsey shared, etc. It wasn’t just everyone and then Esther.
How did you react when you heard about the hubbub over your observance?
I'm not going to take it personally, but it was frustrating. It was particularly bad when people who I know commented on it, like when one of my teachers spoke about it to their students. I get that what I did isn’t what everyone wants their daughter to do. I knew that going into it. But on the show I was a good person, and I don't feel like I did anything bad.
In an interview with the Boston Herald, you mentioned that you lost a lot of weight during the show.
We were always running, we were always stressed out. You don’t see really the schedule from watching the show. The photo shoot looks like it’s 20 minutes, but can be up to 14 hours. We would get home at 2 a.m. and have to leave at 7 a.m. And walking the runway is just physically hard, running in 6-inch heels too big for you. Some people gain weight, some lose weight from stress. I know that after I was eliminated, that night I slept for 14 or 15 hours.
Your makeover was less extreme than the other girls. Were you happy with it or did you want a more radical change?
I thought it looked great. I had no idea what they would do, but I didn't expect it to look that good. When the girls in the house were talking they all thought I got out the best. And I think so too. Thank God, no weave, no crazy bleaching!
I kept thinking that for most of the contestants, having a chest as large as yours would be a major focal point. But you kept it out of the spotlight. How did you manage it?
It definitely affected styling choices. For the runway, Zac Posen originally gave me a different outfit, and then just stepped back and said "Nope." But the one where it really affected me was the iconic designers photo shoot. I thought, "Well, I’m going to be a man. Maybe we should try to wrap my chest, otherwise it's just going to look ridiculous." But my chest was wrapped so tightly that I could barely breathe, that’s why my mouth was open in that expression. But in general, I think you just have to learn how to work around it. Can't fit in that shirt? Oh well, get another shirt!
-- Margaret Eby
Photo: Designer Zac Posen, right, fits Esther for a runway show on "America's Next Top Model." Credit: Mathieu Young / CW