The Invisible Model
by Rachel Silverman — Embry Riddle University
January 13, 2012 – 00:00
When Esther Petrack walked down the runway in the premier episode of ANTM season 15, she did so in a baggy long sleeve top. Confused, the judges asked what she was hiding. Enormous breasts, she told them, which she immediately exposed by pulling her shirt over her head. Standing in front of the panel topless, Esther is asked about her Jewish upbringing and whether or not she “honors the Sabbath.” The juxtaposition of her naked body and revealed religious identity, followed by her concession to work everyday of the week, unveils the dichotomous position of hyper-visibility and invisibility many Jews feel in the U.S.
During her tenure on the show, Petrack bounces between seen and unseen with her Jewishness always floating just beneath the surface. Initially exhibited as a “sexy” model because of her sultry looks and curvaceous body, during makeover day she fades into the background as the stylists do nothing but darken her already deep brown hair. When the women pose for an anti-bullying photo shoot, Petrack redefines herself as independent – a reframing of the label weirdo she accrued during her childhood days. Self-described as “gangly” and “flopping everywhere,” Petrack admits to coming “from a really different background” because she moved around a lot while younger and primarily spoke French growing up, not because she is an Orthodox Jew.
Not an attention seeking character, Petrack earns little screen time in the six episodes prior to her elimination. However, at home where minority religions are often relegated, the cabinet where she keeps her food and dishes labeled “Esther’s stuff” comes into scrutiny and speaking Hebrew made a novelty. When Tyra finally tells Petrack she will not become America’s next top model, her reasoning is that Petrack only has “one look.” Not an uncommon criticism for a model, however, Tyra’s description of that “one look” as “an Esther look” firmly situates her Jewish body and Jewish difference as simultaneously conspicuous and concealed.