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Unhealthy Bullying

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Dvora Meyers
September 17, 2010
A few of the contestants last night.(The CW)
A few of the contestants last night.(The CW)

A day late and a dollar short. This is how it’s going to be in America’s Next Top Model recap world since I don’t own a television. (I dare you to say that without sounding pretentious.) I have to wait until the Interwebs grace me with a streaming or downloadable version of the week’s newest episode. So instead of Thursday, I’ll have this ready by Friday, just in time for all the Sabbaths Esther Petrack missed while shooting the show.

We start off in Venice Beach, California, where the girls are shown their house, a glass structure perched on the boardwalk, which results in much squealing. So much squealing. I know that it’s Cycle 15 and I should probably be used to it by now, but since it’s almost Yom Kippur and confession is good for the soul, I have one to make: Before last week, I had never seen an episode of the show. In fact, the only reason I downloaded the premiere was because a Rosh Hashanah dinner guest told me about the Modern Orthodox contestant, whom I then had to see for myself. Basically, I’m in it for the Jew. This is all new to me. I’m like a newly born babe exploring a very high-pitched, big-haired, catty world.

In addition to being transparent, the models’ house included these extras: A runway next to the window for additional practice and sand on the top level. I suppose this is where they’re supposed to prepare for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shoot but isn’t there a beach with all that stuff (plus an ocean!) just a few yards away?

They spend a little while bonding in their glass castle, and we learn that Kayla is a lesbian (and not the faux variety Katy Perry sings about). We also discover Ann’s taste in men. Chris, 20, attempting to play matchmaker for the 6’2” teen, asks her what she’s looking for. “Hobos are kind of hot,” she replies, as long as they’re under 60. Also, “He has to be a warlock. And he has to spit fire. And he has to know how to make sushi.” When addressing the camera, Ann acknowledges that she’s a bit of a freak with a goofy smile. Personally, I find her deliciously awkward. Ann, if Chris doesn’t snag a guy for you, might I suggest you try JDate? You may not find the wizard of your dreams, but you can definitely find some older men who will take an interest. Oh, and Jews love sushi.

After the models above-ground runway walk (four stories up with harnesses), the girls learn their next assignment via Tyra Mail (whose motto, unlike that of the U.S. Postal Service, goes something like this: “Neither bad lighting nor an atrocious weave nor six-inch heels will keep us from completing the catwalk”). They are doing a photo shoot for an anti-bullying campaign. The models-in-training will have to choose a word that others used to taunt them, which will then be painted all over their bodies. Ann immediately chooses “giant.” Kayla takes “queer.” And Jane, the wealthy 19-year-old from Baltimore goes with … “big face”?

Okay, I suppose you can’t choose which words others decide to bully you with when you’re young. But when Tyra Banks asks the girls to subvert the bully term with one of empowerment, the Princeton student (whom I vote “most likely to end up in the New York Times Weddings section”) came up with “big square head.” C’mon, Ivy League girl, you had to have taken the SATs and done reasonably well on them. But her strong bone structure and jaw line, if not her imagination and vocabulary, were what mattered, and she sailed through to the next round. Ann (who counteracted “giant” with “Amazon”) took the top prize, and Kayla, who was visibly shaken at having “queer” written across her body, was the runner-up.

By now, you guys must be wondering: Where’s Esther in all of this?

Esther, enacting the meaning of her name, was mostly hidden throughout this episode. She was not seen interacting with the other girls, nor did she get any sound bites or directly address the camera, as almost every other contestant did. Her lack of screen time probably doesn’t portend good things for her. She doesn’t seem to be one of the stronger personalities of the bunch, nor did she take a good photo. Jay Emmanuel, observing her pose with the words “weirdo” and “independent” scrawled across her body, notes that while he no longer worried about how she’d handle her large bust, he is concerned about her awkward posing. “Looks like a crab claw coming over shoulder,” he said, describing her gangly arm placement. My first thought: Not kosher! But sadly, it was a trayf and true observation.

What Jay didn’t mention was Esther’s seeming inability to pose with her mouth closed, which is actually more worrisome. Both during the elevated runway and the photo shoot, her lips were unattractively parted. This made me recall a recent exchange I had with another Tablet Magazine writer, who has a name for this syndrome: Orthodox Jewish Girl Mouth. He had noticed it while Esther was talking during the premiere, that her mouth was always a bit more open, that she showed more tooth and gum than average, which he believes is a trait of the observant female. Now, having been raised frum, I probably suffer from the disorder, so didn’t realize it until it was pointed out to me. (Also, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s an actual “thing.”) Still, it seems like this, and not halacha, might be her undoing.

Fortunately, Esther’s picture was not the worst of the group this week, so she escaped the bottom two. That honor belonged to Anamaria, a 19-year-old from Queens, and Terra, 24 (one part of an annoying sister duo), who broke down in tears during her photo shoot and, according to Tyra, “was too obvious” in her posing. Um, Tyra, didn’t you send the girls down a four-story-high runway earlier in the episode to literalize this season’s motto, “high fashion”? Pot, meet kettle?

Anyway, Terra survived to model another week. Anamaria, not so lucky. Tyra informed her that she was being sent home because her body didn’t look “healthy.” She holds up the photo that had been selected of Anamaria after the shoot. “The reason this photo was chosen was because you are covered.” Ouch.

At the beginning of the episode, Anamaria told the others that she keeps herself on a calorie-restricted regimen and weighed a mere 110 pounds at 5’10” (!). Even the other very slim models were aghast. But I need to come to Anamaria’s defense, at least a little bit. It’s not as though we’re a month into the competition and in that time she has dropped considerable poundage. It’s the second episode of the season. She strutted in a bikini right in front of the panel last week and was put through to the next round. If her body was so objectionable and unhealthy-looking (which it was), then why hadn’t she been eliminated earlier? To make an example of her, of course!

The judges congratulated themselves on their “social consciousness.” They were referring to addressing the issue of teen bullying with a photo shoot that involved having gorgeous young women, made up to the hilt and clad in just bikinis with “bully” and “power” words written across their bodies; but they could’ve just as easily been referring to this ouster of a sick girl. Diane von Fursternberg, on behalf of the Council of the Fashion Designers of America (she is the president), announced, “Beauty is health.” Eye roll please!

All of that said, it was hard to have much sympathy for Anamaria, whose sound bites were a collection of putdowns directed at the other girls, interspersed throughout the program.

“I am more high fashion, more versatile.”

“All the girls here really don’t have the potential to take it to the next level.”

“The other girls have a busted walk.”

She also called the rest of the competitors “small town.” Um, Anamaria, Esther is from Boston.

Tyra, playing the role of a Jewish grandmother, suggested that Anamaria eat “some avocado, a little bread with butter.” I would’ve suggested some chicken soup and brisket, but they are in L.A., and when on the West Coast, eat as the Angelenos eat.

Oh, and speaking of non-eating: Have an easy fast!

Dvora Meyers is a journalist and author based in Brooklyn.