Friday, December 3, 2010

Interview: Esther Petrack - Revelations

To say that the reality show America’s Next Top Model has spawned some interesting characters over its 15 “cycle” run is probably an understatement. One of the latest personalities to come out of this franchise is an unlikely contender in the form of a religious Jew with a body that is more Playboy than runway. These outward contradictions have been the subjects of debate and criticism ever since her first appearance on the show. geeKeWL caught up with Esther to get her side of the story and her thoughts on modeling, being different, and growing up.

geeKeWL: Without cheating, if you had to guess what the more popular Google search terms are when searching for your name, would you guess it’s about your religion or your breast size?

Esther Petrack: Probably religion actually. Should we test this now?

Esther Petrack: I was very wrong

geeKeWL: Interesting - right? So why do you think it’s more popular?

Esther Petrack: Yeh it is. I mean, being honest: more people notice breast sizes than religion. All different types of people might be interested in that. Probably not that many non-religious Jews are particularly interested in the state of my soul.

geeKeWL: What do you think people are hoping to find when searching for that?

Esther Petrack: I have no idea. Maybe find out if it's a real size? For lots of people it's also probably just hoping to find pictures.

geeKeWL: Does it weird you out? That it’s sort of your "claim to fame”?

Esther Petrack: Yeah, it is weird. I mean, I knew it would be a topic. At auditions, Michelle Mock (the casting director), made me tell her my size, and she did a double take when I told her. So yeah, I figured out they would make the TV.

geeKeWL: What about before that, when you were thinking of applying to be on the show. Did it even cross your mind that it would be a topic of interest?

Esther Petrack: I didn't really think about it when auditioning, but once I thought of my chest I realized that I was the only girl in the whole audition room who actually needed a bra. Then I realized it would be a point about me that would make them take me or reject me. I thought it might tip the scales, I just didn't know in which direction.

geeKeWL: Do you have a hard time find bras?

Esther Petrack: Yes I do. There is one store in Israel that has bras that I can buy. Apart from that, I have never entered a real store with my size.

geeKeWL: Are they fashionable or just boring grandma bras?

Esther Petrack: Some are boring and useful but some are actually really pretty, with flowers and everything.

geeKeWL: That’s cool. It’s important to feel sexy.

Esther Petrack: It is.

geeKeWL: In general are you one of those girls who usually wears frilly lacey underwear or do you usually go with "useful?"

Esther Petrack: Useful, but colorful. Comfort is a huge plus for anything.

geeKeWL: Why do you think some girls will sacrifice comfort for style, even when no one can see their underwear?

Esther Petrack: Because you feel pretty and YOU know it's there. Others don't really matter that much, you dress for yourself. So, you also pick underwear for yourself.

geeKeWL: So you don’t need fancy underwear to feel pretty, you feel pretty even in plain stuff?

Esther Petrack: It depends on the clothes.

geeKeWL: Being a woman is so complicated... I don’t envy it!

Esther Petrack: Haha.

geeKeWL: So, speaking of being self-conscious: what was your middle/high school experience like considering your size? Did you try to hide it?

Esther Petrack: Oh lord. Middle and high school... Well I was always taller than everyone and physically didn’t fit in already. So it was really just another way in which I was awkward.

geeKeWL: Did kids pick on you for the height?

Esther Petrack: I guess. I was just taller and thinner and had a different body than all the other girls, so it was definitely something noticed by people but I hear horror stories about other girls and I didn't really have that many horror stories. It was more… discomfort.

geeKeWL: So to cope with the discomfort did you actively try to hide what you could? It’s hard to hide height but other things are more concealable, right?

Esther Petrack: Yeah I tried to hide what I could, but sometimes it's harder than you would think. You learn tricks, like slouching. I've noticed that people who were tall as kids tend to slouch as adults and girls with bigger chests tend to slouch so I'm working on my posture right now.

geeKeWL: Pobably due to back issues…

Esther Petrack: Yeah, but it also hides what you have a bit. My friend is only 5'6 and she has terrible posture because she grew before others and was always self-conscious about being tall.

geeKeWL: It is interesting how the things that happen to us as "kids" shape us as adults - even something so trivial as when one started to grow.

Esther Petrack: Doesn't Freud say that how we act towards the opposite gender as adults is really acting out on childhood sexuality? It really controls everything about us, how we grow up.

geeKeWL: A lot of his theories go back to childhood experiences. Speaking of which, how would you rate your childhood? I know you come from a religious home, but generally speaking.

Esther Petrack: I don't know how I would rate my childhood. For all intents and purposes, it wasn't bad. Roof over head, food in stomach, clothes on back, etc. My family moved around a lot.

geeKeWL: Makes it hard to have stable friends, right?

Esther Petrack: Yeah. And that was a bit hard for me, because once I got good friends who I liked, we left, and then I would feel uncomfortable in the new place. It would be hard for me to make friends again because culturally, socially, and sometimes even linguistically I just didn't fit in - or at least didn't feel like I fit in.

geeKeWL: So, since you've probably developed a way to cope with not having tons of friends or fitting in like everyone else - would you call yourself a loner at heart?

Esther Petrack: I do love my alone time, but I don't think I'm a loner at heart. I'm just a bit shy around people at first. I simply need a bit of warm up time. I need to let down trust walls and then I'm fine. I love my friends and being social and spending time with them. It just takes a bit to be really comfortable.

geeKeWL: If you had to choose between hanging out with friends or doing something at home alone which would you pick? I feel like you're getting one of those personality tests on the internet now.

Esther Petrack: Friends. Hands down.

Esther Petrack: Haha so true, like the Facebook quizzes.

geeKeWL: Which are all insanely silly!

Esther Petrack: I know. Except my friend just took a "Which character are you from Harry Potter?" quiz and the answer was a full paragraph long and it was scarily accurate.

geeKeWL: I've never understood those "which character" are you quizzes though. Let's say the quiz pegs you correctly, now what do you do with the answer it gave you? Do you try out to be in the next movie? :)

Esther Petrack: I think you just feel really cool for 1 minute.

geeKeWL: If you could take any Facebook quiz, like on any subject or topic, what would it be?

Esther Petrack: I have to admit, I'm a sucker for the "Which character/person are you from ...." quizzes.

geeKeWL: You wouldn’t want to find out when you are getting married? Or how much money you’ll make? Or anything crazy like that?

Esther Petrack: Oh that's true, or the ones that tell you how you die.

geeKeWL: Would you want to know that stuff?

Esther Petrack: No, It takes out all the surprise out of life if you actually know.

geeKeWL: True, I guess some people just want to know and that’s why they take the quizzes? Or perhaps it’s just boredom. I wonder if anyone really believes there is anything of value in those quizzes.

Esther Petrack: Boredom seems like a better explanation

geeKeWL: Boredom is why people do a lot of things online... like searching for your cup size!

Esther Petrack: This is true.

geeKeWL: Going back to your high school years and being different:
You've said that part of the reason you got into modeling is your stature/build. Now that you've seen some of the struggles a model with your bust size has in the fashion modeling world do you still think you're "built for modeling?"

Esther Petrack: Not really. I mean, I make the height requirement and the weight one (although I am a bit bigger than many models, who are size 0) but I do have a chest size which doesn't really appear in modeling - though I do fit into sample sizes. I know it will limit me.

geeKeWL: In recent interviews you say that you want to continue pursuing modeling and travel the world, etc. Do you still feel that way?

Esther Petrack: Yeah I do. You know, see where the day takes you.

geeKeWL: Basically you're saying that even with the struggles it presents you that you want to see it through.

Esther Petrack: Yes. I can't really imagine having gone through Top Model and the aftermath and all that craziness for nothing.

geeKeWL: Is part of the reason you want to continue with it because you went through the ANTM experience and you feel like it would have been a "waste" or do you have a passion for it?

Esther Petrack: No, I really do have a passion for it inside. I just don't really get people who went through the gauntlet that is ANTM and its aftermath and then just stop or give up or whatever. But maybe I'm just saying that because my aftermath was so much more than usual.

geeKeWL: By "aftermath" you mean all the controversy about you and your religion?

Esther Petrack: Yeah. It is a bit weird to Google your name and see "esther petrack 30g."

geeKeWL: You are definitely one of the more unique contestants from throughout the years.

Esther Petrack: Yeah and it's funny because i have such a different backstory yet I am barely aired on the show.

geeKeWL: I guess people spotted something/someone interesting and latched on to it for the controversy. People love that stuff, gossip/drama/etc.

Esther Petrack: It's part of the show.

geeKeWL: Part of all "reality TV."

Esther Petrack: For sure.

geeKeWL: Speaking of the drama - in an interview you said at first when you saw all the critical opinions of a "religious Jew on Top Model" you wanted people to like you and cared about everyone’s opinions but over time have learned to ignore the negativity and live your life the way you want to. Do you think that the whole experience has jaded you as a person? Maybe made you tougher? Has it changed your personality?

Esther Petrack: I think it has jaded me to a certain point. I used to be a much more "if he has the right intentions, he's ok" type of person but now I really do see how much actions speak louder than words, and that counts for me too. I know Top Model isn't for everyone, let alone someone from the religious world but some of the negative criticism from the show had gotten to me. Then I said to myself: "this is ridiculous; I'm not going to destroy myself over what my high school teacher, who saw me once a week, thinks about me."

geeKeWL: So do you think this whole process of "hardening" is what growing up is all about? Deciding what is and isn’t important.

Esther Petrack: Yeah, it is growing up. The show just pushed it to an extreme.

geeKeWL: It sped up the process for you…

Esther Petrack: Yes, and sometimes I wish that hadn't happened.

geeKeWL: A little traumatized?

Esther Petrack: A smidge, probably. I've even developed this extra sense of knowing when people are looking at me and recognize me from the show, because it's a very specific look, and I'm 99% right and I wish that wasn't the case.

geeKeWL: So you can tell when someone is staring at you?

Esther Petrack: Yeah, but it's more subtle than that. They turn their back to me a "stretch" several times - something like that.

geeKeWL: You've gained a superhero power!

Esther Petrack: I know, the CIA should employ me!

geeKeWL: Let’s say you walk into a store, someone notices you from the show, but they don’t want you to know that they did. They will try to sneak peeks without you noticing - but you notice anyway?

Esther Petrack: Yep

geeKeWL: Is it flattering, or just creepy?

Esther Petrack: Flattering at first, creepy after a while - but they're nice people. All (or almost all) my fans have been really cute and great, it's just a weird thing for me.

geeKeWL: The newfound fame is still something you're getting used to.

Esther Petrack: Yeah. On my way to school today these 2 Chinese girls and guys recognized me and talked to me in broken English and that was really cool, but still crazy. It's things like that.

geeKeWL: You know, it’s weird for fans too. To see someone they watch on TV in person. There’s no "good" way to approach the person, even though you really want to.

Esther Petrack: Oh yeah I know, and so we all end up nervously laughing for 10 seconds when we start talking

geeKeWL: Have you ever been on the other side? Seeing a celebrity you're a huge fan of?

Esther Petrack: No, sad life.

geeKeWL: Aww…

Esther Petrack: In France, my mom and grandmother saw Gerard Depardieu in a market, but they (and everyone there) refused to say "hi" because the French are apparently above liking celebrities and recognizing them.

geeKeWL: Kind of like New Yorkers. We pride ourselves on not getting excited about celebs.

Esther Petrack: Really? I guess it’s the whole "We're too good to bother him, he is just a normal person and it would be ridiculous to think otherwise. I'm not going to be that asshole who bothers him while he's shopping."

geeKeWL: Thats definitely very similar to the "true NY’er" thinking - plus I bet every person who lives in France has seen him at least once or twice anyway! He’s like the quintessential French celebrity.

Esther Petrack: There are actually lots more from where he came from. France has its own celebrity order. It's always funny to see Cannes Festival pictures because it's usually just the biggest American celebrities and then there are all of the celebrities from French reality shows and things like that. Kinda like seeing Snooki at the Oscars next to Helen Mirren.

geeKeWL: That’s. a really interesting way to look at it. She hasn’t been at the Oscars yet has she?

Esther Petrack: I don't know, I hope she makes it there though.

geeKeWL: Really? So you're antiestablishment then.

Esther Petrack: No, I just love Snooki

geeKeWL: Does she know?

Esther Petrack: I don't know.

geeKeWL: I don't think your family will approve Esther…

Esther Petrack: For one of my high school classes the teacher wanted us to submit papers using nicknames to make sure he graded fairly. There were literally fights over "Snooki." In my class alone three different people chose her but then they changed to "J-Woww" and "The Situation" so I got Snooki in the end.

geeKeWL: Wow, she has a huge fanbase.

Esther Petrack: I know, we had a whole underground GTL club.

geeKeWL: What did you guys do in this club, dress up and reenact scenes from the show?

Esther Petrack: We just talked about last night's episode.

geeKeWL: I have to admit... I’ve never watched it.

Esther Petrack: Really? You’ve missed out

geeKeWL: It’s almost so popular now that I feel like I should just let it pass. It will never be the same.

Esther Petrack: Yeah, we pride ourselves in having loved the show before it was so huge.

geeKeWL: So, what celebrity would you want to meet if you had the chance? (beside Snooki!)

Esther Petrack: Hmm, I really don't know. I just would hope the person would be nice because you always hear stories of mean celebrities.

Esther Petrack: Who would you pick?

geeKeWL: Well I’ve met a few...

Esther Petrack: Whom have you met?

geeKeWL: I’ve met Sarah Silverman twice.

Esther Petrack: Is she nice? She always seemed a bit dramatic for me.

geeKeWL: Fairly nice. Nicer than her "persona." I guess she is dramatic. It’s sort-of her “thing.”

Esther Petrack: Yeah her persona is not the kindest person.

geeKeWL: Hey, it’s what gets the laughs. As a religious Jew, how does that make you feel? She’s Jewish but raunchy and controversial. Do you frown upon it or whatever works for her?

Esther Petrack: Whatever works for her - I mean, the show isn't exactly my thing but that's just personalities.

geeKeWL: You seem pretty "liberal" for someone who calls themselves religious... on the whole.

Esther Petrack: I think that what I do is what I do. I can respect my religion to a level where I'm comfortable and still not de blinded by it.

geeKeWL: I know you're young, still growing up, deciding who you are and how you will live your life but do you think it’s fair to call yourself Orthodox even though you're pretty liberal when it comes to religion? What is your motivating factor to stay religious? Is it your parents or does it have a deeper meaning for you?

Esther Petrack: I usually call myself just "religious" at this point. I actually love Judaism. I grew up with academics and emphasis on thought and I can relate to many things in the religion. I really like how it's an active religion, where it's not just a religious leader who tells you what to do, but you also have a responsibility to learn and delve into texts etc. yourself. Of course the fact that I was raised with it makes it easier for me. It's a bit hard to grow up without the Sabbath and then start doing it, and stop using electricity etc. on Saturdays as an adult. Being out of my parent's house I could stop practicing, but I genuinely like it. It's interesting to me and it enriches my life, you could say.

As far as being "Orthodox," there are lots of people who are completely religious and follow Jewish law and yet are open to the outside world and interact with/within it all the time. Some seclude themselves, but many are very open.

geeKeWL: I guess all the controversy came from you presenting yourself as being Orthodox and then not really following up on the "typical" things people know religious Jews to be.

Esther Petrack: Yes. For example, on the show I did not wear very modest clothes, and modesty is a value in Judaism. I think people were upset because they saw me a repelling everything I had grown up with while dragging them (religious ideals) in the mud.

geeKeWL: But you weren’t doing it for that reason.

Esther Petrack: Not at all. I did the show because I wanted to be a model but did not know how to start out. It's very easy to jump to conclusions and get angry.

geeKeWL: So many things are easy to get upset about - especially when you’re religious.

Esther Petrack: I think it's easy for everyone - it's just a different value system.

geeKeWL: You've said you want to continue modeling and will go wherever it takes to continue your career. I know that in Orthodox/traditional families there is a lot of importance placed on getting married and having a family early in life. With this conflict of interest what will win out in the end?

Esther Petrack: Well, considering I'm single and don't really think I've met the love of my life yet... I plan on getting married when I find someone who I'm sure I want to spend the rest of my life with. There isn't really a specific timeline set.

geeKeWL: Do you subscribe to the whole dating for marriage thing that a lot of Orthodox Jews follow? Or are you more liberal about that too?

Esther Petrack: I come from a Modern Orthodox community and some people go through the whole arranged dating for marriage program but people everywhere, not just in religious communities, sometimes get set up with guys (or girls) by friends. I'll admit it, deep down I'm a romantic at heart. Maybe I'll meet my husband when we bump into each other at Dunkin Donuts and I accidentally spill my coffee on him, maybe I'll be set up by a friend, who knows?

geeKeWL: You never know... but it sounds like you would prefer not to be set up by parents/family.

Esther Petrack: No, I just want to have a happy, healthy marriage. I guess it's like babies: as long as they're healthy, who really cares if it's a boy or a girl, right?

geeKeWL: Do you actively date? Or are you not thinking about that stuff right now?

Esther Petrack: Not really thinking about it right now. I don't really know who I would date. In my high school all my male friends who I was actually friends with were like my brothers, so that would be almost like incest.

geeKeWL: You could date your fans!

Esther Petrack: Hahah, of course!!

geeKeWL: Well if you dated now, in Israel, and found someone special, and then left for work it would be pretty challenging.

Esther Petrack: It would. It would suck.

geeKeWL: Do you think that, in the back of your mind, you know that and that’s why you kind of avoid doing the whole dating thing?

Esther Petrack: No, I just haven't met anyone who really would interest me in that way. Just nobody who I really would be happy to date - just kind of friends or random guys.

geeKeWL: Has it always been like that for you (in high school)?

Esther Petrack: No, in high school it was just that all my guy friends were like my brothers, it was just a different dynamic. I have had boyfriends before; I just want to go out with a guy because I want to, not just because it's what people my age should be doing or something.

geeKeWL: That is understandable. It’s tough in this day and age because people are dating younger and doing all kinds of other stuff younger too... if you know what i mean.

Esther Petrack: Yeah, my friend who has a sibling in middle school was saying that her sibling has a new girlfriend. I worked with kids in an inner-city school last year and they would say things and knew things I never came even close to knowing at that age.

geeKeWL: It’s a crazy world we live in!

Esther Petrack: And it's changing every day. Jeez we sound like grandparents! But it's true, especially with the internet everything is happening faster.

geeKeWL: It’s funny to think that the ones criticizing you for showing your bra/bikini top on TV are the old generation, then there’s your generation who’s showing it on TV, and then there are kids who wouldn’t even blink twice at seeing it on TV.

Esther Petrack: And who wouldn't blink twice at showing it either, constant evolutions I guess.

geeKeWL: Or devolution :-p

geeKeWL: So let's say you do land an amazing contract and start touring the world as a model, will going to school in the USA take a back seat to your career? Or will you try to balance both?

Esther Petrack: If I potentially landed an incredible contract with amazing opportunities and started touring the world, I don't know what I would do. I definitely want to go to college though and get at least a B.A., so think I would try to balance both. Maybe I would end up taking time off or deferring studies one more year but I would somehow finish my degree.

geeKeWL: What you want to study in college - any particular field you want to get into?

Esther Petrack: In college I think I want to study History, International History to be more specific (kind of like International Relations except for back in the day). I love seeing how different countries or historical regions interacted with each other, especially during the opening up of Asia/Far East-Europe relations in the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance.

geeKeWL: Do you have a dream job (aside from being a supermodel)?

Esther Petrack: I don't really know what I want to do. I guess just a job that makes me feel happy and fulfilled while letting me have other interests/activities and not taking over my life.

geeKeWL: Now for some softballs. What are some of your favorite websites?

Esther Petrack: Well, I do Facebook, like every other person my age it seems. Right now I'm applying to colleges in the US so is pretty big in my life. I also love Wikipedia.

geeKeWL: Any guilty pleasure websites? Like TMZ or something?

Esther Petrack: Wikipedia is much more fun than you'd think. You can even play Wikipedia tag where 2 people start with the same page and try to reach a totally different page by only clicking on links on the page.

geeKeWL: Does Wikipedia tag have a winner?

Esther Petrack: Whoever gets there first. It's all about thinking about creative connections.

geeKeWL: How does it work?

Esther Petrack: The starting and ending pages are static and you have to connect 2 totally separate things like socks and say, 16th century Italian literature. So you go from socks to clothes to textiles to fashion houses to Italy to Italian culture to Italian literature and end up at the end page. It's all about the random dots that connect.

geeKeWL: Sounds pretty awesome - are you the champion at it amongst your friends?

Esther Petrack: No, it constantly changes.

geeKeWL: I guess that’s what makes it a fun game, no one dominates.

Esther Petrack: Everyone has a shot!

geeKeWL: So, let’s say you land a huge contract with an international agency or brand. What would you do with your first big check? (Let’s say its 100 grand)

Esther Petrack: I would start a savings account and buy a ridiculously expensive bag, and/or coat and/or shoes. A really nice, expensive, probably designer bag that's nice to the touch and can fit lots of things. Oh, and my wallet is slowly falling apart so also a matching wallet. But, most of it in savings.

geeKeWL: How practical :-)

Esther Petrack: I know, I figured if I do the wise thing and mainly put it in savings then I can splurge and get an expensive, purely materialistic bag.

geeKeWL: You wouldn't be a model if you didn’t have a fancy bag! Gotta live the life a little bit.

Esther Petrack: Exactly.

geeKeWL: Switching topics completely. What's your experience with video games? Did you play them when you were younger? Do you play any games now? What are your favorite ones?

Esther Petrack: I actually never had video games because my mother didn't want them. I loved James Bond and my friend had a James Bond video game so occasionally when I was at her house we would play it, but my mother though video games would just make us waste our time so no video games for me. Ultimately though it was the right decision because sometimes I hear my friends talk about video games and it seems like they spent half their childhood sitting in front of a screen, making animated characters jump over mushrooms and dragons, while I was reading or drawing or doing fun childhood things. Now I like games like Text Twist or things like that, but the one that I really really love is Raft Wars. I have this friend with whom I used to always play Raft Wars in school and we would take turns shooting the baseballs at the other rafts, you should check it out. It's a really quality game.

geeKeWL: Will do! You sound like a truly down to earth person. Thanks for all your thoughtful answers Esther.

Esther Petrack: Oh well, thank you, so are you! Yay us!
A special thanks goes out to Esther for providing us with the awesome self-taken webcam shots you see throughout the interview of her making a "g" for geeKeWL.


  1. aww she is so cute! I really wish they would've shown more of her on the show. Beautiful on the outside and on the inside!

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