What Not To Hear

The term “reality television” is a bit of a misnomer. Or maybe it’s more like an oxymoron. Whatever the case, there is very little reality in any part of television. If we really wanted reality, we’d turn the television off.

Which brings me to my recent guest spot, or rather guest dot, on the reality show What Not To Wear. Here’s a link to the show, straight from the TLC website, but even if you watch it, there’s a good chance you’ll miss me. I believe my contribution was timed to be exactly long enough for the eyes and ears to tell the brain “I just saw and heard something (I think).”

In my five seconds of fame, I said something about Mayim Bialik not being a messed up child star and instead raising a family and getting a PhD. All the stuff I mentioned about modesty not having to equal frumpiness and how I (the Orthodox Jew) had been encouraging her (the celebrity) to put herself together and find the perfect balance of cute, confident, and covered, was missing. It’s like the old Yiddish expression goes “men tracht un gott lacht” (man plans and God laughs), although in this case, it was more like “Allison planned and the editors CUT.”

And speaking of editors – those are the guys responsible for shaping the actual reality into their own version of it. Their version was to show us a woman who mysteriously doesn’t wear pants without an explanation as to why (which is, of course, for Jewish reasons). They also made it seem like getting Mayim into a sleeveless dress was the ultimate success of the show because the hosts finally got their “sex” out of her, even though in reality, Mayim wasn’t happy showing that much skin, as she told People magazine. (Check out the eighteenth paragraph.)

During a different part of the episode, when Mayim mentioned that a dress she put on was shorter and tighter than she was used to, one of the hosts remarked “she’s so uncomfortable with her body a little bit.” But since the whole Jewish connection was left out, we, the viewers, were left to believe that Mayim was this poor woman who was uncomfortable in her own skin and just needed to “unleash her inner sex goddess” (as the other host instructed) in order to make things right.

Since Jewish perspectives are not edited out of this site, let’s explain what actually was going on! Mayim was not uncomfortable with her body just as no one should be. The idea behind modesty (tznius) in Judaism is not about shame, but rather about privacy. And as I told the producer when he came to my home for the interview: covering up allows for the possibility of un-covering, which creates mystery and excitement.

A woman can feel completely beautiful, cute, hip, confident, and attractive even if she makes the choice to keep certain parts of herself off limits to the larger world. In addition, Judaism is very pro-sex (within the context of Jewish law), so while we have no problem with the “unleashing of one’s inner-sex-goddesses” we don’t think that national television is the best place to be doing it!

At the end of the day, What Not To Wear had a right to edit their show the way they saw fit, but now that the show is over, Mayim will probably be wearing “mostly skirts past the knees” and not going sleeveless, since she “[doesn’t] like to.” And as for me — well, I will continue to edit my videos the way I see fit, which mean LOTS of Jewish content, skirts past the knee, and clips of me that exceed five seconds!

In Defense of Un-plugging
Mayim Bialik to Guest Star on a Very Special Jew in the City!

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  1. Thank you thank you thank you! I kind of assumed a lot of what you had said. I was actually a little surprised with the little dress in the end, it was cute, but a bit short. Anyway. I did notice the lack of pants, and the not mentioning it either. I hated the adjectives she used and when she spoke about herself, it was VERY clear to me – she is happy with her look and therefore. Confident. period. Good Shabbos!

  2. PopJudaica says:

    Thanks for sharing the back story. I watched Mayim’s appearance on the show and thought it was fun..but I’m familiar with her background and beliefs and probably had my own commentary running through my head (explaining why she only wore skirts, etc.) and had not realized that most other people who were watching did not and might therefore draw inaccurate conclusions from watching the show.

  3. MidbarYehuda says:

    It’s blocked here in the Holy Land. Any other way to watch it, or can someone load it on YouTube?
    Shabbat Shalom

  4. Jendeis says:

    I really enjoyed the show and screamed “There she is!” when you came on. I did think that the editors should have included something about Mayim’s observance level, because it just seemed that she was a fashion weirdo and not that she had actual reasons for dressing as she did/does.
    Mayim did look wonderful at the end and I was very happy for her.

  5. elana (lani) says:

    very well written allison! and yes, there is no reality in tv LOL! as my mom’s marc says, what kind of reality includes cameras following you around LOL!?

  6. I was excited to see the episode after reading your earlier post, and similarly disappointed with how it came out. Not surprised, but disappointed. Hollywood tends to avoid religion entirely now, I think; whether that’s from the intensely secular nature of the industry or simply a business decision made in the hopes of not alienating viewers, I don’t know, but if they weren’t going to explain her reasons, they could have at least been neutral about her decisions rather than negatively labeling her. Still, I thought Mayim carried herself very well and was a credit to herself and her people. I also think she needs to buy that zebra shirt.

  7. Hi!
    Yup, you zipped by–whooosh. The irony here is when they had a young Mormon woman on about a year ago, they made a big point of addressing her modesty issues. I think they got too wound up in her “ex-child star” status and pretty much blew off her present life. Funny, no one even called her Dr. Bialik. Not even once–it would seem to me that if someone just told you she just finished up her Ph.d I would at least mention it. Oh well. Maybe next they’ll make over someone Amish….(“These aprons make you look broad in the mid-section. “What’s with the bonnets?” “Don’t you have anything other than black?”….)
    Regards to all from a loyal gentile fan–

  8. Oh, I forgot–to the reader in Israel Maybe you can check at Hulu.com to view the program. Or go over to The Learning Channel (TLC.com I think) and see if you can watch past episodes.
    Good luck–
    Nancy

  9. The night the show aired, Mayim appeared on Chelsea Lately (which I also TiVo’d) and EXPLAINED why she was never in pants, showing her arms. I was SO MAD at the portrayal of Mayim as being “uncomfortable with her own body” becuase they were trying to get her to dress like trash. They got a very angry letter from me the day the show aired. As another Modern Orthodox Jew working to break apart the stereotypes… I was FURIOUS.

  10. Allison says:

    I don’t think that they tried to get her to dress “like trash”. There’s revealing done tastefully and revealing done un-tastefully and not of the outfits they put her in, IMO, were outright trashy. They were just more revealing and body-emphasizing than she wanted and she has a right to draw her lines where she sees fit.

  11. I was a huge fan of Mayim as a child. And I am so glad she is looking beautiful and happy now.
    I was not aware that she became religous- I wish they would have mentioned it in the episode! That way, they could bring a whole other level to their show.
    She is beautiful and looks great!

  12. I never watched Blossom as a kid, but was thoroughly charmed by Mayim on the show. But if I hadn’t Googled obsessively prior to finally seeing the episode on Hulu.com, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the absence of the tznius discussion on the show since I knew nothing of Mayim’s background. Shame on TLC!
    See, we are the designers of the green blazer that Mayim bought on her first shopping trip — the purchase Stacy and Clint so thoroughly despised.

  13. I could see that Mayim was “playing along” with this whole thing and being very gracious.
    It’s good to know we can take Hollywood with a grain of salt when it is all said and done.
    Hurray for those of us who know who we really dress for.

  14. mayim bialik says:

    great blog, allison. you hit it all right on the head. obviously i have a way to go, and i can not be the “poster child” for tznius, but my decisions are really based in a lot of thought and study, not just fear of sexuality. the show obviously had to make it palatable for everyone, and i hope you and i get our chance to show the world how fabulous being tznius can be
    🙂

  15. I love your blog. Modesty and privacy are so important to me, I totally understand what you were saying. I have seen the episode, and saw her uncomfortable-ness with the hosts thoughts NOT herself. Although they make it look like its her fault! Shame on TLC. Stacey London and Clinton Kelly, should know better…since they live in NY, and unless you are blind, especially “fashion experts” should know something, I mean Jews are not the only ones that are Tznius! Some Orthodox Christians, Amish, Mennonite, Muslims, Mormons, etc….They should study there “industry” a bit more, don’t you think????

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