November 5, 2009 | 3:00 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
As an actress, I am expected to be a chameleon, to camouflage my self for the good of the role. Sweet and innocent as I am—without warning—I may be required to play a victimized teenager or cut-throat lawyer, without batting a natural eyelash.
I can handle a wide range of roles without a problem; transform from femme fatale to the girl next door at the drop of a hat. I’m a professional actress. My job is building a character, and I’m good at it. But often, how good you act can’t even get you to first base unless you meet the pre-acting criteria – good (as in sexy, sensual, stunning) looks.
Okay, I can accept that. To paraphrase that wise old king, “There’s a time for looking good, and a time for looking yourself.”
For me, getting in touch with my feminine side means being comfortable. I am at my best, and most confident, dressed in corduroy pants, T-shirt and sneakers.
And therein lies the rub! I always assumed that who I am and the roles I play are two separate things. I am only an actress on set. But apparently, things aren’t as simple as that… well at least according to Jim.
Last night, I’m waiting in the rain, at our usual meeting spot when Jim’s Cherokee pulls over. I run to take cover inside his jeep, but as I pull on the handle, the door locks go down. I look inside at Jim, and tap the window. But still, the doors remain locked. Getting wetter by the second, I bang angrily on the window, yelling “Open up, I’m drowning out here, you idiot!” Finally, the window rolls down and Jim stares angrily at me as though I had done a terrible thing.
“I’m not letting you into my car, and certainly not taking you to the party looking like that!” says my very metro-sexual (although he insists, straight) friend, dressed like a true Tel Avivi. I grab the door handle from the inside and pull it up. As the door opens I rush inside.
“What’s your problem? I’m fine!” I wring my hair out, secretly enjoying Jim’s shocked expression as rivulets of rainwater soak his precious leather seats.
“Tiferet, didn’t I tell you this was an up-scale party?” he scolds me, disgusted by my nonchalant attitude. “And didn’t I tell you we’d be meeting big-shots there? Didn’t I also tell you that there would be media there? And to look your best?!”
“Uh huh,” I nod, drying my face on his $400 cashmere scarf. “You did. That’s why I’m wearing my best water-soaked sweater, and best water-logged boots!” I raise a boot onto the dashboard for him to see. A little waterfall splashes onto his carpet.
Jim cringes. “I meant wear a little black dress! You need to show some skin! Show some class!”
“Are you crazy? It’s freezing outside! I’m not gonna’ be cold just for the sake of looking sheek! YOU come in a little black dress if it’s so important to you.” And match the tights and necklace to go with it, I mumble under my breath.
“What %@#&!” he curses, shoving my boot off the dash. “And you’re supposed to wear heels!”
“I don’t do heels.”
“What is that supposed to mean, every woman does heels!”
“Not me, they’re dangerous.”
“No they’re not. I never heard of a woman getting killed wearing heels.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about. It’s everyone around me. I have no balance in heels. I trip over or under anything in my way. Ask my date of last week. He called yesterday to say that ‘the doctors think they can save my toe’. Is that what you want?”
“Don’t be silly,” he answers, starting the engine and driving in the wrong direction. “But look at you, Tiferet,” he suddenly blurts out, almost in tears, “You may as well have come out in pajamas!”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you. Me coming to the party in baby-dolls or a silk – Hey, where are you going?”
“To the mall, I’m not taking you to the party looking like this. And look at your hair, it’s not done up at all. You’re an actress, you’re supposed to look Sheek, not Shuk!” (the Hebrew word for marketplace). Then he squints at me as though seeing me for the first time.
“Woman, have you just landed from Mars? You’re not even wearing any makeup! YOU need a makeover.”
“Venus,” I point out.
“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Shows what you know.”
Jim isn’t sure whether I’m kidding or not. Or maybe he’s never read the book. I can’t decide which.
“Look Tiferet,” he explains, parking the car in the mall, “as your best friend, and what some might consider a fashion guru, I can’t allow you to walk around Tel Aviv looking the way you do. It’s sacrilegious!”
I didn’t even know he believed in God.
So I had to ask myself the hard question: Is acting a full time job? Do I have to look my best all the time, even if it means I won’t necessarily be feeling my best?
To Jim, the answer is clear. An hour later I am “resplendent” (his word) in my new clothes and accessories. The only hang-up seems to be my feet. I’m petite in most ways but I’ve inherited my father’s feet. Who made up the rule that women’s feet have to be small? (Probably one of those Chinese geisha’s with their dainty tied-up feet during the Ming Dynasty.) But this saleswoman is determined to cut off my circulation. She’s trying to stuff my size 10 foot into a size 7 shoe – and succeeding. The 5 inch heels mean I am also in a ballet position hanging on to Jim for dear life.
“Ouch! It’s pinching everywhere!” I whine.
“Don’t we women have to put up with a lot?” the saleswoman confides, handing me the empty shoebox.
“Tiferet!” Jim commands, steadying me, “Stop complaining and walk in them a little.”
“This can’t be safe, walking on these pointy sticks like this… I’m gonna’ break my ankle,” I pout, staggering along the store hallway.
“Occupational hazard,” Jim says dryly.
“No pain no stardom,” he mumbles. “You’re walking like a drunk. Chin up, eyes straight ahead, shoulders back,” he orders.
“Stop giving me runway instructions!”
“Eyes forward!” He demands, following me in his comfortable loafers. “You’ll get used to them in no time, every woman wears them.”
I pause in front of a mirror, not recognizing the woman in the reflection. The tight fitting dress and high heels are bad enough, but Jim has me made up so that I barely recognize myself. I feel like I’m in character, and ready to role.
I pull down the dangerously short dress Jim has chosen for me.
“You look sexy!” Jim drools. It’s times like this I wish Jim was as gay as the impression he actually gives.
“Look at my face!” I implore, rubbing at the uncomfortable makeup. “I feel like I a four-year-old just magic-markered all over it! And this jacket feels like a girdle. I can barely breath. And these Cruella Devile shoes are for the toeless. I’m falling all over the place. If we ever get to the party our host better not have anything expensive lying around.
“And why do I feel like I have to rush forward all the time,” I complain, suddenly feeling sorry for my one year old niece just learning to walk. Why isn’t anyone “ooing” and “ahhhing” me as I take my first steps?
“You just have to practice” Jim advises, “Walk in them an hour a day.”
We buy the shoes – I could never have pried them off anyway.
At the party, all heads turn as I clickity click through the door and onto the Italian marble floor. I keep myself from shouting “Bolero!” but I get the distinct feeling some of the people are asking themselves “What the hell is she made up for?”
But Jim’s right. People notice me. And I get cards with those star-studded words, “Call me” scribbled on the back, with both home and cell numbers. And there were some directors (2) and producers (1) at the party, and to be honest, one casting director seemed really interested in me (hopefully for my acting potential).
I left early, because of the pain. Crossing the street, my heel got stuck in a crack and I careened forward into the street, barely missing a car, and visa versa. The driver yelled a quick “Shikor!” (Drunk!) and kept driving. But the good thing was that it took me half the time to walk home because I was in perpetual forward motion.
As a victim of the beauty-on-demand era, I feel obligated to pose the question: Are we paying too high a price for what we’re after?
Obviously, in every profession there are sacrifices to be made to get where you want: doctors study seven years or more just to be able to practice; lawyers have to work 18 hour days; and psychologist – well, psychologists have to sacrifice their sanity so they can identify with the insane.
But none of those professionals have to do it in heels!
In an industry where how you look means more than how you act, and the years of hard work you spent polishing your craft are second to the clothes you wear – how do you know where to draw the line?
It would be one thing if only the actors suffered, but millions of people gaze expectantly at celebrities, copying their every clothing move. We set styles, but do we set a good example?
And between our hair extensions, three-inch makeup, nips and tucks, girdles and high heels – how can any married man (or woman) know who they’re REALLY getting?
Think of the wasted hours spent by women (and more and more men) putting their faces, stomachs and buttocks together each morning. Think of the obsession young people have with being young because their idols never seem to age. Think of the divorce rates that continue to soar because the ratio of how a woman looks when she goes to bed compared to how she looks when she wakes up is 1 (year) to 20 (years)—after only 1 year of marriage!
Would Rodan’s “The Thinker” been have as thoughtful if he’d had Botox injected into him every day?
I’m still trying to figure out where my red lines are – when I should sacrifice comfort for appearance.
Ah, well…It’s time for me to go practice my heel walking now. But from my pigeon-toed, fifth position, five inch altitude, I’ll be wondering:
When exactly, is the price for beauty too HIGH?
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