Many of you may have seen The Big Bang Theory Super Bowl promo that our cast participated in. I believe it aired in the first 10 minutes or so of play in this year’s Super Bowl. The promo featured the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory swaggering down a smokey hallway, all decked out in football gear. The punchline was that Leonard was wearing his pads and jockstrap on the outside of his uniform.
When I heard that we were being asked to be in a Super Bowl commercial, I was thrilled. Why? Because I love football and thought it would be really amazing to be featured in this way. When I found out that we were expected to be in football gear, however, I instantly thought, “Oh no.” You see, I have not worn pants outside of the house in over five years with one exception being a sweatpants scene, which my character was featured in two years ago on The Big Bang Theory (I was able to wear a long shirt, but still, they were sweatpants).
I could theoretically write a post about the various decisions, possibilities, and potential conversations I could’ve had with our producers. I could also write about the real or imagined attempts I might’ve made to remove myself from the promo. I could also write about the implications of not being–in this case, literally–a team player. Instead, I would like to highlight, as I have in the past, the complexity and tension of being both an observant person and an observant person operating in a complicated secularly-minded career field.
I would like to highlight this complexity by describing what my experience was filming the promo, wearing pants. I wear pants at home and I wear leggings under a skirt when I work out, so it’s not like I don’t know what pants feel like. After putting on the football uniform in the wardrobe fitting room a week before we filmed the promo, I felt confident that I could handle filming the actual promo without much drama or inner conflict.
What I found out a week later was that trying on football pants in the wardrobe room in front of two women who I have changed in front of for years was very different than wearing football pants out of my dressing room and onto a set filled with a 100 or so staff, production, and crew members, most of which are male.
It’s not that I think I’m so incredibly sexy in football pants. (Several men on set argued that Kaley Cuoco was, in fact, incredibly sexy in football pants.) It’s not that I think all men are leering predators. (Some might be!) And it’s not that I think that I’m a bad Jew for wearing football pants in a Super Bowl promo with the cast of The Big Bang Theory.
The purpose of tznius (modesty) and of many religious restrictions for that matter is to designate space to create boundaries, to create awareness, and to hopefully foster respect and a constant awareness of the largeness of the Universe. I’m not going to lie: it felt weird to have parts of me “exposed” that normally aren’t. It felt weird to know that although some skirts I wear are as form fitting as those football pants, I have created a practice of not wearing pants that, when crossed, felt fundamentally different. It was fundamentally different.
After we filmed the promo, I didn’t cry in my dressing room. I didn’t engage in any punitive, flagellatory, or self-destructive thoughts or actions. I simply got back into my skirt and went about my day.
I’m not a perfect person. I’m not a perfect Jew. And I’m most certainly not a perfect Modern Orthodox Jew. I don’t profess to have the perfect solution about what to do if you don’t get vacation for Jewish holidays (like Sukkot). What filming this promo did for me and what I hope I am authentically sharing here is that distinctions do matter. Boundaries do matter even if yours are not the same as mine. And perhaps most importantly, having a notion of what you want to protect–and knowing that that’s different than what you want to defend–is an empowering, if complicated, way to live.
For more on Judaism and modesty, read Mayim’s dress search dubbed “Operation Hot & Holy,” the necessity of a giant adult-sized onesie, and finding an appropriate dress for the Emmys.