By now you’ve probably seen the news that Ashley Nell Tipton won season 14 of Project Runway. Yay!
Her collection was absolutely gorgeous, full of looks that I would love to wear, and I hope she goes far as a designer. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.
What I want to discuss is the horror show that was the Project Runway reunion episode. (Note: if you haven’t read Melissa McEwan’s piece about the episode over at Shakesville, please do so.)
Awhile back, I talked about the way other designers were treating Ashley, and how I felt that was rooted in fatphobia.
And during the reunion, these same people doubled down and acted like awful bullies.
First, there were the not-so-subtle assertions that Ashley only won because she did a plus collection (because plus designers have it so easy in the sizeist fashion world?). Obviously this is ridiculous. If you look at all four collections, hers was the most beautiful and innovative regardless of size. She could have made it for straight size models and it still would have been head and shoulders above the others. Ashley won because she produced the best collection. Full stop.
Then they brought up the horrific paintball episode and the bullying that Ashley endured. This is where things got really, really bad. The designers who had been so mistreating Ashley showed no self-awareness or remorse for their actions. They didn’t even seem to realize that there was anything to feel remorse for. That’s how out of touch and self-centered they were. What’s worse, beyond just doubling down on their mistreatment, they gaslit Ashley and turned the blame onto her. Suddenly, they made t out like Ashley had done something wrong by not coming to their defense when they were (rightly) called out on their behavior.
This is so often what happens to fat people when we call out bullying. (To be honest, it probably happens to any marginalized group, but I’m not going to speak for experiences I don’t have.) The onus is on the fat person to somehow prove the bullying was weight-based, which means unless someone explicitly mentions fat the victim won’t be believed. Thin people will search for any possible reason other than fatphobia for the reason someone was mistreated, even if it means blaming the victim. Instances of “should” abound — the fat person should have done this or that to mitigate the bullying.
This is not ok.
If you are not fat, when someone who is fat says they were abused in a sizeist or fatphobic way, it’s your duty to believe them (same goes for race, sexuality, or gender based harassment). They know their experience better than you. People know the difference between rudeness and weight-based bullying. We’ve lived it. Contrary to popular stereotypes, we are smart and savvy and can read what is happening around us.
And Tim Gunn: I am disappointed in you. You are unafraid to let people know in the workroom when they aren’t performing up to standards, but you let these women run all over the season’s winner? You could have, should have, done a lot more to call them out. They needed someone to step in and put them in their place, and you failed.
But you know what? Ashley won, and those sanctimonious bullies did not.