Bullies Gonna Bully on Project Runway

Spoilers!

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. 

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Fatphobia, Paintball, and Project Runway

Spoilers for season 14 of Project Runway

Ashley Nell Tipton has been written about by almost every fat blogger I read, and for good reason. She’s the first plus size designer to appear on Project Runway, and she is easily among the most talented of the season.

However, it seems she has been frequently underestimated by some of her competitors.

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Early in the season, there was an episode that stared with the designers splitting into two teams to play paintball and work together. Despite having won two challenges already, Ashley was the last picked. I have a pretty hard time believing this had anything to do with design, especially considering whichever team won was automatically safe from elimination. So you’d think you would want to pick someone who had an early winning streak and displayed immense talent. This had to be internalized fatphobia — the designers heard “physical activity” and saw “fat girl” and decided she couldn’t possibly be an asset. The irony here is that Ashley is not only a great designer, but the only experienced paintball player in the group.

I’m sure everyone watching who grew up fat, or in some other way awkward and ostracized, was feeling all kinds of secondhand shame watching her sit there, not being picked. I know I did.

Heidi (fortunately) called them all out — why would you leave someone who has displayed such talent out? And everyone blames the women for only picking their friends (the teams ended up almost perfectly men vs. women), but no one was stopping the men from choosing her either. I lost respect for almost everyone on stage during that episode, especially Candice, who was a team leader and had worked (and won!) with Ashley previously. Laurie was the only designer who showed her any kindness, when she revealed to Ashley she’d heard the rest of their team conspiring to throw her under the bus when they were called out for their lousy designs.

She had some ups and downs throughout the season, as most do, and sort of choked during their “real woman” challenge, which was disappointing because that was the week everyone expected her to rock hardest. Maybe knowing that weighed too hard on her. The dress she designed was cute, but the colors weren’t great and it really wasn’t anything unique.

But the good news is, she’s headed to fashion week! Most people had already speculated this was the case when photos came out of the first Project Runway show to use plus size models. But once again, during the final episode before the finale, when each designer was asked who they would like to see come with them to fashion week, Candice and Kelly both said everyone but Ashley. I don’t know if that was fatphobia or if they didn’t want her to come with because she’s too strong a competitor.

Nonetheless, it has been an interesting season watching her compete, and I can’t wait to see the finale. The collection that is assumed to be hers is fantastic, and one that could win, but I’ve been wrong before. I can only hope Project Runway continues to embrace plus size designers moving forward.