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.

Photo and biographical info for designer Ashley Nell Tipton of Project Runway.

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.

This post originally appeared on fatgirlbrooklyn.

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[E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

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