Size Bashing on “Project Runway”: Why Heidi Should Say “Auf Wiedersehen” to Ven Budhu


Terri, Ven Budhu’s client (Season 10, Episode 6)

By Sayantani DasGupta

I’ve been feeling a bit run down lately and part of my self-care regimen has (obviously) been the online watching of a lot of back-episodes of the TV shows I’ve missed this summer. Over the last couple days, I’ve been catching up on that Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum-fueled hour of eyecandy for armchair fashionistas: Project Runway (Season 10). Finally, I was up to last week’s challenge – episode 6: “Makeover My Friend.”

It was one of those “real women” challenges when the Project Runway designers make clothes for non-model folks. Oh, yeah, theoretically the folks they should be making clothes for most of the time anyway.

But I digress.

The episode quickly became a size-bashing fest courtesy of (to my Desi shame) the one South Asian American designer, Ven Budhu. Dear old average-sized Ven apparently has some serious hatred of women he’s working on – because he took every opportunity possible during the episode to baby-moan about how “shocked” he was that his model was perhaps a *titter, titter, laugh* SIZE 14! And how it was “obviously unfair” that he had the “largest” model when others had clients who were the same size as regular models.

But Ven didn’t just keep it to himself, or his mentor, or his fellow contestants. He took it right to his client herself – commenting how “surprised” he was at how pretty she looked after the haircut part of her makeover, and how, even though she didn’t want to wear black, he had decided to go with black because it was (get your pinch-face on) “slimming.”

Check out this terrible-funny recap from tvgasm, or this clip from Hulu entitled, appropriately, “Bad Budhu” to get an up close and personal load of his kvetching to Tim Gunn (“she has no shape,” “she has no style”), deadpan disgust, and “oh none of these belts are big enough for your ginormousity” insulting statements. His antics were so bad both behind his client’s back and right smack in front of her face that he made her and the friend who dragged her in for a makeover in the first place actually CRY. (Oh, yeah, and me too.)

Meanwhile, even previously crabby designers (Elena, Gunnar, I’m looking at you, darlings) were having sob-worthy love-fests with their clients. Things were all fairy-wands and rainbow-scented unicorns, even with some of the normally mean judges (Nina Garcia, Fashion Editor of Marie Claire magazine, I am so looking at you), fashion was meant to uplift a woman, bring out her real personality, make her more herself, but better! (Clap! Clap! Pixie Squeal! Hooray!)

But affect-challenged Ven wasn’t having any of that. No, he was old-school, all the way. Fashion isn’t to make you feel good! Fashion is about unflattering dressing room lights, funhouse mirrors for trying on swimsuits, and a nosy saleswomen who pops open the curtain right when you’re naked only to suggest you need SPANX. To Ven, clothing is designed to make 99% of women feel bad about themselves, and he wasn’t going to have it any other way. A woman who isn’t a model wants to wear pretty clothes? Unthinkable! She wants to come on a television show designed to make the fashion industry feel better about its treatment of women and be treated nicely? No way! And no amount of Nina Garcia getting teary from the life stories regular-women models was going to change his mind about that.

Admittedly, the fashion industry does have a great deal to do with promoting size-based discrimination and body-shaming among women. A show like Project Runway and a high-profile host like Heidi Klum could actually do a lot of good by calling Ven Budhu out on his behavior.

With all of America (er, Lifetime TV watchers) watching, this guy body-shamed a hard working mother of four to tears during an episode designed to make “regular women” feel special. Shaming him in turn for this behavior would at least do some work in conveying the message that such attitudes – on the part of designers, on the part of salespeople, on the part of ANYONE isn’t okay. Not behind a woman’s back, not to her face, and certainly not without repercussions. Perhaps then we could come a little bit closer to the ‘we’re-so-not-there-yet’ vision this show was trying to promote that clothing’s role was to enhance all women’s innate, inner beauty.

Come on, Project Runway hosts, judges and producers – you wouldn’t sit by and let this guy be racist or sexist to a client; Tim Gunn! You’re my moral compass! Say I’m right! Why let him get away with being so hurtfully bigoted and sizeist? In fact, I agree with this reviewer at Styleite, who suggests that elimination during such a challenge should be determined by the clients themselves, based on how well a designer treated his or her client.

So, Ven Budhu, this Desi sister is sayin’ Auf Wiedersehen – to you, your unrepentant size shaming, and your ugly cruelty.

I like my relaxation TV watching filled with froth and fun, not inhumanity or injustice.