Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lifetime
It was the sort of challenge that makes for great TV: In a special, makeover-themed episode of Project Runway (Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, on Lifetime), the designer/contestant Ven Budhu was charged with sartorially transforming a plus-sized, "real world" woman, Terri Herlihy.
Naturally this show's main drama comes from the designers' artistic temperaments as they go about their tasks. The tears! The swagger! The humiliation! In this case, Budhu was petulant -- watch the clip here:
Budhu chafed at the chore before him, griping that the other contestants didn't have to deal with an overweight model. Mentioning several times that Herlihy was 40 and a size 14 (even though she was 36 and a size 10), he went on to say that she didn't have a shape, wasn't fashion-forward, didn't have any sense of style and had no personality. But while Budhu's hostile behavior gave the show a good reality TV villain, it had some collateral damage. Namely, Herlihy's feelings. "I'm just so disappointed," she said during the episode, and wiped away tears.
In an interview with NBC's The Clicker, Herlihy divulged that she actually suffered even harsher treatment from Budhu. "I think (the producers) did a great job of editing it because it was so much worse than what was shown," Herlihy told us. "They edited it to my advantage because I would've kept looking stupider on TV."
For instance, she says, Budhu "bullied" her into wearing no shoes or accessories. Fortunately Herlihy's friend stepped in, rummaging through the show's accessories' bin for shoes and a belt.
Seeing herself portrayed as a victim on TV was even more difficult for Herlihy, who is the mother of three daughters, aged 14, 11, and 8. "I was horrified watching the show with my three daughters," she said. "I let him bully me, but I didn't know what he was saying behind the scenes when I wasn't around, in the confessional. It was hard to explain to my kids, 'Yeah, he was mean, but it didn't bother Mommy,' even though it did. I have to let them know something. It's how you teach your kids not to do this."
The irony, of course, is the Budhu himself is plus-sized.
Friends of Herlihy have launched a Facebook page calling for a public apology from Project Runway. "Terri has been in horrible pain for months over this since it was taped and deserves a public apology at the bare minimum from Project Runway and it's affiliates," according to the page.
While that seems unlikely, she did get a social media apology from Budhu. "I feel awful and I sincerely apologize to my client and viewers as remarks were unintentional," he tweeted on Saturday. Let's hope he means it.