Elitism and age discrimination

>> Sunday, November 20, 2005

Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the re-run marathon of Bravo's reality series Project Runway. I'm not much into reality television, but last season this one captured me and I got hooked. I was particularly interested because one of the contestants, Wendy Pepper, was a 40 year-old homemaker/mother from Virginia with no formal training or experience in fashion design. She was clearly the underdog, and from the beginning, it was clear that she was looked down upon and bullied by the younger contestants who, by virtue of their youth, believed that they were more "hip", and therefore more talented. Wendy knew that she was going to have to work hard to stay in the competition, and that in order for her to do so, she was going to have to have a plan to win. I'm not sure what that "plan" was, but the younger ones seemed to think that it involved cheating and back-stabbing because in their estimations, Wendy was obviously not talented enough to make it on her own merits. I never was quite clear over what they were calling "cheating" or "back-stabbing", but whatever it was, they did a great job of convincing themselves and everyone else that Wendy was engaging in it. Wendy made it all the way through the competition, becoming one of the final three competitors, winning the opportunity to design a line of clothing to be featured in the big New York Fashion Week.

In the end she didn't win the big prize, but she did get the opportunity to design and show what I believed to be a stunning line of clothing for New York's Fashion Week. Throughout the series the younger competitors kept using the term "washed-up" in regards to Wendy. It was obvious that they truly believed that because she was 40 years old and a mother that she had no talent in fashion design. Even Michael Kors, leading New York fashion designer, delivered the final elitist blow to Wendy, (rather coldly, I might add), in his final assessment of her work by telling her that she was a fine "tailor" and that she knew how to cut a dress to fit a woman's body but that she had no talent as a designer. Then he proceeded to rip her apart because she dared to include a sheer dress in her line that exposed the model's "boobies". (OH MY GOD, MICHAEL! Were you really offended by the sight of boobs, or were you jealous because you don't have boobies?)

It seemed that no matter how hard she worked, no matter what she came up with, she was destined to lose. Because she had no talent? No. It was because she was up against an elitist, youth-worshiping, superficial, petty, culture that didn't want her to win. No, strike that. They were AFRAID for her to win. Why? Because if she did, it might just expose them for what they really are--shallow, superficial, and banal. It might reveal that just because one is young, it does not mean that one is the best. It might expose them for all their youthful prejudices and insecurities and perhaps even their lack of talent. In the end, even Kara Saun, Wendy's harshest critic, the one whom everyone thought was "perfect", and the one who snubbed Wendy to the very end, refusing even to acknowledge her presence, was told that her line was too "costumey" and too "Gucci-esque".

Kara Saun and Wendy both lost to Jay, who in my opinion was the least talented of them all! But what do I know? I'm just a 45-year-old, washed-up, talentless, mother-of-three, living in Oklahoma. Well Wendy, here's an offer for you. When Mozart Lives! (the film in which I was a featured main character) goes to the Oscars in the "Best Feature Length Documentary" category, I want to be there. And when I go, I want to be wearing one of YOUR designs. We middle-aged, washed-up, talentless, low-life, housewife/mothers gotta stick together, you know.

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