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'Project Runway's' real-size model: Show was 'adult bullying at its best'


Terri Herlihy and Ven Budhu during judging on "Project Runway."

Terri Herlihy is still hurting from her experience on the "Fix My Friend" episode of "Project Runway" that aired Aug. 23. During the episode, which featured real women who had been nominated by their friends to appear on the show for a makeover, viewers saw Herlihy repeatedly insulted by designer Ven Budhu and brought to tears.

He insinuated she was fat numerous times, telling her that all of the belts were too small for her, said that she had no sense of style, no shape, that her before photo was "a nightmare." He mentioned several times that she was 40 and a size 14. 

In reality, Herlihy told The Clicker, she was a size 10 during filming, and had turned 36 just two days before. And her experience on the show was worse than what Lifetime aired, she said.

Herlihy told us that during filming, she was "bullied" into wearing no shoes or accessories. In fact, Herlihy said, she and her friend Theo Thomas (the pal who brought her on the show) had to go rummaging in "Runway's" accessories bins themselves because Budhu, who was supposed to figure out her look from head-to-toe as part of the challenge, was going to send her down the runway for judging without any accessories. "My friend found the shoes. My friend found the belt. My friend did it all," she said. "She laid into him, but they didn't show that."

"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."

Herlihy said that even though the episode was edited to her advantage, it was still tough to watch.

"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."

She also said that she didn't react on the show because she wanted to teach her children not to be prejudiced or be bullies. Had she known just how bad it got behind her back, though, Herlihy said she wouldn't have let her daughters -- ages 14, 11 and 8 -- watch the show.

But the controversy didn't end with the taping. As the episode aired Thursday, Budhu continued to hurl insults at Herlihy via Twitter, saying she had a bad attitude and blaming editing for making him look like the bad guy. He has since deleted the tweets and offered up an apology. "I feel awful and I sincerely apologize to my client and viewers as (my) remarks were unintentional," he wrote.

Herlihy said she was disappointed that Budhu wasn't eliminated for his behavior and after essentially failing the challenge to create makeover-worthy fashions for a real-world client.

"If he would've gone home, that would've been a different story," Herlihy said. "But because they kept him, that's why I feel like (it's) not only putting me down, but putting down every person who isn't a size 6 or below. How many people has he hurt or affected in some way from all his comments?"

Sean Herlihy / Courtesy of Terri Herlihy

Terri Herlihy and her husband, Sean.

"So it looks like (the show's producers are) all for it ... because it was adult bullying at its best about my weight," she added. "I can't imagine all the girls, women, teenagers watching that show who are bigger than me and what they think."

Herlihy and a friend have since launched a Facebook page called Terri's Redemption to draw attention to the bullying she experienced and to try to prevent other women from feeling discriminated against because of their clothing size.

Lifetime has not yet replied to requests for comment or responded to an invitation for Budhu to make a remark.

Herlihy and her friend Theo weren't the only ones who were appalled by Budhu's behavior. The 36-year-old said that designer Gunnar Deatherage, who treated his own model like a prized client, saw how upset she was and tried to make her "Runway" experience a bit better.

"Gunnar actually stuck up for me, and he spoke to hair and makeup that day and explained to them what was going on," Herlihy revealed. Part of the challenge includes the designers telling the hair and makeup folks how they'd like their models to look. "(I understand that) they didn't really take Ven's directions of what he wanted my hair and makeup to be. So I'm very thankful for Gunnar. And that wasn't aired on the show, and I wish it was." 

Deatherage wasn't the only one who wanted to make things right. Michael Costello, who finished fourth in season eight and third in "Project Runway: All Stars," took to Twitter Thursday night and offered to make Herlihy a dress.

"I just wanted to do something for her that makes her happy, something that she can enjoy," Costello told us. The designer himself was bullied by a fellow contestant during his first run on the show.

Like Herlihy, he thought Budhu should've been auf'ed. "It would've been right if they would've eliminated him," Costello said. "Nathan's dress wasn't actually that bad compared to what Ven did. (Nathan) achieved the challenge. His client was happy."

But auf'ed or not, the "Runway" alum thinks Budhu's career might not be able to recover.

"I think he literally destroyed his fashion career with this episode," Costello said. "I don't think any woman would want to wear anything from him ever again after seeing the way Terri was treated. ... It's sad because he's a great talent, he's very skilled."

Costello also said he wondered if there was something more the show could've done. "I think a PSA message would've been very powerful at that point," he said. "But also doing something about empowering women and making women feel good, because that's what the episode was about."

Do you think there was more the show could have done to address Ven's treatment of Terri? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.



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