Project Runway Junior and The Self: Do You Know Who You Are?

I started watching Project Runway with season 2 and I loved it (“It’s a motherf—ing walk-off!”). I’m not really into fashion, except my own version of it. I like to think I have a style of my own, but I’m a nerd, so I’ve never liked the fashions that other people think are trendy or hot. So I often have trouble with Project Runway because it seems that, more often than not, the judges love the designs that I hate, and hate the ones that I love.

I also hate the drama that’s often conjured up among the contestants. That varies a lot between seasons, of course, but I don’t watch the show for the snipping and back-stabbing that sometimes happens when people are in competition. I’d much rather see the contestants help each other and be friendly so they can win when everyone is at their best. The real competitors prefer that too.

What I love about Project Runway is the same basic characteristic of any competition reality TV show: truly talented people doing amazing things. Things that I could never do. I love seeing skill, and expertise, and finesse, and creativity. These people know what they’re doing. They have confidence in their abilities (to some degree at least). They take risks and they create incredible things. It’s really fun to watch.

My PR watching has been sporadic since they moved to Lifetime, especially since they now jump from one season immediately into the next with no breaks. I find I need at least a little time between seasons to catch up with other things and take a breather. But I watched the season that just ended, season 14, with Kelly from the Deli (aka Boy George), Candace, Edmond, and Ashley, and I loved it. It was so much fun being in that world again—though I still don’t always agree with the judges.

Tonight starts a new season of Project Runway, but with a major twist—one I’m really excited about. (Those finks tricked me into watching two seasons back to back.) Project Runway Junior! All the contestants are teenagers, with the oldest being 18 (I think) and the youngest at only 13.

Thirteen years old! I can’t remember what I was doing at 13, but I certainly wasn’t competing on a reality show (not that such a thing existed). Did I even have any idea of who I was at 13?

During the season 14 finale last week, they introduced viewers to the new Junior contestants. What struck me most about these incredibly talented kids is that they seem so strong and so clear on exactly who they are. They all have extremely strong personalities. They know exactly what they like and what they want. At least four of them seem very comfortable in their gender fluidity. They have clear points of view, and even a clear voice as designers. Not just as people, but as designers. I’m in my 40s and I still feel like I’m trying to figure that out.

I admit I’m a little envious. I’m trying to remember what I was really like at that age. I do think I had more of an idea of what I wanted then. I’ve always loved dance and music, especially musical theatre, and I wanted to perform on Broadway. I was also pretty clear about it and wore it like a badge, especially once I started high school and could fearlessly embrace my differences.

I recently came across an autograph book of mine. It spanned a few years and different experiences, including Pinewoods, another “average” camp I went to one summer, and my high school singing group. Many of the messages say the same thing: “Send me a ticket when your name is in lights.” “I can’t wait to say ‘I knew you when.'” “When you get to Broadway, send me a ticket.” Everything seemed possible, and I knew exactly what I wanted. But somewhere along the way I lost track of that.

Project Runway Junior - Camp autograph

I’m not sure what happened exactly, but what I’ve realized in the last few years is that confidence—or the lack of it—is a big factor. As much as I knew what I wanted, I don’t think I really believed inside that I could achieve it. I had too much doubt, especially as I got older and witnessed the amazing people surrounding me, and I let it get to me. I did decide honestly during college that Broadway wasn’t for me, but that’s also because I realized my skin isn’t thick enough. A career built on people taking one look at you and judging your appearance and your type was too much for me. I wasn’t confident enough, or secure enough. As much as I try not to care what others think of me, it’s very difficult to do.

I hate to admit it, but I suspect a certain sense of entitlement had a lot to do with it, too. I think I expected to end up on Broadway based on talent alone, and didn’t always want to do all the hard work necessary. Not that I didn’t work hard, but I don’t think I realized just how difficult it is, and the extent of hard work that’s needed. I wanted to have a life too, with my family.

I imagine it’s much easier for young people—teenagers who feel they know all the answers, and are energetic and enthusiastic and motivated—to feel that everything is easy if you know what you want and you work toward it. But these kids on Project Runway Junior are not just aware of what they want, but they’re taking concrete steps to making it happen. I’m curious to see if some of them have a similar sense of entitlement that I probably had (hell, many of the adult contestants have that), and whether it bites them in the butt (it usually does). But I can tell already that these kids work so hard. One or two of them even have a business already, especially thanks to the magic of the viral Internet. I definitely didn’t have that when I was a kid, though I don’t know if I’d have known what to do with it if I did. As much as I tried (try) to be independent, I more often relied on other people. I didn’t have the confidence to do it myself.

I’m excited to watch PR Jr to see what these amazing kids are capable of, but it also makes me a little sad and envious. I’ll need to stop that.

What about you, readers? Are you interested in Project Runway Junior? Did you know who you were as a teenager? Are you still that person? Have you had times when your self-confidence, or lack thereof, got in your way?

2 thoughts on “Project Runway Junior and The Self: Do You Know Who You Are?

  1. The world has changed so much. The definite ideas I had about who I was going to be when I was 13 included “professional skier.” This after going skiing exactly once.

    I blame/credit the internet for requiring just about everyone at an impressionable age to acquire a thick skin. Maybe in a sick, twisted way cyberbullying helps? Yeesh, PLEASE don’t quote me on that.

    • That’s a really interesting point. It’s true: I was always bullied (we call it “teased”) as a kid, but it’s nowhere near the same thing it is now, on the web. Trolls are brutal. But not everyone develops a thick skin because of it, unfortunately.

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