A Spiritual Approach to Project Runway? An Interview with Peytie Slater (Part II)

As explained in “Reality Television, Project Runway, and Peytie Slater: A Refreshing Approach to Participating in and Overdramatic Genre (Part I),” my family and I are longtime Project Runway fans. While watching the inaugural season of Project Runway Junior, we were particularly impressed with one designer, a young teenager from Carlsbad, CA named Peytie Slater.

In the last year or so, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Peytie and her family. Through text conversations, emails, sewing lessons with Anupriya (my daughter), and visits to my classrooms at the University of San Diego, it became evident that Peytie’s story would inspire readers in the same way it inspired my family, as well as my students. What is so inspiring about Peytie?

As one of my students explained:

“I was especially struck by how genuine and real she came across. It would have been so easy and predictable for someone like her to be plastic and fake, but every word she said carried so much weight for me. I was in awe of how someone so popular and successful could come speak to us completely devoid of an ego. That was a special experience for me ... It reminded of an article describing someone, who after reaching a similar level of early success, was so completely artificial. It made me appreciate how Peytie trail-blazed her way through ‘the norm’ to become an exemplary person, despite hers being the harder path to follow.”

Though I initially wondered whether high-achieving college students would be receptive to hearing from someone several years their junior, the students’ response was overwhelmingly positive, which was a pretty good indication that others would find Peytie’s approach to competing in a high-stakes environment inspiring as well. Thankfully, Peytie agreed to answer a few questions and tell part of her story.

Q. Personally, I was inspired by your approach to dealing with reality television and the fashion industry. My family and undergraduate students felt the same way. What helped you remain so positive?

A. My belief is that everyone has the ability to stay positive no matter what circumstance. People have asked me why I chose to stay positive on Project Runway Junior, and it’s honestly because it was the right thing to do. Everyone has a conscience; the thing people have trouble with is whether or not they want to listen to it. With every decision in life, no matter how big or small, you have that little voice in the back of your head that clarifies the best decision for that situation. In other words, with every decision a person makes, they know the right choice. The decision they have to make is whether or not they want to do the right thing. Making the right choice can be hard, but in the long run it’s always the best path to go down. Positivity is a chain reaction. If one person makes a positive impact on society, it will inspire others to do the same.

Q. Can you provide an example when the choice to stay positive was particularly difficult?

A. Probably the toughest atmosphere for me to stay positive was in middle school. There was a lot of negativity around me and in many ways my goal was to blend in, not stand out. I was super shy and had a really tough time fitting in with my classmates. There were certain cliques that remind me a little bit of the movie, Mean Girls. For example, at one point every popular girl was wearing a shirt that said “You Can’t Sit with Us.” Even though I wanted to fit in with everyone, I didn’t like promoting such a negative message. So, I bought some t-shirt paper and found an old t-shirt and made a shirt that said “You Can Sit with Us.” At that time, wearing that shirt to school was the bravest thing I had ever done. As a naturally shy person, I remember standing by the entrance gates at our school and wanting to run back to the car to change. Surprisingly, wearing the shirt had a very positive outcome. All of the girls who originally wore the negative message asked to buy my shirt from me.

Q. On the show, and also when offering Anupriya her first sewing lessons, you noted this was an important moment for you in more ways than one. Can you elaborate?

A. This is what started my fashion career, but, more importantly, this shaped me into the person I am today. I learned to speak through my clothing, and I’m no longer that shy, awkward girl in 7th grade. I could have followed the crowd and worn the “You Can’t Sit with Us” shirt, but then I wouldn’t have picked up fashion and I wouldn’t have gone on Project Runway Junior. In this case, making the right choice was a scary decision that may not have paid off immediately. But, it helped me become the outgoing person I am today, and staying positive paid off for me further down the road as well.

Q. In school, we teach our children to maintain a positive outlook. But perhaps we do not spend as much time explaining the psychology behind cultivating such an outlook. Can you say a little bit about how you have consistently overcome negativity?

A. One of the biggest ways to help me stay positive is seeking first to understand. This means that if anyone does anything to upset me, I need to hear their side of the story and know the reasoning behind their decisions. For example, if a friend comes to school one day and is very short-tempered or isn’t acting herself, we might be quick to judge them, but considering they are our friends because they are normally not like that, it wouldn’t be reasonable to do so. Instead, it’s better to hold off judgment by entertaining a series of possibilities. What if she just found out that her parents are getting a divorce? What if her pet just died?

Q. And, asking yourself these questions prevents you from reacting negatively?

A. Yes. Jumping to conclusions is not a great way to stay positive. Doing so can easily lead to misunderstandings.

Q. So, did you ask yourself questions to destabilize knee-jerk reactions and prevent drama on Project Runway Junior?

A. Yes. I tried my best to avoid negativity and drama. Rather than make negative comments about the other cast members during the individual interview segment of the show, I tried to take the high road and refused to start drama.

Q. Do you have any examples?

A. The crew of Project Runway Junior was so kind and helpful to us they felt like family. Out of the dozens of interviews I had while on the show, there was only one that made me uncomfortable. A huge lesson for me came during one of my last interviews for the show. It was minutes after I found out that I was one of the final four showing a collection at New York Fashion Week, so I still was jumping up and down from excitement when I went into the interview room. After a season of refusing to make negative comments about my peers, the interviewer sat me down and told me that I had to say something negative about another cast member. She told me that I came off as way too naive, and that I needed to start drama for good television.

Q. You were on a show you grew up watching and a representative was applying pressure that could have seemed overwhelming. How difficult was that?

A. The interviewer must have lectured me for at least ten minutes, trying to force me to create drama, but all I would say is “no.” When she was unable to convince me to trash my peers, I felt like I sort of had an epiphany: I realized that all I had to do is say “no.” It was that simple. The interviewer was physically incapable of forcing me to do something I feel uncomfortable with doing, so all I had to say is “no.” This was a huge life lesson for me. The right decision can be as simple as saying “no,” no matter how much pressure you are under.

Q. Were you upset with her?

A. At the time, I was angry with my interviewer for pressuring me because I trusted her throughout the whole show. However, I also tried to understand where she was coming from. I didn’t know if her boss told her that she was fired if she didn’t get me to insult the other designers. I had no idea if there was a reason for her to pressure me.

Q. Is your commitment to positivity based on any particular spiritual or ethical views?

A. I try to live by the view that everything happens for a reason. Personally, I believe that God has a plan, and that there is a reason for everything that happens in the long run. If something doesn’t go my way, I tell myself that God has a better plan.

Q. Do you have any closing comments?

A. The reason I stay positive is simply because it makes the world a better place. No good comes out of being negative, and I believe that being positive and making the right choice can inspire others to do the same.

Peytie providing Anupriya sewing lessons
Peytie providing Anupriya sewing lessons
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