If your workplace or ladygang is as connected by Slack, Microsoft Teams, or group text as we are, you know the sheer delight that is implementing a new, on-trend emoji. Last week’s gift to HealthyWay HQ: a Jonathan Van Ness (aka JVN) emoji created by our graphic designer Alyssa Pearson. Of course, those of you who love Queer Eye as much as Alyssa, our Editor-in-Chief Ashley Murry, Senior Lifestyle Editor Maggie Tyson, and MD/influencer Elyse Love (who counts Queer Eye among her favorite shows) get the importance of a tiny glyph that features a delightfully surprised (and sweatered) JVN radiating against a bubblegum pink background. My binge-watching, on the other hand, revolves around SATC (aka the wind beneath my wings) and E.R. (whose last season has definitely left me in deep winter depressions that I welcomed like a martyr in the name of seeing John Carter’s maturation through to its bittersweet end). All that to say, I’m a Queer Eye outsider who needed to know what all the celebration and good feels are about—STAT. So, whether you started watching Queer Eye as a gangly tween circa 2003 and have powered through Seasons 1 and 2 of the 2018 reboot (plus the “Yass Australia!” special) or are feeling tempted to run a @jvn Google search to determine what the heck we’re talking about, read on. Ashley Murry and life coaches Sharon Roemmel and Jenny Giblin weigh in on Queer Eye’s cultural relevance and how binge-watching the right shows (for the right reasons) can lift us up and serve as a powerful act of self-care. But first: a quick QE introduction/timeline for those who are completely unfamiliar with the show:
After the Emoji
Immediately after our 2D Jonathan talisman joined us in Slack, I reached out to Ashley, Sharon, and Jenny to get the scoop on some of the things they think Queer Eye does well, and they’re not just for those receiving the Fab Five makeovers. Sharon, a certified life coach, registered yoga teacher, and licensed massage therapist (who shares that she’s a lesbian, “although”—her words—“not certified” ??) says she loves Queer Eye and thinks the show’s appeal comes from two things:
We see ourselves in the weekly guests. We relate when Tom on episode one says, “You can’t fix ugly.” Whether our own moments include feeling ugly, too fat, too skinny, not well-dressed, too shy, not smart enough, or some other perceived failing, we let those moments limit us. As we connect with the guests’ lack of belief in themselves and then watch their transformations, we can see what’s possible for us. We see that we, too, are worthy. We could update our wardrobes, learn a few skills in the kitchen, and get rid of that pile of magazines to begin shifting our lives for the better. The second appeal relates to the feel-good nature of seeing others shine. In an era where people feel free to say cruel things to others both online and in person, where violence and harm are perpetrated every day, it feels good to see strangers lift someone up. The show reminds us that when we see the best in others, they do shine.
Jenny, a trained therapist and life coach who lives in Hawaii and rarely ever watches TV, is also a huge fan of Queer Eye. “After watching the very first episode of Queer Eye with a friend who was visiting, I was moved to tears and it instantly replaced Keeping up with the Kardashians as my new favorite show,” she shares. “I instantly downloaded Netflix and proceeded to watch the entire two seasons over the course of the next few days—and cried during almost every single episode.” Jenny says Queer Eye can—without putting it into words—expose us to the following very important (and empowering) ideas:
1. The power of deep transformation comes from within. You can take anyone and use the right tools to help get them from who they are now to who they want to be, but that deep willingness to change has to come from within. 2. The most powerful experiences that can heal and change us come from the bond we have with the person guiding us, and the power of human connection.
“You can tell from watching Queer Eye that every single cast member on there feels some kind of love or actually genuinely cares about the person they are working with,” Jenny says, going on to share that based on her professional experiences, “the number one predictor of whether or not therapy will be effective is based on the connection between the therapist and the client.” In the case of Queer Eye, she believes the reason that the outcomes of the Fab Fives’ makeovers are so impressive is the connection between each client and cast member. Takeaway: Who you surround yourself with and choose to learn from can make all the difference. Jenny also highlights two more Queer Eye ideas that really resonate with us:
3. Our style and our environment, and how we take care of it and use it to reflect how we feel and our true sense of self, is so important, but this can be easy to lose sight of during times of stress, or just over time, especially when we lose sight of valuing ourselves, or feeling not good enough, or just from taking care of others and focusing on our to-do lists or responsibilities. 4. We were not always taught how important or necessary it is sometimes to put ourselves first, or to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others and be the best versions of ourselves—or how we were meant to live an amazing life.
These are things we can learn, and Jenny believes Queer Eye reminds us and gives us permission to give ourselves the self-care we need, “along with the tools and inspiration you need to bring that into your own life while you cheer others along.” Ashley reaffirms Jenny’s points in reflecting on why Queer Eye has had such a positive impact on her, sharing that Queer Eye “shows that what’s on the outside can impact what we feel on the inside.” She believes it gives people—women especially—the freedom to explore outward expressions of beauty if they feel compelled to. “It’s not about the clothes or the new haircuts, but how those simple changes can often give us the opportunity to see ourselves in a new light. It’s a major nod to self-care.” https://www.instagram.com/p/BkFv7XvFW4K/ These self-care, feel-good points alone are enough to get us feeling warm-hearted and proactive, but it’s Ashley and Sharon’s discussion of Queer Eye’s power to expose and heal certain realities we all live with that can really take our appreciation of what the Fab Five, the show’s producers, and Netflix are doing to the next level.
Talking About the “Queer” in Queer Eye
Queer Eye 2.0, like the Bravo series before it, is a show about gay men who, save the first episode of Season 2 when they make over Tammye, are making over men. So, beyond espousing self-care and encouraging us to prioritize relationships with people who really want to support us as we blossom into our true selves, how does it benefit women? “If you’re ingesting current event media or scrolling through social media, you’ve seen the mean-spirited them-versus-us articles, posts, and comments. Feel-good shows like Queer Eye that highlight diversity can act as an antidote to that polarization and negativity,” says Sharon, who goes on:
It can be easy to forget in this era where gender diversity makes the news daily that many of us were raised in a soup of homophobia or by parents who simmered in that soup. Calling someone a lesbian or a fag was an insult to be feared when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. Even in this era of gay marriage, our homophobic history colors our beliefs and thoughts about people who identify as LGBT. When we join the Fab Five for one of their makeovers, we get to see some of the diversity in the gay community and some of our outdated beliefs can more easily slip away.
These points resonate with Ashley, who says Queer Eye “exposes us to the often overlooked variety that exists in every lifestyle and sexual orientation. You have Jack, who is feminine and very comfortable in that expression of femininity; you have Antoni, who is much more quiet and reserved. Karamo is a broad black man you may not have guessed was gay—my very point. Tan was raised Muslim and is married to a Mormon man. This is just such a refreshing reminder to explore more of the intricacies of humanhood and a reminder that none of us should confine ourselves to any standard because of a larger label.” Sharon says that while watching Queer Eye, “we remember that we are more alike than different as we find common ground. By watching others accept their emotions in a supportive and uplifting environment, we can also begin to do the same in our own lives. We see possibilities for caring, healing, and connecting and hopefully take action.”
More on the Medicine
Extracting the show’s production from New York and filming in Georgia (and, for Season 3, Kansas City, Missouri) implies a new element of diversity for Queer Eye as the Fab Five interact with fewer cosmopolitans and more lifelong residents of Middle America. As Ashley points out, “The conversations they have with people from very different walks of life show, with each episode, that we are all far more similar than we are different. And it’s beautiful.” Finally, as Ashley says, “The show shines light on men showing emotion. Nearly every episode shows the person who is being made over crying or having some sort of emotional breakthrough. This display of emotion is often unexpected coming from men. Society looks to them to be the heroes. It’s such an important example for the next generation of men that they be allowed to show emotion.” This can also be medicine for women watching Queer Eye, who, let’s be honest, could use some confirmation that men face many of the same fears we do and are capable of tapping into emotions that are just as raw and vulnerable as those we experience when it comes to #metoo, the wage gap, and facing whatever body image issues we’ve developed as symptoms of living in a society that promotes countless unattainable ideals.
So, is binge-watching all bad?
When we think about self-care, binge-watching isn’t necessarily up there on our mental lists of valid pursuits. In fact, we’ve probably all betrayed our own shame when responding to “What’d you do this weekend?” with “Managed to watch three seasons of [insert your show of choice] in under 48 hours without getting up more than a handful of times for powder room breaks and snacks (because vitamin D and showers are optional).” That said, Sharon, who says TV watching doesn’t typically make her top-ten self-care list, agrees with Ashley and Jenny that “watching a show like Queer Eye can be an act of self-care, especially in context to our current culture.” Remember what she said about all that mean-spirited stuff many of us see on social media? Indulging in a show like Queer Eye—and a little quiet time that doesn’t involve scrolling—might just be an antidote (but not the antidote).
Sharon’s tips for knowing when binge-watching has crossed a line into a sedentary, emotionally unhealthy behavior:
If you use a show like Queer Eye to numb or check out from your life while staying stuck, then you aren’t practicing self-care. If binge watching leaves you with a high that moves you into warm fuzzy feelings and ready to clean up your own life, then go for it. But if you find yourself numb, binge eating, or feeling worse about yourself, then walk away from the screen. Even if you feel uplifted, but find yourself staying stuck, you might want to take a binge break.
Need to peel yourself off the couch? Why not get some JVN-to-go from his Getting Curious podcast? (I’m listening to the September 2016 episode with plus-size/curve model Denis Bidot right now and it’s ??.) Some other self-care activities you can pursue while listening? Organize your closet, stop and drop for an at-home bodyweight workout, or work on your vision board. Have some Queer Eye–inspired successes to share? Keep us in the loop on Instagram at @itsthehealthyway or Twitter at @healthywaymedia.