The arts and media have an incredibly important impact on us all. In a time where I am avoiding all news unless I see something to do with art, I turned to the show Queer Eye on Netflix, and learned more than I probably could reading about how there still hasn’t been a decision on Brexit.
The aim of the original Queer Eye, or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in 2003, was to take one straight guy per episode, and with the help of five gay men with certain strengths (food and wine, culture, style, decoration and grooming) to help make them over. The emphasis of the show goes beyond this from make-over to ‘make better’. The 2003 version was particularly ground-breaking, because at the time there was no representation of healthy relations between gay and straight men, the idea that gay men could offer advice to straight men being something unusual for viewers. The 2018 reboot offers this but opens it up to nominated ‘heroes’, not limited to straight men. The emphasis is to help people overcome their struggles, from those stuck in a mid-life rut to young people finding their identity.
Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan van Ness, Tan France (Image: Netflix)
It’s really difficult to choose a favourite guy from the ‘Fab Five’ on the show because they all bring brilliant things. What I love about Taneer ‘Tan’ France, apart from him being the only British member, is his emphasis on ‘style’ and not ‘fashion’. This means that clothing does not have to be expensive or branded to look good, and it’s all about what works for each individual body and their own lifestyle. An extra bonus is that he never suggests wearing heels to women if it is not their thing. What is clear from watching Jonathan van Ness is the amount of love he has, both for himself and others. He is the first to compliment anyone he meets. Antoni Porowski’s emphasis on simple, healthy and fresh food that is not expensive, as well as his enthusiasm for eating, is liberating for someone who is sometimes in situations where people are encouraged to eat barely anything. The variety in Karamo Brown’s attempts to make people feel more confident, from helping them to physically see the obstacles they put in front of themselves, to helping someone craft their identity by tracing their heritage, is wonderful. Bobby Berk’s interior design transformations are personally my favourite part, with his lightening of the rooms often making a huge difference.
My favourite episode is when the Fab Five head to Walmart to help with a man’s makeover. The real point they are trying to emphasize is that anyone can feel good about themselves and it does not have to cost the world. For example, Jonathan shows how you can make a scrub with coconut oil and sugar.
I have binge-watched it over for the past couple of weeks because of the pure joy and encouragement it gives me, as well as the tips in all aspects! Its advice is inclusive: beauty is not a societal norm given to us through media, but it is instead confidence and knowing that you are worth it. Many people who were being made-over felt uncomfortable about ‘fancy’ events – thinking that they would be elitist and not enjoyable. Antoni suggests thinking about things and events as ‘special’ rather than ‘fancy’.
Whilst the premise of the show is bright and bubbly, the deep personal and social issues of southern America become apparent. Discussion in the show covers how some American churches treat gay people, and Karamo discusses the fraught relationship that African American men have with police officers right now, with an officer he helps to make-over. It’s not only important to watch the self-confidence change the heroes experience, but the acceptance they learn from the people they would have never expected to interact with. Some of the men on the show admit to having never spoken to a gay person before.
There are several takeaways from the show, the first being the difference a small form of change makes to our lives, from a haircut to a painted wall. Another realisation that was evident in all episodes of the show is how we are all really terrible at accepting compliments. If you need any reminder of how special you are in your very own shoes, watch Queer Eye.