5 Lessons from Queer Eye That Changed My Life

I started watching Netflix’s Queer Eye on a lazy Saturday morning when I was looking to engage in self-care. I was expecting the wholesome reality television and the sassy, gay main cast, but I was not expecting to be inspired to change my life. Here are just a few of the things the Fab Five have taught me, other than how to french-tuck my shirts.  

1. Working on myself helps the people around me.  

One of Jonathan’s most frequently used quotes on the show (besides “Who gave you permission?”) is “Self-care is not selfish.” I’ve always known that self-care wasn’t inherently selfish, but I had always viewed it as something I had to do for my mental health, so that I didn’t adversely affect the people around me. I needed to take time for myself so that I didn’t unravel on the people in my life that spent time with me. But what Queer Eye taught me was that taking care of yourself doesn’t save the people around you from yourself; it makes you stronger so that you can be the best friend, student, colleague, or partner possible. 

The Fab Five have also taught me that true self-care is not just doing face masks and taking bubble baths. Sometimes it means really working on my habits, my relationships, and even my thought patterns. For example, I am a master procrastinator. I put off assignments until the last minute—I even procrastinate getting out of bed in the morning, leaving me rolling into my 9:10 class 2-3 minutes late more often than I care to admit. Since watching Queer Eye, I have started scheduling my days down to the hour: what I am going to wear, when I have class and extracurriculars, and even when I’] am going to do all of my assignments. This may seem overwhelming, but I find that having this level of planning calms my anxieties and keeps me much more on top of my commitments. This change hasn’t helped only me; being more on top of my life has made me better at honoring my commitments with peers. I’m generally more prepared for class (making me a better classmate), and I’m less stressed, making the impact I have on my friends more positive. Working to take better care of myself has, in a way, helped the people in my life. 

2. It takes time to acquire a life.  

As a little kid, I always assumed that people become adults once they graduate college. Logically, it makes sense: after college, you start working and earning money, you live by yourself, you pay for your own meals and bills. But as I’ve entered college this year, that moment of being an adult just like my parents has begun to loom dangerously close. Something that Queer Eye has shown me that has calmed me down considerably is that literally nobody is an adult when they graduate college. It takes time to acquire a life. 

When I move out of Kenyon for the last time, I’m not going to live in a nice house (or a house at all). My job will probably not be my dream job. When I move to a new city, I won’t have a network of friends ready-made or even know my way around the local Kroger. And that’s okay. That’s normal. In Queer Eye episodes, many of the subjects and the Fab Five reveal details about their pasts that make it evident that they did not graduate college as business owners or reality TV stars. Some subjects of episodes make it through cross-country moves, whole careers, and even multiple marriages before they’ve built their happiest life. Normalizing that has been huge for my view of my own future. Looking at these real stories makes me feel like graduating college is no longer a black hole of adulthood, but the first step on a long path.

3. It’s never too late to make a change. 

The first episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye centers on a man much older than the Fab Five. Tom is 57-years-old, divorced, and living in a pigsty. When he meets the Fab Five for the first time, he informs them that “You can’t fix ugly.” After his week with the guys, however, he was insanely confident, his home looked amazing, and he was about to go on a date with his ex-wife. Most of the subjects of Queer Eye episodes are adults in their 30s or 40s, with careers and families and homes with mortgages. Until watching Queer Eye, I assumed that once such a stable and permanent life is acquired, it becomes impossible to make big changes. But after these three seasons, I have seen that even though roots may be put down, that doesn’t mean that big changes can't be made. The change doesn’t have to be drastic, but the impact will be big as long as there is a willingness there. I don’t need to move to a new city or change careers to feel changed. Improving life as a grown-up can be as simple as adding a blazer to my outfit.  

4. I should gush over regular people.  

My absolute favorite part of Queer Eye is when someone absolutely glows after getting a compliment from the Fab Five. Jonathan, in particular, treats everyone like royalty and compliments them as though their best features are on a level that he’s never seen before. And, deep down, even the most self-deprecating subjects start to believe it. It’s so, so evident. I saw first-hand how necessary it is to gush about regular people like they’re extraordinary because, honestly, everyone is. That mentality has made me look at everyone around me in a more positive light. The mindset of celebrating everyone’s attributes instead of feeling jealous is transformative. Not only has it made me a better and happier person, but also it has made me look at myself with so much more kindness. If I’m celebrating everyone around me like the royalty they are, then there must be room to celebrate myself as well.  

5. I can work on myself while already loving myself. 

This is the last, and potentially most important, lesson I’ve learned from Queer Eye. I’ve always been wary of “makeover” shows. All too often episodes show the subject living in squalor and misery, and all of a sudden, with a few superficial changes to their appearance (usually involving losing weight) they’ve become amazing new people with newfound opportunities and support from all the people in their life. I felt like these shows perpetuated beauty standards, especially for women. But from the very first episode, Queer Eye was nothing like that at all. The Fab Five definitely change the appearance of everyone who comes on the show, but the focus isn’t making them more palatable to others, it’s about making them more palatable to themselves. It’s about increasing confidence, and that isn’t necessarily connected to appearance. A big thing that Karamo works on with the subject of each episode is how they can become happier in their life and how to identify what could be holding them back. It’s not about getting a chubby person to shave ten pounds, it’s about transforming a life. This is also evident in the way that the Fab Five treats everyone who comes on the show: it is almost never suggested that someone make a change to their appearance that alters their natural body. They are never encouraged to lose weight or get braces to align their teeth, or dye their grey hairs. The Fab Five showers each guest with compliments from start to finish, showing that what they care about isn’t looks but confidence. They encourage everyone to love themselves and emphasize that self-love is not conditional upon being able to make an aioli. This has been a game-changer for me. I often look at myself as a work in progress, as anyone trying to improve themselves should, but Queer Eye was the first place I saw that pushing for progress could occur while loving myself the way I am. Because the way that I am is pretty cool. 

Queer Eye is so much more than a makeover show. I would’ve thought it was crazy to believe that a reality show about gay guys making over straight dudes could have helped me so much on my journey to self-love and confidence, but it has. I try to feel cute when I look in the mirror in the morning, without having lost any weight or putting anything expensive in my hair, and I try to exude more confidence in everything I do, because taking care of myself makes me a better person. I hope Jonathan would be proud.  

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