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Jonathan Van Ness
Jonathan Van NessDon Nixon

How to love yourself, according to Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness

As the grooming expert on the hit Netflix series, Van Ness is showing the world what it’s like to be your authentic queer, femme self

When it dropped in February, no one expected that Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy – now just Queer Eye – would become a full-blown phenomenon. The show’s surprisingly tender and nuanced approach to the makeover genre resonated emotionally with audiences, as the new Fab 5 worked their magic on men — both gay and straight — who found themselves in funks.

While each member of the Fab 5 brings charm, wit, and kindness to the show, the one whose unequivocal authenticity shines through is long-haired grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness. Van Ness’s celebration of self is magnetic and infectious, and his approach to hair and skincare inspired confidence in each of the men he worked with. It’s no longer unusual to see effeminate gay men on television, but Van Ness’s exuberance, humour, and celebration of his femininity in the Netflix show is also liberating to see, as is the way that he leans into his queerness. Still, masculinity — both in and out of the LGBTQ community — is fragile, and there’s still a fear and stigmatisation of femme gay men. Van Ness’s glorious personality was dubbed “not for everyone” by a Queer Eye quiz on BuzzFeed, an opinion that was echoed on social media, even by gay men. It’s a common prejudice among certain #masc4masc gays, who reject femininity in the community in favour of “straight-acting” monotony. JVN himself called out BuzzFeed on Instagram for “femme shaming.”

Thankfully, Van Ness isn’t put out or put down by this prejudice, instead swinging back with fervent and fabulous femininity. It’s no wonder that Netflix has now recommissioned Queer Eye for a second season, expected to air later this year. We could all do with spending some time with the Fab 5, and Jonathan Van Ness in particular. So we gave him a call to talk about his love of long hair, self-care, and remaining confident in the face of adversity. We also put your grooming questions to the man himself.

Have you always had long hair?

Jonathan Van Ness: I wanted long hair my whole life. When I was a little kid, my mom would be like, "We get our hair cut once a month." So I just always got my hair cut. When I was in hair school I really wanted it to be long, but I kept cutting it off halfway through. And then this one time, I was, like, 20 years old and I got a head full of extensions. My friend Jamie learned how to do those very individual Lindsay Lohan-like extensions, very à la 2005. I had this Justin Bieber swoopy fringe in the front, because it was short still, but then if I blew it dry I was like a weather girl.

In 2012 I cut it off. I actually cut it off because I experienced a lot of rejection from gay men because I had long hair. I was 25 and I had also just broken up with my first partner. But once I cut it off I was like, "Oh my god! I'm a long hair person! I'm never changing who I am for someone else again."

How do you stay level-headed with you see things like the BuzzFeed quiz?

Jonathan Van Ness: Well, 99 per cent of the time I'm like, literally too busy and too fierce to notice. But every once in a while it'll catch me in a mood where I'm like, "I just can't let this go." I feel like Chrissy Teigen has just given me permission to do that. Like how Tyra taught me to smize, Chrissy taught me how to clap back. With the BuzzFeed thing, and just to be clear, there was a line like that for all of us. But mine was the only one that had to do with my personality. If what you're talking about is how my personality "might not be for everyone" then what you're saying is that being feminine or over the top is bad. And what is over the top? And who gave you permission to define what that is? I always think of my mom. She grow up in this really small town where I'm from and there's this amazing photo from when she was on the swim team. All the little girls had these flower swim caps and my mom was wearing a swim cap that horns on it. My mom was always told that she was fun but that she was too much and that she was very gregarious. Well I'm like, "Why?" She was just precious and adorable and had good fashion sense, it wasn't her fault that the others were being basic-ass little girls with flowers on their caps. Like, bye.

“I've been through a lot, I've experienced pain and suffering. I think because of that, even when things aren't good, I can find moments of joy and pockets of gratitude” – Jonathan Van Ness

You come across really confident, both on social media and on Queer Eye. What was it like for you to get to that point?

Jonathan Van Ness: Not easy. I think that suffering is relative. You know, a lot of people have had it so much worse, so I'm not trying to say that I've had this incredibly hard time. But I did get very mercilessly bullied. Going to school was an absolute terror for me for, like, a decade. It took me the first two decades of my life to string together 24 hours of feeling good. In the last 10 years I've watched my dad die of bladder cancer that spread to his brain and took him from my family in a really vicious and cruel way. And then a year later, my mum got ovarian cancer and, luckily, she's alive and she beat it, four years last month. So I've been through a lot, I've seen a lot, and I've experienced a lot of joy as well as pain and suffering. I think because of that, even when things aren't good, I can find moments of joy and pockets of gratitude.

How does beauty and self-care intersect for you?

Jonathan Van Ness: Self-care is the non-negotiable. That's the thing that you have to do. And beauty is the thing that can be the benefit of the self-care. Beauty is not the point. Beauty is just a cute side-effect from self-care. For me, it's way more about the inside than the outside.

Watching the show, I totally got that. It was about making people feel better about themselves.

Jonathan Van Ness: And look a little better. Just a little bit (laughs).

Okay, I’m going to ask you some reader-submitted questions. “My boyfriend keeps forgetting to use moisturiser, and when he remembers he's not bothered. How do I convince him that it's important to look after your skin without being a nag?”

Jonathan Van Ness: Leading by example is the best. So just do it yourself and let him see how good your skin looks from moisturising. Maybe do it in front of him. Just go and watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding, learn about how to ‘be the neck’, and just do it in front of him so that he'll want to do it because you look so gorgeous.

“What tips do you have for growing out healthy platinum blonde hair?”

Jonathan Van Ness: If you have dark, dark hair, or you're a brunette, that is a moment of a hair colour. That's a destination, it's not a lifestyle. Inevitably, your hair is going to break off from re-touching it. When you're overlapping bleach, it's impossible to keep hair healthy and long when you're starting off from a really dark colour. The only way you can maintain platinum blonde long hair and keep it really healthy is if your hair is already really light naturally and you're only moving the hair a shade or two. The second you're bleaching hair more than three or four levels on a consistent basis and want it long, and then you're heat styling it and living in the world – it's just impossible. You can get it there for a moment, and then you might get a couple re-touches out of it. But if you really wanted to have platinum blonde hair, get a wig and save your hair. Like, why do we have to be so into these extremes? Just get some highlights. Ask yourself why you need this platinum, crazy hair. Like, what is going on?

Finally,  “I have psoriasis on my knees and elbows and have sensitive skin. A lot of products seem to dry out my skin or look like it works straight away, and then two hours later my skin is dry and flakey. What’s good for dealing with psoriasis?”

Jonathan Van Ness: What I think is that you should avoid really, really dry things and really, really cold things. I used to love going to bikram and other hot yogas. I don't do those anymore because they really trigger flare-ups for me. Really hot showers trigger it, sunburns triggers it. So I try to stay out of the sun. A lot of fragrant detergents will flare up my psoriasis, so I avoid synthetically fragrant stuff in general. One thing I do believe is that when you find a medicine that does work for you, you want to make sure that you really moisturise your flared-up skin before you apply the medicine. If the flare-up is dry and then you put the medication on, sometimes it won't work because your skin is too dry. So I always pre-moisturise when I'm in the shower when I'm still dripping, and let my moisturiser soak in. I then pat dry and put on my medication when I'm still a little wet. Also, get serious about it, especially if you notice flare-ups happening after you eat certain things. I've never been able to tell about that myself, because I love Taco Bell and pizza too much.