Give Yourself a Queer Eye Makeover on the Cheap

[Image description: a neat kitchen table with a vase of flowers. The chairs are mismatched but have all been painted white. Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash]
I never saw the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show from the early 2000’s, but I binged the Netflix revival that recently dropped with an all-new cast. In case you’ve never seen it, it’s a makeover/reality show where a team of five gay style experts (the Fab Five) make over a schlubby man. The Fashion guy gives him a new wardrobe; the Grooming guy gives him a haircut and a daily moisturizing routine; the Design guy renovates his home; the Food & Wine guy teaches him how to cook a signature dish; and the Culture guy does something different each time, generally teaching him a skill or having him try a new activity. By the end of the week, the subject is transformed and ready to take on some big event in his life.

I enjoyed the show a lot. It has an overwhelmingly positive feeling and message. Many of the episodes had explicit messages of acceptance and understanding. The Fab Five are tasked with excavating the “real you” buried under the subjects’ layers of self-doubt and emotional guardedness. They do this with a real sense of empathy and compassion. Conversations about hair, clothes, or food often give way to deep heart-to-hearts under the hosts’ gentle questioning. It really feels like they are genuinely interested in their subjects, and honestly want to set them up with the best shot at living their best and truest lives.

But the show also left me feeling uneasy, because so much of the show is about spending money. At least, I’m pretty sure the show pays for the subjects’ new clothes, home furnishings, etc., so they’re not spending money, but the show certainly perpetuates the idea that your life can be improved if you spend like an upper middle class person.

Achieving Queer Eye Results At Home

So, how can we emulate the best parts of the Queer Eye experience without spending a ton of money? Here’s my untested plan.

Choose your Makeover Week (or month...s). It can be really hard to make personal change because it never seems like the right time. You always think, "I'll start exercising... later." "I'll organize my closet... later." So, I think if you want to emulate the Fab Five experience at home, the best thing you can do is a choose a specific week that will be your Queer Eye week (or, more realistically, a longer period, like a month or more, since you have to do all the work yourself and integrate it with the rest of your life).

Before the Makeover Week starts, decide on your goals. What would you like to accomplish most? A style makeover? A home makeover? Personal change from within? Maybe a career jolt (which the series only really touches on tangentially)? A bit of everything? Choose specific activities and assign them to specific blocks of time.

How did the guy with two jobs get the time to do the makeover anyway? Did his jobs give him time off to be on a reality show? Did he just quit? Anyway, don't quit your job, because you aren't going to get any media exposure from your self-directed personal makeover. Probably. Unless something goes horribly wrong.

Set aside Me Time. The revelatory thing about the makeover, for a lot of the subjects, seems to be the novel experience of actually immersing themselves in thoughts about themselves: My Life Plan, My Dreams, My Style, My Signature Dish. The subjects tend to be people who wouldn’t normally do that because they consistently prioritize themselves last in their lives. Does that resonate with you?

You don’t need the Fab Five’s help or permission to focus on yourself! Set aside some Me Time just to do something you enjoy and check in with yourself. This doesn't need to be an expensive treat yourself moment. How about a hike, a coffee shop sit, a foot soak, a jigsaw puzzle. Any activity that clears your mind and gives you room for personal epiphanies.

Suggested mantra: This better awaken something in me.

Declutter. The KonMari method is free and I feel like it gets you 90% of the benefit of Bobby’s total home reno. I don’t think decluttering is inherently magic, but I do think that many people experience long-term benefits for the same reason that Queer Eye subjects might: it’s a practice that is all about positive change and getting out of a rut and getting in touch with your genuine desires. Finally, it is easier to find physical room to live your best life in a space that is open, functional, and calming.

When you're done, just once, try adding those little touches we normally don't bother with: fresh flowers, burning candles. Stage your home like you're selling it to give yourself "the big reveal." For added motivation, reveal your improved home to your friends or family.

Or I guess you could sell it.

Create a capsule wardrobe. Because this is a money-free makeover, I'm going to suggest shopping your existing wardrobe. (Hopefully, there's something good buried in there.) Notice that Queer Eye subjects usually end up with a fairly small wardrobe: maybe 10 shirts, 5 pairs of pants, 5 pairs of shoes. Try to create a Project 333-style working capsule for the current season. Focus on things that make you feel good, work for your lifestyle, and fit your body as it is right at this moment. Exclude anything that makes you feel bad about yourself when you wear it, even if it’s something you currently wear a lot. Especially if it's something you currently wear a lot.

Once you’ve chosen your capsule, organize the pieces lovingly, making it easy to see what you're working with in the morning. Take Tan's advice and hang things from dark to light. Admittedly, this is my favorite piece of Tan advice because it just like my favorite game, Blendoku. I LOVE COLORS.

Audit your morning routine.  This is a good opportunity to check in on your daily self-care habits and see if they’re serving you well. How’s your tooth-brushing game? Ask yourself Jonathan's favorite question: Do you floss??! Is there anything you could actually simplify? Get rid of any bottles and jars in the bathroom that are just taking up space. Stop using that face wash that makes you break out but it was so cheap and you’re not allowing yourself to replace it until you use it up.

Learn to cook a new dish. With Youtube and online recipes, there’s no need to wait for Antoni to come and teach you how to make gourmet grilled cheese. Think of a dish you enjoy when you eat out, and teach yourself to make it, just the way you like it. (Decluttering the kitchen first can help make it a functional space where you actually want to cook.)

Try a new activity outside your comfort zone. “Outside your comfort zone” doesn’t mean “something you’d never want to do,” it means “something you want to do but you’re scared.” Karamo’s not going to appear on your doorstep to take you to a zipline course, so take yourself. What's your zipline course? What else have you always thought about trying, but it was never the right time? Music lessons? Joining a local adult sports team? Fetish fair? Quaker meeting? Whatever you've been kicking around in your head, seize the day. Failure is better than not trying.

Only connect. The Fab Five is at their best when they’re helping their subjects connect with other people in their lives. While the activities above are you-focused, they’re not purely selfish, because they’re helping you with the self-knowledge and self-care you need to be able to bring your best self to other people. At best, a personal makeover can help you gain the confidence to be more vulnerable with others, and that helps you form deeper connections. (At worst, a personal makeover gives you a short-lived unconvincing bad-girl look like Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease, but even that is kind of interesting.)

Your makeover activities don’t need to be solitary, either! Pair up with a makeover buddy and cheer each other on. Bring your stepmom to the activity that scares you. Ask your fashion-forward student teacher to take you thrifting.

There is a beautiful vulnerability to admitting out loud, “I am trying to turn over a new leaf, I am trying to be better, I am trying to be my truest self.” It’s an opportunity to grow closer to the people in your life. Whenever a friend has admitted to me, often with some embarrassment, that they are trying to change something in their life, I always admire them more for it and want to do everything I can to help. (I of course have never done this. I'm the world's first trans person who was born perfect.)

Be open to make new friends on your travels, too. See potential new friends in people very different from you and from the people you normally meet. By the end of the week, you may be saying, “I never thought I'd say it, but I love these five lovable gays.”


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