How Gaining 70 Pounds in 3 Months Taught Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness the Importance of Body Positivity
Hairstylist (and self-described yogi) Jonathan Van Ness understands that there’s more to good hair than vanity. “If your hair looks like shit, it brings your whole vibe down,” he says to InStyle. “In yoga we say that everyone has a magnet on them and you’re either positively or negatively charged. So if you’re liking how you’re looking, you’re gonna be more positively charged.”
The idea that it’s what’s on the inside that counts is exactly what Van Ness, now experiencing the fame that comes with reality TV stardom, brought to Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. On the show, he joins four other gay and yes, exceptionally well groomed men named Bobby Derk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, and Antoni Porowski, all of whom are tasked with physically and often spiritually transforming the lives of not-so-fab men across the South. The show was filmed in Georgia, specifically.
Van Ness—the one responsible for all things grooming—has quickly grown popular for his contagious, supremely positive attitude on the show, plus the fact that he says “gorgeousness” every other second. His approach to taking on the “heroes” (what the guys call the men being made over) is simple.
“It’s not about me putting my aesthetic on you because that’s what it ‘should be.’ I’m very curious about people when I meet them and I want to know, like, how much time they’re gonna spend. Is $30 for face cream the most you’ve ever spent, or is that, like, fine? It’s very much about being curious,” he says. “I try not to be too rigid when I’m working because the best comes when you’re more flexible and fluid.”
We caught up with Jonathan to talk about Queer Eye’s second season, body image and confidence, gay stereotypes, meeting Justin Theroux, and why Khloé Kardashian, according to him, makes the best jeans.
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Your energy and laughter make Queer Eye what it is. Tell us everything we can expect from Season 2. Like, eight-times-45 minutes of gorgeousness. You can expect crying, you can expect Georgia, you can expect me. You can expect so much stuff.
What was the toughest part of shooting? Logistically, we were shooting in Georgia in May, June, July, August—the hottest, hottest, hottest of the hot. That was challenging, just making sure that the five of us looked cute and no one was, like, sweating through their shirt.
Your standout trait on the show is your relentless positivity and ability to find the best in people. Where does all of that energy come from? I think that I’m, like, an introverted extrovert. At the end of the day, when I get done doing hair at the salon or shooting a day of Queer Eye or whatever, I definitely want to come home and, like, order pasta and sit with my cat or just one person or no people. I do need to recharge alone and have alone time. As a kid growing up, I really hated being alone. I was always that kid that was like, “Do you want to hang out? Let’s go to the mall. Let’s go to the movies. Let’s go to the park.” I would call people and call people and call people. If I was alone when I wasn’t at school then there was something wrong. Now I spend a lot of time with myself.
Is alone time important to you? Oh my god, yes! And realizing the difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is, like, when you wish someone else was there, and solitude is when you enjoy being alone. I don’t always wanna be alone, but I definitely like pockets of solitude to recharge and come back to myself. I think that’s so important for everyone.
You recently wrote, “Beware of that perfectionism henny, she can drive you but don't let it define you.” Are you striving to be perfect? I struggle with that now, 100 times a day. Everyone does. If you’re having a harder time, or you’re just not feeling good enough or you’re just really wishing that someone else was going to show up for you and save the day, like, where’s your big, tall, muscular man to hold you ‘til your pain goes away? Sometimes that means you have to go take yourself for a mani-pedi and, like, a movie, alone. Show yourself that you’re worth being there for you. It’s even richer and more rewarding if you do it for yourself. Sometimes it’s a mani and a pedi, but other times it’s like, blocking, that person on Instagram and not thinking about it anymore. That’s showing up for yourself.
You’ve recently been chronicling your trips to the gym and posting body-positive messages. Have you always been into fitness? Before I started going to the gym a lot I was always a really avid yogi and did a 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2009. I practiced yoga, like, 6 days a week. That’s when I got addicted to the endorphins that you get from working out. Once I work out in the morning there’s nothing I can’t handle. First and foremost, the main reason I work out is literally for the chemical high that my brain gives me from working out, I feel much better. It also keeps me calm and more grounded. I make better decisions when I work out in the morning. I’m more patient and compassionate with myself now than I was before.
In 2012, my stepdad died of bladder cancer and I gained, like, 70 pounds in three months. I just could not stop eating, and that took me, like, two years to lose that weight. My fitness journey now has really been from that really rapid weight gain. I was a chubby kid who got made fun of a lot, and I got fit in high school and I stayed fit in my 20s, until my dad died. I went from being pretty fit to 230 pounds, which isn’t, like, the biggest for being 6-feet-tall, but I had been 165 pounds just three months prior. That taught me a lot about how people treat you differently when you’re fit and when you’re bigger.
How did that make you feel about fitness? There was a time when I was like, “Oh my god, I have to lose this weight because if I don’t, then who’s gonna date me?” [Now], my working out is about me. It wasn’t always like that, but that’s where it’s landed. It’s something that I choose to share because I want to help people feel better and I found that for me, just sharing myself seems to be helping.
I love that Queer Eye celebrates LGBTQ people—especially the cast—for simply being themselves. There are other shows that perpetuate the stereotype of gay men as sexually promiscuous hot dudes who look like Michaelangelo's David. Do you feel pressured to look a certain way as a gay man? ... I’m so sorry. I was trying to think if I should lie and say that you broke up but really I just saw Antoni [Porowski]’s cute, new takeover for Meghan Trainor’s playlist and I got distracted right as you were asking that. My ADD just kicked in. It is hard. I think that the ideal of men’s physiques in general, gay or straight, is one of the most under-talked-about things ever. Ninety-five percent of these bodies that we’re seeing, that we’re striving so hard to look like, are genetically engineered, like, let’s be very clear. It’s steroids. It’s just important for people that are trying to do the best with what they have to be honest about it.
I joke all the time about wanting to get on steroids because I see other guys. I’m like, I wanna look like that—but then do I? Who is this for? Is this because I’m afraid if I don’t look like this I’m gonna wind up alone? Or is it because I really want myself to look a certain way? When I answer that question honestly, like, I love how I look right now. If I were to do steroids, it would be so that other people would see me the way that I already see myself. And no! Fuck that. No. No, thank you. But if I didn’t work out, I would literally worry for my blood pressure because of what I do to Postmates three nights a week. It’s also a health thing, like, I need to sweat out that sodium.
In addition to being a reality star, you're a hairstylist. Why is a good haircut so important? It all comes back to positive self-talk. I would say a key to liking your hair is embracing what Mother Nature gave you. If you have really curly hair, maybe try not ironing it every day. If your hair is really, really dark, maybe embrace that. From my experience, usually where people’s hair gets super messed up is when you’re, like, constantly fighting what Mother Nature gave you.
What should you never do to your hair? Never go two shades lighter or darker than your color. Every time you [need to correct your color], it’s when your base color is two shades lighter or darker than your natural color. Typically, Mother Nature does not have it that wrong.
Tell me about meeting Justin Theroux. Meeting him was amazing. He has such a great group of friends, and I love my cute, little New York group of friends now, like, who gave me permission? That’s the beauty of social media. Nowadays you can just get connected with so many people. Since the show has come out, I really appreciate it when people just talk to me and don’t put me on a pedestal and can just be themselves with me. In the couple of instances where I’ve met really major celebrities, I’ve tried to just be myself. Don’t be a crazy, star-struck person. I just try to be myself wherever I go.
Does this mean we can expect Emma Stone or Justin to make a Queer Eye appearance? I don’t know, girl! Wouldn’t that be fun?
You went to your first fashion show at New York Fashion Week this year with your costar Tan. What was that like? It was crazy. I loved it. There was a lot of, like, attitude there. There were a lot of really intense people, which I could really do without that piece, but getting to go to shows with Tan was so fun!
And the Good American jeans you wore there—you said you stole those from the women's rack? Here's the thing: I have these painted-on stretch black jeans that I’ve loved for, like, 100,000 years and I bought at a store in Arizona when I was 22. I’ve never been able to find a pair of men’s stretch pants that are that again. And then I discovered A.P.C. women’s jeans and I was like, “Okay, that’s what I’m talking about!”
But then my girlfriend Denise Bidot, I did her hair, she worked with Khloé [Kardashian] and the Good American squad. She’s like, “Jonathan, if you’re looking for a really stretchy, comfortable black jean, like, duh, Good American.” And I was like, ugh! Since when has gender ever gotten in my way of jeans? Duh! Denise introduced me to them, honestly. I’m just wondering when Khlo Khlo is gonna get into a men’s jeans moment because I feel like we’d be gagging for them. They’re so good. And also you can beat them up, like, washer-drier.
I have to say, I’m not like a Keeping Up with the Kardashians person per se, but she can make a jean, honey. She designed the shit out of those jeans. So kill it, Khloé. Kill it.
That was the most glowing endorsement of Good American I’ve ever heard.
Good American and Frame, that’s the denim I’m living for. And A.P.C. jeans, but only the ladies’ jeans because the boys’ are really stiff. I wanna be able to do, like, a round-off backhand spring in my jeans.