While it’s the month to officially celebrate women, I’m actually going to turn our attention to men today.
In my quest to find a binge-able show on Netflix, I was scrolling through its latest releases and happened upon “Queer Eye,” the remake of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” While the make-over premise is still the same, this version has a new team or “Fab Five” and differentiates itself by evolving some of the least likely types — from religious Christians to self-described red necks. Out of desperation for something — anything — to watch, I gave it a whirl. Within days I had watched all eight episodes and cried at the close of EVERY SINGLE ONE. Needless to say I was moved. And I’m not the sentimental type.
Every one of the male “subjects” featured goes through a major transformation. Sure, each gets a better haircut and wardrobe in the end. But that’s not what I’m talking about. They all become more open-minded, more understanding and more self-loving. And like me, each of them cries at the end of his metamorphosis. But don’t discount the physical changes. It’s because they have elevated their personal beauty, and the beauty of their surroundings, that this tremendous change happens.
I was so excited with the show that I immediately called my long-time friend and partner-in-crime on all my professional anthropological studies: cultural anthropologist, Thomas Maschio. Because his insights never cease to amaze me, I basically forced him to watch this show and share his thoughts. Like me, he was moved. And like me he saw how it was the beautification process in particular that brought these men to a higher plane.
Would these men have evolved if they learned other things, like playing a sport or learning to appreciate poetry? To some extent yes, but it was their exposure to beauty rituals and their new found knowledge of beautiful things that stretched them as far as they did. Tom phrased it like this: “beauty opens up inner space or emotional life for the subjects/objects of the Fab Fives’ attentions. It frees them up from their constricted ways of feeling and their constricted ways of moving about their own lives.” In other words, beauty opened them up, and as a result, each has his own “coming out” experience.
What’s really going on here? As the consummate anthropologist, Tom points out that each episode has a ritual of sorts that leads to the transformation:
- Setting out — the team gets an overview of the subjects and his particular areas of development
- Encounter and initial assessment — the Fab Five meets the subject and sees all of his issues …often this can be the most hilarious part of the show
- Discarding of material objects — as it sounds, an in-your-face act of throwing the old life away, from stained easy-chairs to clothes that are 5 sizes too big.
- Sharing of truths (mutual empathy) — these are often the most profound moments. While the individual team members are very different from each subject, there’s always something they bond over. This could be a fear of coming out to one’s family, an intolerance of the “other,” or the sad truth that neglect of one’s appearance shows a lack of concern for his partner.
- Teaching and convincing — life coaching through scotch tasting or shopping or a trip to the salon.
- Connection — emotional recognition by the subject for his need to evolve and his gratitude to the team for his reinvention
- Reintroduction to the social realm — this is when the men reveal themselves to their families or loved ones and take the leap they didn’t have the courage to do prior to the experience. They all gain greater confidence in themselves which opens themselves up for more love and kindness towards others, e.g., their wives, parents, children and friends.
Through these steps the men change. The outward changes lead directly to inward ones. And beautification is the impetus. As Tom explains it: “Beauty opens people up…the beautiful is disruptive; disrupts perception, enlarges it, halts the usual flow of thinking and feeling. So when these guys are introduced to that in ways they can understand, their usual ways of going about things are disrupted.” Because most of the subjects live in a culture that embraces a conservative or hyper western sense of masculinity, e.g, lack of concern around attire and grooming and a more constricted way of socializing, the Fab Five free these men to explore new, more expansive aspects of male beauty, and maleness in general.
What’s more, these men embody the changes. They experience them via their physical selves, not just their intellectual or spiritual ones. From new hairstyles to beard looks to eating different foods, these reformed men literally see the transformations on and around themselves. Finally, whether it’s via grooming, getting dressed or or consuming more sophisticated flavors, these men are literally touching their physical selves. They are performing acts of self care which I believe help them love and care for themselves more.
Why do I care so much about this? As I’ve said in previous posts, I think men in our society can only benefit from getting in touch with their physical selves. By opening themselves up to beauty, they will not only see the world in a new, elevated way, but they will get in touch with their bodies. The result? A greater appreciation of themselves, and in turn, more empathy and love for others. Now, more than ever, in this time of so much hatred and abuse in our society, don’t we need this? If more men actually loved themselves, not in narcissistic way but because of their new-found confidence, they would undoubtedly embrace others. And if beauty is the key to unlock this change then let’s harness it. And oh yeah, who doesn’t love to see men in a well tailored suit?. That’s something we should all celebrate!