I love “Queer Eye” with all my heart. The Emmy winning Netflix show, based off of an old series with a similar venture over a decade ago, has thousands of fans from around the world and has already filmed four seasons. However, my personal favorite episodes have been when they’ve flown to Japan, showing how flexible and dynamic they are in a culture that they are not familiar with.
The Fab Five, Bobby Berk (interior design), Karamo Brown (culture), Tan France (style), Antoni Porowski (food) and Jonathan Van Ness (grooming) all bring different perspectives and advice to the “heroes” that are featured on each episode. Although the editing has to condense the content into a short amount of time, what it doesn’t leave behind is the genuine warmth and compassion that the Fab Five give to the heroes, and the lessons they want to share with their viewers as well. The chemistry they have on set is electric.
Each one of the members have hinted at or shared a part of their backstory while on the show. This year, three of the Fab Five released books that I had the opportunity to read recently. The books made me feel a deeper connection to the members in terms of where they got their start, and also provides an interesting background into the creation and motives of each person to the show.
These were my takeaways from the books written by Karamo, Tan and Jonathan.
“Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope” By Karamo Brown
This was one of the first books I grabbed off the new book selections at my library (shout to Lucy Robbins Welles Library) because I recognized Karamo from the cast of Queer Eye. The book itself did not disappoint, going into Karamo’s ethnic and racial background while struggling with being “manly” and the strained relationship he had with his parents, his father especially, at different momentous points throughout his life.
What really made me pay attention to the writing was how Karamo talked about the development of relationships he had with men in his life as he struggled with drug abuse. He talked about the relationships he had in the past that allowed him to have a strong relationship with his husband right now. It was really cute to read about how he had proposed to his husband (there were a lot of tears).
What was really inspiring was how Karamo reiterated the “lead by example” mantra that he also tries to instill in his sons. As he talks about in the show and in the book, culture goes beyond just what we might think of “culture” such as art and music; it’s much deeper with people, as Karamo’s journey shows throughout the time he has been in the public and private eye.
“Naturally Tan: A Memoir” by Tan France
I related to this story the most as a minority in a predominantly white neighborhood (I’m Vietnamese American). Tan wrote about growing up in a small English country called South Yorkshire, where it was also a predominantly white neighborhood with very few South Asians. He wrote a lot about having to suppress his identity at times while also trying to express himself in other ways, such as clothes, a trait that he’s most known for on the show. Fun Fact: In the book, Tan talks about the creation of the “french tuck” that draws his name to my mind every time I attempt my own French tuck at home.
What drew me to Tan was the incredible hustle he had for businesses and all the jobs that he had accrued at a young age. He spoke about how each of those jobs were a large signifier of his life for something else, and how he learned what kind of boss he did and did not want to be. A nice quirk of the book was the fashion advice sprinkled throughout the book and the face mask recipe that Tan shares.
“Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love” by Jonathan Van Ness
This was the most recent book that I had read from the Queer Eye cast and it it hurt me the most. Jonathan wrote about how dark his past was, and it was indeed very dark. He goes into vivid detail about the drug abuse he went through, his relapses and exploring his sexual identity in Quincy, Illinois, which was not all accepting of who he was.
It was endearing to read the story of ice skating and gymnastics that he weaves throughout his book as well as his path to being a celebrity hairdresser. It was touching and sad to see that although he tried to make something a little lighter with his trademark vernacular (lot’s of “oh honey” thrown in) the stories that he tells are very much real and how he has developed the personality and stance on politics that he has. He is a huge advocate for youth and victims of abuse among others, listing resources in the back of his book.
For all the books, I enjoyed the light nod to Queer Eye at the beginning and end of the autobiographies. Each of the boys had their own adorable story for how they all met and became fast friends. Ultimately, the focus was on the development of these people in becoming what we see on Netflix, which is not even a full envelope of their personalities.
When I re-watch the show this time, I’m certainly going to have these stories in my mind and take more of their words and advice to heart as I try to connect those moments to moments in their past.
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.