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Why You Should Watch RuPaul's Drag U
I’m not a fan of America’s Next Top Model. It’s one of those reality shows where I look at it and think: why should I care about these people? Pretty girls getting nice things handed to them just because they’re pretty. I prefer reality shows that give opportunities to people who wouldn’t normally have it easy. So, I came with reluctance when my wife wanted to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, which was very loosely modeled after Tyra Bank’s show. The only time I had ever heard of Drag Race was on The Soup where Joel McHale poked fun at the ridiculousness of a realty show about drag queens. And, I won’t deny that there was some weirdness at first for a straight man to watch a show about other men looking pretty. (It’s shocking how much like women some of them look). However, the more I watched Drag Race, and later Drag U, I realized that there was a lot more beneath the cattiness and the drama that we’ve come to expect from reality TV. At their heart, these shows are about overcoming adversity and loving who you are. It is a message that is not only endearing, but one that all of us can relate to on some level. After having seen both Drag Race and Drag U, I can say with authority that they are shows worth watching. As for why I picked Drag U as the focal point, I will explain below.
Drag U has a fairly simple concept. Real women who have, for whatever reason, lost their self confidence and the traits that make them women, come to this faux university to get a makeover. However, it’s no usual makeover; it’s a drag makeover, which means big hair, heavy makeup and gaudy jewelry. This comes complete with a new drag name and a lip sync performance in front of a live audience. At the end, the three women are judged by a panel and one woman is selected to have graduated from Drag U. While this is the hook of the show; the surface makeup so to speak, the real heart is how these women have become damaged. Maybe they had an injury and let themselves go. Maybe they’ve become unemployed and have lost their self worth. Maybe they experienced something traumatic in their past and have decided to bury their femininity under as much clothing as possible. One way or another, all of them have discarded any notions of being girly, but more importantly, they’ve lost their sense of self confidence and self worth. So, while a large portion of the show is spent making them look like a sparkling diva (and loving the skin they’re in), the other part is spent locating the problem, dragging it out into the light, and helping these women find inner strength like they’ve never known. It’s an incredibly deep and human struggle when we think ourselves worthless and the idea of a drag queen, of a take-no-crap persona, is used skillfully here to personify that inner strength. The women explain their worries and fears, then get asked what their drag persona would think of those same worried and fears. Almost every time they say that the drag queen would brush it off and keep being fabulous. The point made here is that the drag queen and the woman are one and the same; she has the power inside her to be strong, she just never knew it before.
You might ask yourself who would be qualified to help these women on an emotional level, and drag queens might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, upon watching the show, drag queens are actually the perfect choice to help these women find inner strength. This is the part where it helps if you’ve seen Drag Race because all of the drag professors are former contestants. So, in that regard, it’s fun to see your favorites again. But, the reason that these men are the perfect choice is because they know what it’s like to struggle with self doubt, self worth and a majority of citizens who disapprove of everything they do. As gay men, they know what it’s like to be a repressed minority; beaten down by family struggles and hateful religious and political groups. They’ve struggled to find their own inner strength, and it has manifested in the form of their larger than life drag counterparts. It’s incredibly easy to forget, while watching the show, how dark some of these men’s lives have been, and still continue to be. But without finding that strength, they might never have been able to continue on. It’s incredibly encouraging and sends an invaluable message of self empowerment and acceptance. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the show’s host; RuPaul. Instrumental in bringing drag to the mainstream, RuPaul has worked hard to be where he is and, despite the hardships he has endured, he manages to keep a smile, tell a joke, and look great. He understands that many struggles are entirely mental, and the only way to overcome them is to push forward.
When it comes time to ‘draguate’ at the end of each episode, the transformations can be quite shocking. Not only do these women look drastically different, but the way they hold themselves, versus how they held themselves at the beginning, is night and day. It’s almost like the drag is a superhero costume; instantly lending them confidence and strength. Not everyone succeeds flawlessly, but the effect is always noticeable. I have no idea if these women take their confidence with them after leaving the show, but it’s unquestionable that most, if not all of them, enjoy their experience and take something away from it.
Ultimately, there are two reasons why I think everyone should watch this show. The first is its emphasis on overcoming hardship and finding inner strength. It is a lesson that all of us need to learn. To quote RuPaul; what other people think of us is none of our business. Be yourself and love yourself. The second reason is because it helps spread awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community. Being gay isn’t something to be ashamed of or hidden, and neither is being a drag queen. This show, and Drag Race, helps to illustrate that we’re all human. We all worry and we all struggle with self doubt. There is no reason why anyone else should be treated differently. Since the unknown frequently perpetuates fear and hate, Drag U and Drag Race helps to open up a world that most people never knew about and show that there isn’t anything wrong with it. After all that, it’s just a bonus that you also discover a wide range of likeable, and colorful, characters. The personality of a drag queen lends itself well to this TV format, which results in a lot of well timed humor and reality show drama. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reality TV and has an open mind.