Have a Fab-Five February! Love Yourself, Honey, Reality-TV Style

Imaginary makeover in progress (photo by Meredith Siemsen and Torrey Witherspoon)

This year started with a whimper more than any I can recall. After the holiday hubbub, my hiney hit the couch, where it remained for an entire afternoon and evening as I imbibed every remaining Christmas cookie, fudgy chunklet, and orange-cheese popcorn kernel from the huge Christmas-puppy tin somebody re-gifted me. Eight hours later, my tired eyes spiraling, I finally shuffled off to bed, vowing that the next day I’d start fresh! Rested! Ready for a new work week. A new year.

Only to find that the following day I just did more of the same. Horizontal vegetation. Napflix. I kept wondering if I had caught “the plague,” but my symptoms were presenting primarily as a lack of willpower to stand up and do my dishes. If you looked hard enough, say, around January 4th, you would have found actual roots growing out of my starchy white ass right into the cushions of my couch. Poh. Tay. Toe.

Can you blame me? Season six of my favorite reality TV show had been released into the wild, filling my heart with hope and my eyes with tears for ten precious episodes that allowed me full, if temporary, denial of my underlying despair about the state of humanity.

A week into the fray of grayness, any task I had on my to-do list felt insurmountable. That commitment I had made to writing “my own stuff” for 30 minutes daily seemed hilarious now, and simultaneously made me feel like a failure. I could barely even muster a haiku.

Everyone needs a rest sometimes, I told myself. A time when doing and accomplishing just isn’t required. But I was tired of feeling gross. What I needed was a serious hit of vitamin D. What I wanted was for the Queer Eye cast to pull up in my driveway.

Imagining a Makeover Miracle

I visualized a silhouette of the Fab Five in their cropped trousers and chunky heels, posing Charlie’s Angels-style in my doorway. But instead of pointing pistols, they were voguing with cordless drills and blow-dryers, ready to burst onto my scene with some “yessss queeeeens” and glossy-eyed heart-to-hearts about where I felt stuck and what I wanted help with. Pure, reality TV-style makeover magic.

I wanted remodeled rooms oozing with modern lighting solutions and furniture not purchased secondhand. I wanted a bouncy, flouncy new hairstyle and gorgous, glowing skin. I wanted one-on-one better-for-you breakfast cooking lessons and ample counter space to make it all happen. And I wanted a redesigned walk-in closet filled with inspired styles I never knew I could rock. I was ready for teary-eyed group hugs and declarations of gratitude for a life-changing week with my new besties.

As far as I know, nobody has nominated me for a makeover/lifestyle overhaul from the Fab Five, so kids, I decided to Queer Eye myself.

The crew from Queer Eye, Season 6: (L to R) Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness (Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman, Netflix)

Honey, I’ve seen enough episodes to know these LGBTQ icons have hearts even bigger than their show budget. And I know their show personalities like the back of my hand, so I figured maybe, just maybe, I had all I needed to flip the script on myself. As I lay in bed with my day clothes still on, I summoned the living spirits of Jonathan, Antoni, Bobby, Tan, and Karamo. Oh, Fab Five, imbue my life with purpose, peace, and creativity; sassy jackets, antioxidants, and matching appliances. Divas of design and nonbinary beauties, show me the way.

Jonathan Van Ness’s voice was the first to come floating through my head as I imagined him doing a flawless pirouette in an off-the-shoulder metallic dress and ankle boots before surveying the state of my pores and playfully roughing up my bangs. “Tiny little baby steps honeyyyyy-ah, baby steps-ah!” Jon is the only person I am aware of who can add an extra syllable to any word he wants and get away with it. Plus, he can do an unsupported handstand. “Can I just say that I’m a little bit obsessed-uh?!”

Baby steps. What baby steps could I reasonably take in, say, one week, that would make me begin to feel like a more fabulous version of myself and break some tired old patterns? It was time to get my Queer Eye party started.

A Visit from Bobby

When it came down to all my home-reno dream projects, the one most naggingly on my mind was the basement full of boxes from my old storage unit that I hadn’t looked in for seven years. Sports equipment, craft supplies, theater keepsakes, ten years of tax receipts, and a lifetime of books and music albums were jumbled together in a massive, corrugated cardboard heap. I had been telling myself all year: When winter comes, I’m going to deal with that pile—the size of which would make any reasonable person shudder and walk back upstairs. Bobby Berk, God of interior design, I chanted one morning from the dungeon’s deep, be with me now and help me find a beautiful solution for all my crap.

“I’m on it,” I heard him say crisply. I imagined the redhead himself manifesting next to me in a short-sleeved, polka-dot button down and eyeing my mountain of boxes sideways. “But your job is to start with a couple trips to Goodwill.”

I lit up. I was standing next to a ray of sunshine after all. “I LOVE shopping at Goodwill!” I beamed.

“Clearly,” he said, his blond eyelashes twitching. “But no!” he slapped the thigh of his drawstring chinos, “I mean it’s time to get RID of some stuff, girl! You are one person and a cat.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Are you still holding onto stuff you don’t use, love, or need anymore?”

I made an embarrassed oops face. He was sounding more like Marie Kondo than I expected.

“Pare it down a little and I’ll take care of the rest,” he boasted.

“Yes, Bobby,” I chirped, feeling a glimmer of hope. “You’re the best.”

“I know,” he said with a blue-eyed wink and turned on the heel of his open-toe sandal. The Queer Eye world is eternally summer, after all.

A Conversation with Karamo

Karamo’s show-assigned “Culture” category doesn’t quite do justice to the breadth of mental, emotional, and spiritual support that man gives to nominees who are all jammed up inside—or who give so much to others they’ve left no time for themselves. I do not fall into the latter category. This princess of introversion prizes her me-time above all else. So how would my sit-down with Karamo go? I’d serve him some lavender-honey tea in my living room and begin the conversation confession-style.

“Okay, so what I’m hearing is,” he’d say calmly in his “Made by Immigrants” t-shirt, “you are blessed with the gift of time, but you are spending a lot of that precious time on your couch.” He’d reach back to adjust a lumpy throw pillow, adding, “And you feel guilty about it.”

“Normally in January,” I’d explain, “I’m rehearsing a play, but that’s not going to happen again this year. Sometimes writing helps, but the well just feels dry right now. Like I should be doing it but I don’t want to.”

“Forget about what you think you’re supposed to do. What would bring you the most joy right now?” he’d ask.

“Well, I am having this recurring dream,” I’d say.

“Tell me.”

“I’m wearing a pair of roller skates.”

“Interesting. What would it be like to give yourself permission to not write a meaningful novel this month and go rollerskating instead?”

“Karamo, it would be f***ing amazing.”

He’d laugh and adjust the brim of his L.A. Dodgers cap. “You make yourself miserable expecting that what you were interested in last week will be the same thing you’re interested in this week. Or next year! Why not loosen your grip and go where the river wants to take you? Maybe right now you are in need of some new experiences to fill up the well—instead of writing about them. Consider it an artist’s date.”

“Gosh. Okay,” I’d say, feeling immeasurably lighter.

“Forgiveness, flexibility, and permission. We give it to everybody else but have such a hard time giving it to ourselves, don’t we? Make you happy, skating would?” This guy is like the Black yoda.

Now. Ordinarily the Netflix Queer Eye budget would spring for the private rental of a nearby roller rink so I wouldn’t have to skate into anybody else’s Omicron. On a “me” budget, however, I’ve decided I can get by with a flashy black KN95 and some jewel-studded goggles. I’ve made a date for next week. I’m already gliding.

“Roller-skating?! I’ve never been!” Tan pops his head into the room and flashes his pearly whites. “What do you think you’ll weeeear? Can we dress you uuup??”

Oh, I knew exactly what I would wear: the same stretchy-jeans-and-oversized-sweater ensemble I wear EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Basking in the Light of Tan

Tan. Gooorgous Pakistani-British accent. Amber complexion. Flawless silvery quaff. I show him my closet. He gasps. The clothes aren’t that awful, but the lighting is atrocious.

“But this,” I say, “THIS is the real problem.” I hike up the back of my tunic shirt and show him my butt. He gasps again.

“Okay,” he says, putting his hand on his chest, “can I just say, I’m a huuuge fan of a full bottom.” He’s a huge fan, and I’ve got a huge fanny? We’re perfect for each other! I wish I could keep him, but he’s a new daddy now and is needed elsewhere.

“I, however, am NOT a huge fan,” I whine. “Tan, my entire wardrobe is designed to disguise the size of my thighs and derriere. Ever since Gabe Nicles pointed it out to me in 7th grade, I haven’t quite gotten over it.”

“So, your self-esteem is based on the opinion of a 7th grader?” he asks.

What could I say? “Maybe? I think? … Yes.”

“Okay, I want you to let that sink in a little.” Tan tenderly hands me a tissue.

The tears start to leak out. “Is this the part where you tell me to try a French Tuck? Because I’m really not into that.”

“I want you to see yourself the way I see you. Beautiful, sexy woman. But sweetie, I want you to be comfortable and to feel gooood. Tell me what you do like.”

“Um. Nordic yokes. Vintage dresses. And I absolutely love your bow-front blouse and blazer look.”

“I can work with that. Tell me, when was the last time you let someone else dress you up? Like, choose for you an outfit, accessories, heels, the whole shabang?”


“Let’s start with that! We get into ruts, and sometimes it takes someone else’s eye to help us discover new looks that actually may bring out the best versions of ourselves.

“You don’t have to buy anything, but I want you to make a shopping date with a friend who is good at thinking outside the box. Do you have that friend in mind?”

I had that friend in mind.

“In the meantime, think about a piece you have that already brings a little sparkle. Makes you feel powerful, or pretty. Use it as a jumping-off place.”

A pair of earrings came to mind, a dazzling pair handmade with leather and copper that are so special and so glamorous to me I have never felt worthy of them. Three years later, I’m still waiting for the “right” occasion to put them on: an elegant New Year’s Eve party, a hot date.

Stuff THAT. Life’s too short, right? I’m going to wear those earrings. I’m wearing them to work. I’m wearing them to coffee. And I’m wearing them with high-tops while I crank the ’80s tunes and organize my GD basement til it shines. Until further notice, I’m my really hot date.

Antoni Epiphany

“Me and food …” I sigh to the Queer Eye guru of gourmet, Antoni Porowski. Antoni and I are in the basement chewing the fat while I pick through boxes in search of my favorite cutting board that got lost in last year’s move. A single ray of sunlight cracks through the window well and dances across my copper earrings, sending sparkles across the wall.

“I love food. Any food. All food. But I spend a shocking amount of time not cooking,” I admit. “Breakfast is the worst, though.”

“Why do you say that?” he inquires, exploring my box of Halloween wigs. He tries the black one on first. Reminds me of my grandmother.

I wipe my hands on a long-lost kitchen apron I just pulled out of a dusty crate. “I’m in such a hurry to get out of the house for my morning latte—my favorite part of the day—that food, actual food, is a total afterthought. Which means breakfast? Is a pastry. For six years, a butter, sugar, and flour pastry. Thus the muffin top,” I grab at the blubb above my waistband.

“Forgive my potty mouth, lady,” says the handsome man-boy who is now wearing a hot-pink shag, “but no wonder you feel like crap! Your mitochondria have nothing to work with! Have you thought of introducing some fruits or vegetables into the first meal of your day?”

“Thought of it?” I reply, “Oh, every day. But that’s as far as I get. My excuses? Very little counter space, no dishwasher, and no disclipline. I do a lot of boxed soup.”

“Let me get this right,” he says, depositing the hairpiece back into the box. “You want a fresh-food breakfast solution that involves a tiny amount of time, a tiny amount of space, and a tiny amount of clean-up?” Do I detect just a hint of sarcasm?

“And something that tastes better than gnawing on a stick of celery,” I add. “Am I asking too much?”

“What’s this?” Antoni lifts a small box out of the pile.

“Oh, that’s the single-serve Ninja blender my sister got me last spring,” I wave at it vaguely, turning my attention back to my missing cutting board. “Never been out of the box.”

“Umm … ” Antoni blinks at me with a raised eyebrow and that crooked but benevolent smirk he’s now famous for.

“Ohhhhhhhhhh,” I say, the light bulb finally powering on.

“This bullet blender can handle a lot,” he pulls out the manual and looks it over, excited. “It even comes with a recipe book?” Antoni is marching me up the stairs now, toward the kitchen. “Think of the fresh juices—the nutrients you can get from beets, carrots, apples, chard! Along with all of the fiber! Maybe get yourself some pea protein, and BOOM.” He swings open the door of my fridge to discover a single block of cheese, half a soggy onion, and 18 kinds of salad dressing. “But first, to the produce aisle! You’re about to start feeling much better!”

“Antoni, you beautiful Polish Canadian, you had me at beets,” I say with a watery mouth. Beets are the color of my happy.

Semi-Final Flourishes

Jonathan and I are dreaming up my new ’do. He’s leaning toward a little zhuzh of color; I might spring for some curls. But we both decided that between experimenting with breakfast smoothies, strapping on my skates for the occasional night out, and getting to the bottom of the basement pile, I’ve got enough to keep me in the sweet spot for a while. That said, he was absolutely elated that I got some rose-essence eye cream for Christmas so he could show me how to apply it with a rose-quartz eye flowy.

“Kiss those puffy eyes and fine lines goodbye, honey-ah!” he sang to me, punctuating his cheer with a Rockette-style kick as high as his mustache. God, I love him. Them. Her. Jonathan happens to be okay with all three pronouns.

And just so you know? Bobby kept his promise. A floor-to-ceiling shelf appeared out of left field—leftovers from a local restaurant remodel. Spacious, strong, and solid wood, the thing was on its way to the dumpster, and Bobby said, “Oh, I don’t think so!” Miracle Bobby even arranged an angel in Carhartts—a tall drink of water with a tempting trapezius—to help me schlep it across town and reassemble it. I maintain there is nothing sexier than a man with a drill and a T- square.

“Oh, stop your staring,” Bobby teased, redirecting my gaze back to a handful of paint chips. We beautified the new-to-me shelf with a fresh coat and crisp-looking cubby cubes—a collage of soft, silvery grays complemented by a couple natural-toned baskets. And get this, with the creative placement of some side steps, the tippy-top shelf doubles as a cat walk—for my actual cat—who is thrilled to have some high-up access to strut her stuff. The whole thing is just so glamorous, we might actually move into the basement.

• • •

Yes, Queeeen! (photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman, Netflix)

Sigh. My week with the Fab Five, however imaginary, was a game changer. It pulled me out of my funk and got the juices of creativity flowing again. I hope that team knows what a difference they make, even—no, especially—for the rest of us on the other side of the screen. Cracking our hearts open, chipping away at ugly untruths we tell ourselves, and creating space to live life more fabulously. Love is love is love.

I can hardly wait for season seven. And sooner than that, my new hairstyle. What do you think? Pink?

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!