“I love my girls” trills RuPaul on the new season of Drag Race. Her hit show, debuted in 2009, is America’s Next Top Model dragged up. Drag Race has become a popular favourite with people of all genders and ages in recent years, but drag queening hasn’t always been mainstream. Starting her career in the 1980s, Ru has openly spoken about the difficulties of being a Drag Queen in a male dominant society. She admits that she struggled with depression and drug dependency when her career was forced underground by rises in homophobia. In a conversation about her show with the Guardian in 2009, Ru reminded us that “We’re dealing with people who have been shunned by society and have made a life regardless of what anyone else thinks of them.”
Since her breakthrough with “Supermodel (you better work)” in 1993, Ru’s career has made leaps and bounds for the drag queening industry. In the early 1990’s she was signed to a modelling contract with MAC cosmetics, making her the first drag queen supermodel. She was featured on various billboards with the text “I am the MAC girl” and she landed her first talk show on VH1 in 1996, but it’s her message of sisterhood that has repeatedly inspired audiences.
The term ‘drag queen’ doesn’t refer exclusively to those who are men, and the majority of queens reject gender binaries, instead celebrating diversity of identity. When regarding her own identification, Ru writes in her biography “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee.” The hit show boasts queens identifying as men, women, and everything in between. Drag Race has seen many of her participants struggling with their gender identity and the superstar has encouraged them, in front of nations, to accept themselves. Ru sees gender as a platform for artistic interpretation and has mainstreamed gender fluidity, providing not just her participants but also the general public with a safer platform for experimentation and freedom of expression. She comments that drag is “a great social commentary:” that society takes gender binaries and rigid identity structures “too seriously,” warning “this (identity culture) is all façade“.
Ru’s infectiously accepting attitude is quite literally embodied in the tailoring of each of her Season 5 suits. Stitched on the inside pocket: YOU’RE BORN NAKED and on the collar: AND THE REST IS DRAG. Ru and her queens exemplify the ever-growing idea that your body and identity are canvases, and you can do what you choose to with the blank slates you are given.
In a society that constantly imposes unrealistic beauty expectations on women, Ru’s attitude is refreshing. The Be Real campaign reported 1 in 4 of us are depressed about our bodies this year, a statistic which highlights the need for body acceptance in the media. Ru and her drag sisters certainly provide such a platform. Considering this, maybe we should all take a leaf from Ru’s book and remember to “love yourself, because if you can’t love yourself, how you gonna love somebody else?”
Can I get an amen in here?