By EVE ALANA
We all know Jonathan Van Ness from Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” but do we really know the true JVN?
He’s known for his bubbly personality and his goddess-tier hairstyles, but Van Ness’ past was not glamorous. In his book, “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self Love,” Van Ness tells the reader everything they may have not expected about him.
Born and raised in small-town Quincy, Illinois, “Jack” as he was known, loved to choreograph gymnastics routines on his trampoline in his backyard. It was then that he noticed he wasn’t like the other boys in his class. And he was bullied for it, pretty badly.
Being a gay, somewhat chubby kid in the Midwest was not easy, so when he grew up and moved to Los Angeles, he figured it would turn his life around. Instead, Van Ness faced a series of issues, beginning with a drug use problem and ending with the new knowledge that he was HIV positive.
But this wasn’t the end for him. He became a well-known hairstylist and the star of a web series entitled “Gay of Thrones.” Then, he went on an audition for a new Netflix show, “Queer Eye.”
Something about Van Ness’ story is so compelling. Like he says in the very first chapter, “Sometimes I think people only want to see the side of me that’s power stomping in stilettos or spinning around on figure skates.” I only knew him as the peppy grooming-expert on one of my favorite TV shows before reading his book. But his message in this book extends beyond beard oil and hair gel. He teaches the importance of self-love and self-acceptance in a time when it’s hard to have both.
After moving to Los Angeles, Van Ness faced a debilitating sex addiction that ended a relationship with someone he really loved. He writes about his experiences and how he was using sex to hide his true pain.
However, instead of focusing on the physical aspect, he shares his willingness to go to therapy and even his decision to go to rehab. Van Ness encourages his readers to seek help when they need it, instead of pushing emotions down. He isn’t ashamed of his substance abuse issues, sex addiction and HIV status. They made him who he is today: the strong, positive pillar of love we see on “Queer Eye.”
This is an important lesson to teach young people today. Our generation feels so pressured to be perfect, despite the stress we feel and the incredible rise in mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Van Ness, an LGBTQ icon who so many young people look up to, isn’t perfect, but he loves himself and accepts himself for who he is.
The book opens with a sensitivity warning; while he mentions topics such as sexual abuse, drug use and sex addiction, he focuses on their effects on his life rather than describing them in unnecessary detail. He closes the book with a detailed list of resources, including The Trevor Project and Phoenix House
“Over the Top” was a quick read, clocking in at under 300 pages, but it was a deep and thought-provoking one. My biggest takeaway can best be summed up in a quote from the book, “Life is so much a daily exercise in learning to love yourself and forgive yourself, over and over.”