Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

I may have mentioned before that I love the Netflix series Queer Eye. LOVE IT. It’s a balm for the weary 21st-century soul. Five adorable, kind gay men meet a person who is stuck somehow in their life… mentally, physically, emotionally, sometimes all three… and, with great compassion, help them break out of their funk and start to go after their dreams again. It’s just lovely and practically every episode makes me cry happy tears. It’s hard to pick a “favorite “of the Fab Five, but if I had to it would be Jonathan Van Ness. He is the hair and skin “expert” but like all the guys he has many more layers.img_4998

Little did I know just how many layers he has until I read his new memoir, Over the Top. Wow. He really lays his life out there for the reader and I find it so brave to be that vulnerable.

When people had asked me whether I was ready for my life to change, I don’t think I really understood what they meant. It wasn’t just that strangers would know who I was. It was this other thing that started to happen to me: when I looked in their eyes, sometimes, there was a little voice in my head wondering, Would you still be so excited to meet me if you really knew who I was? If you knew all the things I’d done? If you could see all my parts?

Over the course of the memoir we see how childhood sexual abuse and growing up gay in a small, conservative Midwestern town affected his life. Despite a loving, pretty accepting family, they didn’t seem to have the emotional tools to deal effectively or help Jonathan deal effectively with his own pain and anxiety. Young Jonathan turned to food and imagined skating and gymnastics routines to escape his complicated emotions.

From the outside, my carpet-skating routines were not actually quite as major as they felt inside my head, but they gave me something so important. Choreographing routines on my own in the basement for hours on end gave my imagination a place to roam free. Nobody was there to tell me how to move my body or what music was right for me to listen to. I could daydream about how if I nailed this short program I’d be heading into the long program in second place and could lock down my spot on the Olympic team. Being able to entertain yourself is a valuable skill, especially if you’re in a prolonged dark space. (For me, that was Quincy.) Maybe that’s dramatic, and maybe I’m too sensitive, but there wasn’t much naturally occurring joy in that era for me, so it was up to me to make my own. Especially being such a soft, round kid – who wanted to be a fit, sporty one – dancing made me feel graceful. It gave me a freedom I didn’t have anywhere else.

Later, Jonathan would develop an addiction to drugs that proved very hard to kick, as well as a sexual addiction. He delves into some very dark times in his life with amazing honesty, including the period of his life that he was a male prostitute. Reading this I felt amazed that he’s still alive considering all the risky and dangerous positions he put himself in. It’s a real testament to his family and to his spirit that he persisted and fought for a better life for himself.

When you’re a survivor of abuse, living in chaos can be the most upsetting yet comforting thing in the word. It was for me.

I loved reading about how he got into the hair business and started turning his life around. The section where he worked at a very posh, high-pressure salon in L.A. was fascinating. It sounds like a hellish, toxic environment that I’d never want to work in but he came away with so many skills and a new confidence in his abilities.

His step-father’s illness and death, his own HIV diagnosis, his eventual introduction into show business and landing the part on Queer Eye, they’re all covered. This is a very open, brave book. He showed that he’s not just the sunny, ultra-positive person he often seems on the show. Those are real parts of him but also there is real trauma and messiness there too.

Over the years I’ve heard horror stories of celebrities being dicks to nice people, and I always thought that was horrifying – why wouldn’t you be nice to your fans? What did you think you were getting into? But what I’ve realized is that you can’t be the same version of yourself at all times. Maybe your kidney function test results came back weird, so you have to go back to the doctor and you’re worried, but you can’t explain that to the fan who just wants a selfie. Maybe you just held your thirteen-year-old cat in your arms as the took their last breath, but the group of people wanting a picture don’t care – they just want their bubbly JVN, and they want him right now. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be held to this ideal, but what I really want to tell the people asking for photos is: I’m literally just as lost as you. And I’m just as much of a perfectly imperfect mess. People are layered- good and bad, filled with joy and sorrow. The key is being grounded in the relationship you have with yourself. Basing my worth in how I treat myself despite how others treat me has been the key to my success – and I want that for you too.

I really do feel like this book will help people. People with addiction and circumstances similar to Jonathan’s and people who just have your average insecurities and anxieties. It’s a fast read, engaging and at times funny with lots of Jonathan’s trademark phrases he uses (ferosh for ferocious, etc.) I loved this book. It’s a must-read if you’re a fan of the show and even if you’re not, it’s an entertaining and moving read. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

15 thoughts on “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

  1. Awww this sounds like such a good book! I always knew he had a rough childhood but i had no idea it was so bad! It seems like most of the fab 5 have overcome quite a bit to get where they are. And yes, they are so compassionate and empathetic towards people, which is why they are so special. So many people who have ‘worked from nothing’ seem to have such high, unfair expectations of everyone else around them. The whole “I worked hard and was successful so should you” mentality, but none of these men seem like that. Very inspirational!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I admire and respect JVN so much for coming forward about all the hard parts of his life, particularly the sexual abuse. Several members of my family have worked with a lot of kids who survived sexual abuse, and I know that it means the world for them to know that they’re not alone in what they went through. And I know that it’s particularly hard for guys to talk about this and I just respect and admire the hell out of him for being open about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not surprised to hear he had a rough childhood – when I watch him I can’t help but think that it couldn’t have been easy for him growing up. Which makes him all the more wonderful, of course.

    It would be hard to be famous for your upbeat personality and then have to keep it up for all your fans.

    I admire all five men on the show and my 14 yo daughter and I have watched them all together. If anything, she loves it even more than I do. And JVN is her favourite. 🙂
    (It’s too hard for me to pick a favourite!)

    I’m glad you reviewed this – I didn’t even know it was out! Do they all have a book out now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes me happy that you and your 14 year old share this show together.

      As far as books, Antoni just came out with a cookbook (that has a little bit of his story in it but not a lot) and Bobby does not have a book out that I know. Tan, Karamo, and JVN have memoirs out. I still need to read Tan’s. Karamo’s was solid if you’re a fan.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. He’s actually my least favorite of the group because he starts complementing and showering love on people without getting to know them at all first, and that irks me because it seems fake. However, your review has sparked my interest, and I may need to read this memoir!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair enough… does that make Bobby your favorite because he’s the most soft-spoken? I like how JVN gives people compliments at first because you can tell that they need some love… and he’s about to change their hair and/or grooming so he’s about to tell them what isn’t working, right? So maybe he’s just softening the blow? I don’t know. But the memoir is terrific. Maybe your library has it.


      1. My library totally has it. For as conservative as Indiana is, people still eat up The Fab Five. I think Anthony is my favorite because he seems the most genuine in his approach and body language. He came out with a cook book! A friend of my just read Kuramo’s book and said he was quite narcissistic, but I haven’t read it. I do enjoy Tan, but feel like he’s holding back something, as if he might be a person with a sad history. Is Bobby the only one without a book??

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m looking forward to reading this one although, because I’ve heard a couple of interviews by now, I’m not sure how much more I’ll find in the book. Still, I’m glad to know it’s out there in the world and finding lots of readers.

    For me, I don’t have a single favourite. I like their group energy, and feel like there are different things to admire about each of them, and I especially love how sometimes it’s just one of them that really seems to deeply connect with one of the show’s attendees, and how it’s not always the one of them that you’d have guessed (for that person on that episode, I mean).

    If you haven’t watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I recommend that as well. Similar energy but obvs a different concept. (I recommend starting with Season Nine and then deciding where to go from there if you enjoy it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll try and find it.

      I had read a great interview with Jonathan before I read the book and I was still surprised by all that he revealed.

      Yes! I love it when someone unexpected from the Fab 5 is the one who connects the most to the hero. I just finished the Japan episodes and they’re all wonderful. Can’t wait for the next season.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The first one in the Japan series was especially touching for me. The kind of energy that she puts out into the world is the kind of thing I deeply admire and it was lovely to see that others in her community are acknowledging her dedication and service. And I liked the other three well enough too. (Though sometimes I wondered whether they were truly understanding the cultural differences at work. Despite their efforts. Y’know?)

        Liked by 1 person

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