As the UK sits in its third lockdown, girls, gays, and theys everywhere rejoiced at the return of RuPauls’ Drag Race UK. The show’s newest and second series has brought the familiar comfort of camp escapism the country was in dire need of. Furthermore, this series’ queens are reaching new heights. Arguably the catchiest song in Drag Race herstory, UK Hun? reached number 27 on the U.K. Singles Chart. On top of this, queens A’Whora and Bimini Bom Boulash walked for Art School in London Fashion Week.
Since viewers first enjoyed Drag Race (through its infamous blurry camera lens) back in 2009, the show’s popularity has skyrocketed. Discussions and representations of queer culture have never been more relevant, and the show’s continued success proves this.
In its twelve years, Drag Race has (although sometimes reluctantly) adapted to reflect modern times, and more inclusively represent the queer community. For example, until 2015, RuPaul’s pop-ups to the queens in the workroom were dubbed ‘She-Mail’, before being axed in response to its transphobic connotations (a change RuPaul told the Guardian, he wouldn’t have made himself). More recently, episode three of the newest series showed a heartfelt conversation between two queens, Ginny Lemon and Bimini Bon Boulash, about their gender identity.
‘Nonbinary isn’t a new thing, it’s just a new term. As humans, we’re so complex, that having a binary to fit everyone into it, whether it’s just male or female, just doesn’t make sense.’Bimini Bon Boulash
Unfortunately, Drag Race’s progressiveness only goes so far, with one uglier element of the show persisting within its newest series. The show, and RuPaul himself, still demonstrate frustratingly old-fashioned opinions regarding the queens’ size. This, like other old-fashioned, politically incorrect aspects of the show, has existed since the start. Ru has persistently glorified and trivialised disordered eating. Until the show’s eighth season, the final four queens were invited to an intimate lunch, wherein Ru serves only TicTacs. In season three, during a cake-based fashion challenge, Ru spoke to the queen’s individually on the amount they had eaten; ‘this cake is almost all gone!’ Stats show eating disorders at a higher-than-average rate in LGBTQ+ people, something Drag Race queens have discussed battling with on the show. But despite having some iconic big queens in most seasons, and the show’s “if-you-can’t-love-yourself-how-in-the-hell-are-you-gonna-love-somebody-else” messaging, a bigger queen has never won.
In 2021’s Drag Race UK, despite some of the more overt fatphobia being removed, it is clear the judges still view thinness as synonymous with fashion and success. Eager to lose her branding as ‘basic bitch’ of the series, Tia Kofi was encouraged for several weeks by the judges to improve her look. However, the basis with which they seemed to believe Tia had this ability wasn’t on her hard work or skill, but her thin figure. ‘Tia is basically a sample size!’ Ru announced in the third episode. ‘Kiddo, you’ve got it! Look at those gorgeous legs’, in the fifth episode. ‘Look at that gorgeous body, you could wear anything’ she repeated in episode six.
This persistence of valuing thinness-above-all has been presented outside of the show as well. Tweeting about backhanded comments, this series of Drag Race UK’s curviest queen, Lawrence Chaney tweeted ‘Maybe I wanna look fat today? Like I don’t want to look thin? And some people can’t handle it. They think it’s okay if someone’s fat ONLY if they are desperate to be thin’.
Popular shows like Drag Race represent the continued pressure to be skinny in order to achieve within society. As proven in the Drag Race world, thinness equals fashion, style, and ultimately, the ability to win. The government’s recent roadmap out of lockdown, culminating most importantly for many young people in the reopening of clubs on the 21st of June, prompted a wave of fatphobic content online, as people felt they had to lose weight rapidly before going out again.
Stereotypes need to be avoided to change the way we view others and ourselves. In a show like Drag Race, which appears to champion equality and self-love, this persistent fatphobia and shame needs to be eradicated. We can hope in the future that Ru, the judges, and the show’s creators, can grow with the show. Otherwise, Ru’s already tainted image (did someone say fracking?) is likely to become even more outdated and criticised.
Words by Ella Foster
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