‘Queer Eye’s’ Jonathan Van Ness reminds Cornell students to love themselves

'Queer Eye's' Jonathan Van Ness talks self-care to college students

The TV personality talks life and career advice to a sold-out Cornell lecture on Friday.
Published: December 2, 2018
Queer Eye Cornell
Jonathan Van Ness, star of show Queer Eye, speaks to students at Cornell.

Even with an aching hip from an ice skating fall earlier in the day, the “Fab Five” grooming guru Jonathan Van Ness brought his signature high energy and fierceness to a sold out student audience at Cornell this Friday.

The comic, television personality, and professional hairstylist spoke at “An Evening with Jonathan Van Ness,” with Dr. Samantha Sheppard of the Cornell performing and media arts department. The Cornell University Programming Board, along with HAVEN (Cornell’s LGBT student union) put on the show.

As a gay kid growing up in Quincy, Illinois, Van Ness tells the crowd he dreamed of being a hairdresser from the start. While attending college in Arizona, Van Ness says he opted to watch “Golden Girls” and “The Nanny” instead of going to class, which resulted in finishing his first semester with a 1.7 GPA.

The conversation felt like an open conversation between him and hundreds of people rather than an interview as Van Ness casually threw in several “Can I tell you?” and “Guys, picture this” to the audience as he spoke.

“I was so focused on escaping out of rural Illinois, that once I got to Tucson, which was like (expletive) New York City — I was not trying to go to focus on school,” Van Ness says.

Eventually, Van Ness left Arizona to study hairstyling at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. Describing hairdressing as “a very massive science,” he said he instantly fell in love with it from the first day of class, when he learned to do “finger waves.”

Clients often come to Van Ness with photos of celebrity hairstyles to copy, but Van Ness is more about helping his clients find a hairstyle that uniquely suits them. He does this by encouraging people to channel self-love. “Let’s find peace, accept ourselves and find a beauty that is intrinsic to ourselves and what we think is beautiful,’” Van Ness says.



In 2013, Van Ness and comedian Erin Gibson, who works for the comedy website Funny or Die and is a hair client of Van Ness’, began the popular “Gay of Thrones” web series where Van Ness recaps various episodes of the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones.” He filmed the first season without getting paid. In that vein, he encouraged the audience to make themselves available for opportunities that come, whether they come with money or not,

“Be willing to say yes, and make yourself available, and go above and beyond to dot that I and cross that T, honey, when they don’t expect you to,” he says. “That shows.”

Ultimately, “Gay of Thrones” led him to creating a podcast called “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness” in 2015. He started this podcast, he said, merely because he wanted to learn more about what’s happening in the world. On the podcast, Van Ness talks everything from his obsession for figure skating, to his co-stars, to the political climate in the Middle East.  He added he is currently looking to talk to an expert on corruption in Brazil as one of his podcast guests.

While he’s been busy with various projects over the last few years, he says between recording “Getting Curious,” filming “Queer Eye” and going on tour over the summer, he became overwhelmed.

“Mommy got a little overwhelmed with the schedule,” he says. “This summer I watched my 13-year-old cat die in my arms, and the next day I had to be on camera and be JVN. No one wants to hear about whatever’s going on, and that’s been tough.”

Nonetheless, Van Ness practices what he preaches. His self-care tips, such as meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude journaling, help keep him in check. He emphasized the importance of “doing the little things” that make you feel good about yourself.” For him, it’s putting on some mascara and lip balm that makes him look and feel “fierce.”

The thought of his rapidly growing fame and being a role model makes him a bit uncomfortable, he said. While he has an “overwhelming sense of gratitude,” he adds he doesn’t like to overthink it, but still acknowledges the platform and responsibility he’s been given.

“There was never a piece of me that was like ‘you’re going to grow up and be famous and change the world,’” Van Ness concluded. “But there was definitely never a part of me that said I wasn’t going to do that.”

Alternative Text
Jonathan Van Ness talks with interviewer Dr. Samantha Sheppard at the lecture sponsored by The Cornell University Programming Board, along with HAVEN (Cornell’s LGBT student union.)