Activism, Leadership & Queer Eye

If there’s one thing that Laidlaw has taught me, it’s that leadership lessons can come from quite unlikely sources if you’re looking for them - and sometimes that source is your favourite Netflix reality show.

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Like many people, lately, I have been absolutely desperate for anything to stop my brain fixating on the terribleness we are all facing and a way remind myself that, while a lot of things are difficult at the moment, there are still glimmers of hope. For me, this hope recently come in the form of the newest season of Queer Eye.

If you are unfamiliar with the work of the fab five - first of all, where have you been? And second of all, a quick primer: the current iteration is a reboot of the original 2000s hit in which 5 queer people perform a ‘make-better’ on someone in need of some care and guidance in areas such as food, style, grooming, home and culture - but it is so much more than a makeover. The week-long transformation often involves the recipient being encouraged to think about their actions and mindset in terms of how they can improve and become kinder and more considerate both towards others and themselves. It isn’t just a superficial makeover but a lifestyle change for a lot of people.

Queer Eye has been massively helpful to me over the course of my research so far in many ways. It’s a much-needed reminder that the world isn’t all doom and gloom, and it restores a bit of my faith in humanity. This is essential in my research, which focuses on the use of poetry to explore themes of politics and social injustice. This poetry is hard-hitting and having this place of positivity and encouragement, as well as the demonstration that improvement and development are possible has been invaluable.

While there is a very supportive and positive atmosphere in this show, people are also never coddled. There is often brutal honesty about the things they will have to do achieve the things they need. “Being an adult means being a person of action. But when you make your plan and go after that plan, you’ll succeed” says culture expert and therapist Karamo Brown.[1] There is a strong emphasis on taking responsibility for yourself and critically self-reflecting on what you’ve done and how you can proceed in a more constructive manner. The show highlights the importance of taking action when you feel like you are drowning in other things, but taking this action in a considered and planned way, rather than rushing into things. There is no shame in needing some help, but you have to take some of the steps yourself. This is something that I’ve found to be immensely helpful in my research, when it has been really important for me to realise that if I want things to happen, then I have to plan and, crucially, act on it rather than procrastinating and hoping it falls into my lap.

Queer Eye also has valuable insights into being active in the fight for justice and equality without taking the world on your shoulders in an unhealthy way. I think that with all that is going on at the moment, that is an especially important lesson. My project and research has been deeply intertwined with social justice movements and I’ve been struggling with the feeling that words, something I am usually fairly sure are powerful and impactful, mean nothing in the face of the kinds of forces that are at play. This has led me to rapidly veer between overwhelming myself with an endless list of things I could be doing while feeling endlessly frustrated with myself, and crashing and feeling like everything is pointless. Watching the way activism and leadership and portrayed in this show has taught me that when you’re helping others, you have to do so from a place where you’re taking care of yourself because that is what gives these movements the longevity they need to create and sustain change.

My journey with my research at the moment has been complicated, as I’m often unsure that words are what's needed when action is so crucial. But taking time to step back and critically reflect of my work, through the lens of a seemingly unrelated show, has made me realise that there is a balance between words and actions that we need to achieve, and that sometimes using your voice to share your own experiences or to amplify someone else’s is important. It has also taught me a tremendous amount about how to balance my work and the rest of my life in a way that allows me to enjoy both to the fullest.

Sometimes leadership and life lessons are found in odd places and I cannot thank this show enough for the insight that it has given me into managing my own life and helping others – as well as making the perfect guacamole!


Photograph: Ryan Collerd/Netflix



[1] "Unleash the Sexy Beast." Queer Eye. Netflix, 15 June, 2018


Finlay Langham (she/her)

Student, University of St Andrews

I'm a third-year student at St Andrews studying English! My research is into spoken word poetry and its connection to politics, particularly in Edinburgh (it's a bit niche but I love it). I am also part of the feminist society and a public face of Nightline. I love to meet new people and bake what is objectively too much shortbread at odd hours.


Go to the profile of Anna Harris (she/her)
over 1 year ago

Really insightful ♥️ 

Go to the profile of Reuben Morris-Dyer
over 1 year ago

Such an interesting angle on leadership! 

Go to the profile of Annie Layhe
over 1 year ago

What a lovely article! Some very good thoughts here