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‘Drag Race UK’ star Crystal talks body image, insecurities and embracing your femininity

Crystal Beth – real name Colin Munro Seymour - talks about embracing both masculine and feminine traits and the importance of making your body work for you, rather than have it define you.

By Will Stroude

This article first appeared in Attitude 305, February 2019

Like many gay men, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my body. I felt a real sense of otherness and isolation during my teenage years. It taught me a lot of self-loathing, and that to have worth, you need to be palatable to others.

I’ve carried a lot of this into adulthood — and it has definitely shaped the way I view my body.

We all want to be desired, and because we feel deeply, innately undesirable, controlling your body is a way of controlling that feeling. It’s that thought: “If people want me, then I have value.”

Ultimately, of course, this is a losing game, as we all have to age, watch our youth fade and our body change. But we shouldn’t hang our self-worth on something so meaningless and shallow as our bodies but I know a lot of us do it.

Looking back, I spent a lot of time at the gym trying to conform to this perceived ideal that I thought would make me have worth in the gay community. I also fully realise that as a young(ish!) white, reasonably in-shape man, I’m carrying bags of privilege already, and yet that insidious feeling of not being good enough can still creep in.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

Insecurities such as this don’t necessarily have any correlation to reality, so I doubt anyone is immune to it, whatever their privilege. Instagram has a lot to answer for in creating ridiculous expectations as to how “normal” people should look!

I got into circus in my mid-twenties, partly to see if I could do it, and partly as a way to shape my body — I wanted a circus physique! I fell in love with aerial performance. It’s helped me to see my body more as a tool and less as something to be pushed into a specific ideal. It’s really incredible to see what our bodies are capable of, and I never realised that I’d be able to do so much.

 Performing with an aerial circus started me on the road to drag; I was starting to book drag and variety acts for my show Mariah & Friendz, and I really loved seeing the amazing make-up and looks. The theatricality of it spoke to me and I started adding bits and pieces until suddenly I was a full-blown drag queen who occasionally used circus, rather than the other way around.

It surprises me to realise it, but drag has been great in allowing me to become more comfortable with my body. It helps me to leapfrog over all those burdens and insecurities I carry around. My drag persona, Crystal Beth, is confident and in command of her body; she doesn’t worry about her desirability and is immune to feeling self-conscious.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

It’s about getting into a character who doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day baggage I have as a man. It’s about being a liberated creature, and I think that’s why so many people find drag empowering — we all long for that absolute freedom. It’s definitely why Crystal is such a ferociously sexual being. When I’m performing as her, I have a wild abandon that I can’t have as Colin.

I also love that my body is more “masculine” — so even in drag I’m never going to look like a “woman.” I enjoy occupying that middle space and playing with both masculine and feminine tropes and mixing them.

I think a lot of people are waiting for and wanting that permission; there’s so much beauty, fun and freedom when you stop worrying so much about what role you think you’re expected to play.

Drag is also amazing because when you’re in a look, you’re getting constant positive affirmation from strangers. It’s a great way to get a little confidence pick-me-up.

People often tell me they wish they had my legs and butt, which is ironic because I hate them most about myself when I’m out of drag. This has really helped me to see my body in a different light. I rarely get hit on when I’m in drag — that’s not really my thing anyway — but this kind of positive feedback can be really powerful for your self-esteem and self-worth.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

The flip side of all this, of course, is putting yourself on stage means being constantly exposed to scrutiny and judgment, so you need to be feeling strong, and thick-skinned. My performances generally don’t involve much clothing, so sometimes I do look back at photos and wince.

As I get older, I’m getting more interested in strength and flexibility, and having my body work for me rather than the other way around. I try to be thankful for, and kind to, it.

I look to find exercise that makes me feel good and that brings me joy, rather than just as a means to an end. It’s a constant struggle, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel totally at home in my body, but I’ve moved away from looking at it as something that determines my value.

I’m sure most people have issues and bad habits when it comes to the relationship with their body, but talking about this honestly can only be a good thing in the long run.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK premieres on 3 October on BBC Three.