The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Jonathan Van Ness has a lot to celebrate these days.
Not only has their groundbreaking Netflix show, Queer Eye, returned for a sixth season to high acclaim but Van Ness, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/him/she pronouns, is also gearing up for a new venture, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, an upcoming Netflix series where they explore a variety of things that make them happy — like fashion, wigs and animals.
The proud TV personality and nonbinary activist has also been keeping busy as an ambassador for teledentistry company SmileDirectClub’s new Confidence Council, an initiative aimed at highlighting the transformational power of a smile. Launched in 2014, the company has helped over 1.5 million customers around the world find confidence in their smile.
For the affable Van Ness, giving people a reason to smile is not just a job. It’s a blessing.
"It's a lot of hard work, but I'm really excited I get to do it," Van Ness tells Yahoo Life. “One thing I've learned about in therapy is that confidence is one of the tenants of our most-centered self. So when we feel confident, that is a way we can know we're making decisions that are really in our highest self."
Turning someone’s frown upside down is something Van Ness has seen firsthand as one of the “Fab Five” on Queer Eye, which brings five gay lifestyle experts into the homes of strangers around the country to help them grow and lead healthier, more enriching lives.
“I have a lot to smile about,” Van Ness says, which includes their new marriage to husband Mark Peacock, a milestone they never thought would be possible growing up in rural Illinois.
“It's been really good,” they say of married life. “I'm really honored that I get to do it. I grew up in a time when I didn't know marriage equality would be a thing. I always am really happy when I think about my inner child, like my younger self, and how excited they would be that this is how things turned out — that I have a loving partner I get to build a life with. Ultimately, that's such an exciting thing that a lot of people look forward to being able to do. Not that it's not a lot of hard work, because it is, but we're really happy to do it.”
Van Ness has been particularly vulnerable with fans in the last few years, writing about their journey overcoming drug addiction, as well as coming to terms with their HIV status in two very honest memoirs, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love and the recently-published Love That Story: Observations from a Gorgeously Queer Life.
But despite turning their pain into purpose and using their social media platform to call out HIV stigma and transphobia on the regular, Van Ness says getting into that headspace took "years of practice." That's due, in large part, to spending their developmental years in family therapy following their parents' divorce.
“Family therapy was very cutting edge at the time, or at least it felt like it was,” Van Ness tell Yahoo Life. “[Therapy] definitely wasn't something that was ever stigmatized in my house. And being able to talk about mental health and your well being was also not something that was stigmatized or made to feel weird about, which is so important because when you're young, I think, that's when a lot of our ideas of the world are more cemented.”
The more open we can be with young people around mental health, the better, says Van Ness.
“We take care of our health. We take care of our gorgeous smiles. We take care of our insides. We get our hair done. We do our nails. We go to the gym. There's nothing wrong with taking care of our mental health,” Van Ness says. “That's a really important thing for people to know early on, but also a lot of adults need to know that, too.”
Finding the confidence to express yourself as you truly are is a journey requiring a “really good relationship with one’s self," they argue. “It’s something we have to invest in. It's not like anyone is ever just, you know, born with a totally innate, trusting, loving sense of self. It's something we all have to learn in practice, but I think that even just identifying things that you want more of in your life, and then following through on those and showing yourself that you can do that, is something that helps build confidence.”
Boosting confidence can also be as simple as prioritizing daily activities you love throughout the day.
“As you're moving through the world, being mindful is a way of practicing self care,” they explain. “Focusing on our breath, focusing on what we're doing as we're doing it. That's mindfulness. That is self-care.”
“It doesn't have to be anything around skin or makeup or hair or anything like that,” Van Ness adds. “It also doesn't have to just be yoga or meditation. It can be gardening, which is another thing that I'm obsessed with. It can be writing. It can be cleaning your house. It can be being of service to other people. It can be volunteering. It can be getting involved in local community organizations that are looking for volunteers. I think that self-care is just such a huge, huge universe.”
Turning to these self-care practices has helped Van Ness learn that it’s OK to not be OK. “Sometimes you gotta feel it a little bit,” Van Ness says of days when they're feeling lost.
“We have to feel our feelings, and that's what brings you out to the other side," they continue. "Sometimes if I'm feeling in a rut that I know isn't because of anything I can control — it's like an external thing — then affirmations are really important. Sometimes I’ll pop a gorgeous fast-dissolving whitening strip into my mouth that SmileDirect makes and it makes my mouth taste like it's not in a riot, which also helps."
Looking toward the future, Van Ness shares that they are relying on one of the best pieces of advice they’ve received, which is so simply but so powerful: "Keep going."
"The most important relationship that we'll ever have is with ourselves, so investing in your relationship with yourself is really important," Van Ness says. "My mantra is, 'I trust myself and I make good decisions.' That's my affirmation right now."
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