Michelle Visage: Being in the public eye affected my body image ‘horribly’

The Drag Race judge talks about hiding her insecurities from the world, and why age brings self-assurance.
Michelle Visage: Being in the public eye affected my body image ‘horribly’

By Prudence Wade, PA

Michelle Visage is the picture of confidence – but it hasn’t always been that way.

Whether it’s performing as part of pop group Seduction in the Nineties, judging RuPaul’s Drag Race (a position she’s held since 2011), or tangoing on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, Visage is a force of nature, and instantly recognisable with a silver streak through her dark hair.

And yet the 53-year-old says her tough exterior hasn’t always matched how she feels on the inside. “As strong as I appeared to everybody, there’s so much insecurity that lives within me – like everybody else – and I think when I got to my 40s I started to realise, this is my life. I need to live it for who I am – not for other people,” she reflects.

It might sound like a cliché, but Visage firmly believes life begins at 40.

“In our 20s, we’re caught up in all of that [body image issues, being worried about what other people think], in our 30s we start to know where we’re going in life – that’s also usually when we have our children, not always, but we’re thinking about family. And then by the time we get to our 40s, all that’s behind us. We know where we are, we know what we want, we know who we are. And that’s when life began.”

She credits a big part of her journey to watching drag queens on the much-loved TV show. “I’ve learned how to be so much more secure in who I am from some of these kids,” she admits.

Visage joined American girl group Seduction in her early-20s, and says being in the public eye affected her body image “horribly”.

She continues: “Growing up, for me, body image was always a very touchy thing, having eating disorders and this and that. I approached everything for the wrong reasons – because of society. That’s what society dictated – I have to be this size, I’m in the public eye, I’m a popstar, I have to be a size two, I have to have big fake boobs – all this stuff.

“And the truth is, that’s not true at all. What you have to do is owe it to yourself to take care of the one body you get in a lifetime. Be kind, love yourself, allow yourself to go on a journey spiritually, mentally, physically.”

And Visage has certainly been on a journey recently. “I had my own transformation, starting in January. What was leading the transformation was the fact my mental health was being affected by being sedentary,” she shares. “I started working out in my quarantine lockdown hotel room, because I was having panic attacks again. I haven’t had them in years, and I realised the missing factor was the fact I wasn’t moving anymore. There was no exercise in my life.”

So she started slowly moving her body again, beginning with five minutes of yoga on YouTube – “and I thought, ‘Oh I’m feeling better after five, let me go up to 15’.”

Michelle Visage
Visage has finally found the joy in working out. Photo: ASICS/PA

Now, Visage is committed to her morning workouts, saying: “Usually there are weights involved, there is yoga involved, and the days I have off, my husband and I walk three-and-a-half miles together. It’s literally transformed my body – yeah, that’s normal – but my mind. It’s like I’m a new person – my mental health, the clarity I’m getting.

“Especially now that I’m a woman of a certain age. I took it for granted back in the day – where you work out just because you want to look good – but there’s so much more to working out, especially when it comes to mental health.”

That’s why Visage has partnered with ASICS on the 15:09 Uplift Challenge, with ASICS research suggesting all it takes is 15 minutes and nine seconds of exercise to get a mental uplift.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vhHO1cjuIk

So what else does Visage do for her mental health? “Meditation,” she says immediately. “It was something I couldn’t do at all, I couldn’t figure it out, because I have a brain – we call it a monkey brain – it just never stops, it’s always going. I started trying to meditate in my 20s when I was trying to conceive, I was trying to meditate, yoga, but none of that worked for me back then, because I couldn’t calm my brain.

“But then I realised you don’t have to calm your brain, you just have to sit and acknowledge it, let it go, and you’ll get there. You just have to be patient. In meditation, you start with two minutes, then go to three minutes, and I always use guided meditation. I can’t just sit there and be a yogi – it’s just not me.”

Visage is known for her high-profile friendships with the likes of RuPaul and actor Leah Remini, and she also credits these relationships with boosting her wellbeing.

“When you have a true and honest friendship with somebody, there’s nothing that’s off limits, and it feeds your soul. When I talk to Leah or I talk to Ru about something, there’s going to be no judgement at all… I think we all deserve and need at least one person in our lives like that. Not judging – I didn’t ask for your judgement. I asked for your opinion, and your friendship.”

Not that judgement from other people is something Visage loses much sleep over. “Over the years, I’ve always had long nails. People would say that’s so tacky, that’s so out, that’s not in fashion,” she says.

“I never cared, because it had to make me happy. And that’s what I’m talking about with body image, fashion, style. Do what makes you happy, and then all of a sudden you become a trendsetter.”

ASICS has teamed up with Michelle Visage to get people moving for 15 minutes and nine seconds this June. Every video or image posted using #ASICS1509 will help to raise funds for Mind. To find out more, visit asics.com

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