At the very beginning of Season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Nina Bo'Nina Brown was sashaying ahead of the competition. Winning the first challenge with a DIY Georgia peach look, and unveiling an impressive take on Lady Gaga's iconic 2009 MTV VMAs outfit, the drag superstar seemed like a clear-cut winner. However, as the season progressed, her confidence appeared to wane as she seemed detached from the rest of the contestants. By the time Nina Bo'Nina was eliminated from RuPaul's Drag Race, it was clear something more serious than just the pressure of the competition was holding her back.
In a candid moment during Friday night's episode, Nina opened up about her struggle with mental health and told her makeover challenge partner, "I've been through a lot. Depression is a serious thing." Despite some of her fellow contestants rooting for her and reminding her of her talents, Nina explained, "I'm not going to believe that until I believe it for myself," highlighting how depression can cloud an individual's sense of self-worth. And, as Nina revealed in an email interview with Bustle, there's a lesson that others can take from her experience on the show.
"As a performer, your mental state makes all the difference in the outcome of what you’re doing," Nina explains. "I’m not the greatest at this myself, but I would tell people to get out of their head, trust in yourself and fully commit to the creative moment. Don’t let those feelings of self-doubt overwhelm you ... It’s the lesson I keep having to remind myself about: Have more faith in yourself."
For anyone who has ever experienced depression symptoms, Nina's behavior on RuPaul's Drag Race may have been instantly relatable. Her withdrawal from the other contestants was something that appeared to build throughout the season; meanwhile, her focus and enthusiasm appeared to diminish. These can all be signs that someone is fighting depression. So, her reminder to fight a negative mental state with self-belief is all the more powerful and important.
Following her elimination on the show, Nina commented, "I was trying to be a voice for the African-American community who think all they can do is one type of drag, but I guess I just wasn't strong enough mentally." This is a heartbreaking sentiment, and one that's loaded with exactly the sort of self-doubt that Nina had mentioned overwhelmed her.
"Don’t let those feelings of self-doubt overwhelm you ... It’s the lesson I keep having to remind myself."
Despite being eliminated and struggling several times during this past season, Nina still demonstrated ferocious innovation with looks that went beyond the parameters of drag and played with the expectations of what African-American queer identity is, just as she said she aimed to do.
Frankly, it'd be a shame to not see Nina given another chance on RuPaul's Drag Race at some point in the future. And it's something the offbeat queen would consider, with one single caveat: "If I’m in a different and better headspace, then maybe I would consider coming back."
Here's hoping that Nina finds the positive mental state she deserves, and that she continues to flourish and inspire like the standout drag superstar she is.