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Dermatologist Talks: On Hair, Beauty and Drag

Ep39: (Un)Conscious Beauty with Drag Queen Dermatologist, Victoria Wondersnatch

(Un)Conscious Beauty with hair loss dermatologist Victoria Wondersnatch

Dr.Teo: Hello guys, this is Dr. Teo Wan Lin, and welcome to a special episode of Science of Beauty where I’ll be chatting with the beautiful Victoria Wondersnatch, a drag queen in Singapore who also happens to be a hair loss dermatologist and a clinician scientist. On a side note, Victoria and I were actually in dermatology residency training together over a decade ago. How time flies Victoria!

Victoria: Yes, thank you for having me on your podcast. Yeah, time really flies, I still remember all the days we spent together in training in dermatology. 

Dr.Teo: Yeah, it feels like a really long time back, but I think it was a really good experience for us as well. Now that we are both dermatologists, it’s really a stage in our lives where we also want to give back to the community, and the society. Especially now when the media and the public are acutely aware about the science and medical aspect behind a lot of aesthetic or beauty treatments.

Science-based perspective of beauty

One of the important things that I hope we are able to bring across in this podcast is a perspective of beauty that is both science-base, as well as one that promotes psychological wellness. Now, Victoria, before we go on, I would love for our listeners to know a little bit more about your fascinating life. I do know you are a huge fan of musical theatre, and I even attended one of your musical performances way back. 

Victoria: I still have that picture. I remember that picture I took with you and another one of our colleagues after my show. That was more than 10 years ago. We used to have this musical mondays open mic in Singapore. I’m a huge musical theatre enthusiast, and I would go to this every single month back then. I think I was the only person that was there every single time, and each time, I’ll prepare a new song. That was actually a huge interest of mine. 

Dr. Teo: I also read your bio about how you were influenced in your early childhood with regards to your exposure to musical theatre and how that has led to your life passion now. Victoria, tell us more about your love for musical theatre and how it all began.

We all know about your love for musical theatre. Can you share more about your passion?

Victoria: When I was young, my mom used to play musicals for us in the car all the time. At the time, I only knew things like Cats, Les Mis, Joseph and things like that, and I really didn’t think of the wealth and history of musical theatre until I actually went to medical school in the UK. It was there that I discovered the HMV there that had these cast recordings of musicals from the 50s and 60s, which is when it really blew open my horizons of musicals. I was very passionate about it ever since. I’ve been in a few productions here and there, but I think because of my medical training, I didn’t really pursue it as much as I would have liked. 

Dr. Teo: Well nevertheless, you are such a star, Victoria. We all know that you are an extremely accomplished hair loss dermatologist, you’ve completed a pHD in hair biology in the US, would you like to share some thoughts on the latest advances in hair research, as well as some of the hot topics around hair, hair shaft disorders, scalp disorders. 

Hair research from a hair loss dermatologist

Victoria: I did complete a PhD at Columbia University on hair. As a hair loss dermatologist, my research mainly focused on the control of the hair cycle by immune cells. There was strong interest in the autoimmune hair loss condition. And my lab has come up with a new treatment for it – these new molecules called the jack inhibitors. That’s one of the big things about hair recently, but its mainly reserved for the autoimmune forms of hair loss.

The usual kinds of hair loss that you see for stuff like androgenetic alopecia or age-related alopecia, there’s really not a lot of science going into these areas at the moment. A lot of what’s available on the market, and a lot of the cosmeceutical brands, unfortunately, are not backed by really good science. And in humans, that’s also something very difficult to study, and that’s something I’m trying to study at the moment as well. 

What is alopecia areata?

Dr.Teo: Absolutely. Alopecia areata, for our listeners, is a form of autoimmune hair loss that is psychologically very disturbing because of the acute nature of hairfall, and the fact that it is in a sense, cosmetically disfiguring, and can lead to anxiety and alot of distress in individuals who suffer from the condition. In cases where it is more rapidly progressing, you can develop a form known as AA, known as alopecia totalis, or universalis, which thankfully, are much rarer forms of the condition. If you do suspect that you have symptoms of Alopecia Areata, do see a hair loss dermatologist to properly diagnose your condition.

So Victoria, in your time in New York, share with us your experiences in performing there, and how you managed to expand on your passion for musical theatre. 

Passion for musical theatre

Victoria: Well NYC was probably one of the only places in the world where I would have done a phd in, and that was not an accident. I did apply to only New York labs when I was looking for phd and that was because of my love for musical theatre, and the proximity to Broadway. The first year I was in a medical student musical, Urinetown, and after that, I actually started doing Cabaret.

I took a course of Cabaret at 92nd street YMCA, and after that the director of that course actually liked me so much that she invited me to become part of her roster of performers off Broadway. So we actually did quite a lot of these Cabaret shows off Broadway, and I did maybe 2/3 a year. It was very very rewarding, and I learned alot about expressing myself and communicating with an audience, stuff that I don’t think I would have got if I stayed in Singapore. 

Dr.Teo: Absolutely. Now, it’s a very interesting sharing about your experience, and the perspective it gives to your life. It sounds like you really solidified your identity during that period of time. Is that how you felt? 

What drives your passion for drag?

Victoria: I think my identity is constantly evolving. Even with drag, I only started doing drag really properly when I came back to Singapore. I did it once or twice while I was doing my phd, but that was also in Singapore. I never really did drag overseas. But I think once I started to really dig in and start to really delve into the meaning of drag, it really made me start thinking about questions about gender, and self-expression and identity as well. And that’s something that is still evolving, and I think I mentioned this with an interview with my sister recently, that I think it also helps build empathy.

When I’m putting on a character, or when I’m doing things that are not supposed to be meant for men, it makes me think about why am I doing it, and why this makes me happy, and why do people respond the way that they do when I’m in drag. Those are questions that I think really drives my passion for drag and musical theatre. 

Dr. Teo: Well that really resonates with me as well, because I feel that the core principle that should permeate all human relationships is empathy. It is always timely, especially so in the year of 2020 when there are so many things happening, for us to take a step back and think about others as well. Having this concern about how others are feeling, and what they are going through – I feel like this is a very important part of psychological wellness. 

How do you encourage people to express themselves more?

Victoria: Yes, I really agree with that. That’s also something that I want to do with my drag as well. To encourage people to express themselves more, we learn about more local stories and lived experiences. This is also one of the reasons why with my drag, I decide to start the fund for the arts, which also affiliates with Action for AIDS. We’ve actually held two charities which are raising money to help local artists tell local queer stories, to uplift these voices and to help share these stories to improve empathy all around. 

Dr. Teo: Wow that’s very fascinating! On that note, Singapore drag queen Victoria also has a cameo role in our book Conscious Beauty which is dedicated to the Action for AIDS fund for the arts as well. Victoria, I feel like that there is so much we can learn from you! I’ve recently come across your Youtube channel as well, where I’ve noticed that you managed to incorporate dermatology into drag! Would you like to share with us a little more about your perspective on these? 

Dermatology in drag
Singapore drag queen

Hair loss dermatologist and drag queen Victoria Wondersnatch appears in the Conscious Beauty Coffee Table Book by Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, which is available on amazon kindle and the Dr TWL Dermaceuticals webstore. It comes with a complimentary lip plumper – 100% of proceeds goes to our nominated charities.

Victoria: Yes, first of all, I’d like to thank you, Wan Lin, for inviting me to be part of your coffee table book Conscious Beauty. I think it’s quite out of the box for you to be including a drag queen in that book. I’m very honoured to be part of that. I think the whole idea on conscious beauty does apply to drag because, what is drag but a way to poke fun at society’s idea of what is beautiful and what is acceptable for women to wear? That’s actually what I try to do with my drag as well. Our drag is so exaggerated and we really blow everything out of proportion. It leaves the viewer thinking, is this supposed to be what’s beautiful? So yeah, I think that’s something I really like to convey with my drag. 

Yes! I did start a Youtube channel, especially during quarantine, as a way of expressing myself. I was trying to find a way to bring myself to the YouTube channel. There are a lot of these YouTubers who when they’re doing makeup, they talk about things that they like. There’s a very famous YouTuber who talks about makeup while talking about true crime, for example. I wanted to use my expertise in dermatology to do it with makeup.

Unique perspective as a hair loss dermatologist and a drag queen

So in my dermatology and drag series, I’ve been trying to teach people about skin conditions while doing my makeup in a way that references the skin condition. So that’s my goal. It’s been quite well received, and also not so well received – I’m learning as I go. I think there was one video which I did on vitiligo, which actually got me into a bit of trouble because people thought I was making fun of vitiligo patients – which I would never do. So it’s a learning process.

Dr. Teo: I feel that the most important message that you’ve brought across in your series of videos is really that of, incorporating this sense of perspective, both as a hair loss dermatologist and as a drag queen who is experimenting with makeup. Furthermore, as you yourself have said, perhaps providing a different viewpoint from societal norms, that really encourages the audience to reflect on their own personal prejudices or biases. In fact, I must say that it was such an honour to be able to include you in our coffee table book, because, in fact, you inspired me to add a little parenthesis on the book cover in front of the word conscious beauty. Which is the (un) in (un)Conscious Beauty.

Societal influence of drag

Because, I’ve realised through your story, how much of our personal perceptions and judgments are made, sometimes unconsciously. But, when you reflect on the nature of our beliefs and judgments, nothing we do is unconscious. It starts from somewhere. So I think, Victoria, it is true that this awakening that as individuals of society, can play our role to really move forward in encouraging others and developing love and empathy. Now Victoria, it’s been such a pleasure for you to be on this podcast. Before we conclude, I just want to ask you for any final comments or thoughts you have to share.

Victoria: Well, first of all, I just like to say how impressed I am with you. I probably did expect this from you. When we were training together, that you would go far and do amazing things. As I’m watching your career, especially in the last two years. What you’ve done has really inspired me and also made me proud to call you a friend. So thank you for bringing me on this podcast. I’d like to just let your listeners know that I think Singapore does have a long way to go. In terms of being accepting of different standards of beauty and also different standards of gender and sexual expression. I think that’s something that maybe we can all work together to try to improve for our society.

Importance of empathy

Dr.Teo: What a beautiful message Victoria. For our listeners, I just want to share that I find the message of hope and acceptance in Victoria’s story, really uplifting and truly inspiring. We certainly need more of this in today’s world of beauty. Beauty isn’t, and shouldn’t be a cookie cutter concept. Diseases of the skin and the hair are the most visible of all medical conditions. Patients with acne, eczema, psoriasis or alopecia suffer as much psychologically or more as they do physically.

As dermatologists, Victoria and I are acutely aware of the negative psychosocial impact of societal judgments. And how this has to be addressed. At its very heart is an issue that should start with the individual learning about respect, love, empathy for others, and above all unconditional acceptance. Well, thank you for joining us on this podcast Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty, Victoria it’s been such a pleasure and a privilege to have you now share with us where we can find you on your socials.

Victoria: Thank you! You can find me on Instagram and it’s just @Wondersnatch. I post most of my looks there including my Dermatology and Drag series. I’m also on YouTube if you search Victoria Wondersnatch. The channel is actually growing at a decent rate. So, I think I’ve been very inspired to do a lot of collaborations lately. I’ve been using it to interview local drag queens. And also bring people on to talk about their own queer experiences. I hope you can join me there too!

Dr.Teo: Thank you all for joining me and Singapore drag queen Victoria Wondersnatch, and till the next podcast.