Drag has become a popular form of artistic expression where individuals showcase various looks and styles that challenge traditional gender norms. One commonly heard term in drag culture is ‘fish.’ While it may seem like an odd word choice, fish actually has significant meaning within the community.
This article will explore the definition of ‘fish’ and its importance in drag culture. We’ll break down the different interpretations of the term and explain how it can both empower and marginalize people in the drag community.
If you’re intrigued by this unique phrase and want to learn more about its cultural significance, keep reading to discover all there is to know about what ‘fish’ means in drag.
Understanding The Term “Fish”
The Definition of Fish in Drag Culture
In drag culture, a person or performer who is described as fishy embodies the hyper-feminine qualities associated with traditional notions of femininity. A fishy individual generally presents themselves in an extremely glamorous and exaggerated feminine manner.
The term “fish” is often used to describe performers who are highly convincing in their portrayal of womanhood. In other words, they pass so well as women that one might not be able to tell them apart from cisgendered (not transgender) women easily. Generally, this means they have mastered techniques such as makeup, hair styling, dance moves, walking, and posture to appear more like biological females.
The Origins of the Term Fish in Drag Culture
The history of the term “fish” within drag culture remains vague, and it’s difficult to pinpoint definitively when or how it became widely known in the community. Nevertheless, there are several theories about its origins.
One theory suggests that the term originated in Harlem ballroom culture during the 1980s. During balls, emcees encouraged the crowd to judge contestants on how realistically they could portray feminine attributes. Performers who excelled in passing for natural-born females were awarded points based on how “fishy” they looked. Another possible origin story has to do with smells. As strange as that sounds, “fish” may have been derived from “smelling like fish.” According to some sources, fish was slang for smelling unclean or funky; however, fishy queens twisted this into their own definition of looking or smelling good. Alternatively, rumors say that the name came from using tuna oil to keep stockings lubricated, both from helping legs slide together while performing and for scent appeal.
“Fishy can come in many guises, but it at its core is the ultimate way of describing glamour in drag. It’s about the extent to which somebody has fully mastered a feminine persona so convincingly one could never sexualize them as males.” -Cosmopolitan
Although there are conflicting theories on where the term “fish” comes from, it remains that this word has evolved and become an integral slang term within the drag community. Fishy performers not only look great but also capture the essence of hyper-femininity associated with traditional notions of femininity.
How Fish Is Celebrated In Drag Culture
Drag culture is known for its unique terms and jargon, and ‘fish’ is one such term that holds a special place in the community. The term refers to drag queens who are so convincingly feminine that they pass as biological women, with their makeup and overall aesthetic bringing out their most flawless and polished feminity. The fishy look has become an iconic part of drag culture, and it is celebrated through various means.
Fish-Inspired Makeup and Fashion
The devotion to achieving the perfect ‘fishy’ look translates into exquisite makeup skills and fashion tastes amongst drag performers. Fishy glam typically refers to heavy makeup contouring, highlighting, snug wigs, extensive hair extensions, cheekbone accentuation, and exaggerated lips that come together to make the performer resemble either a Barbie doll or surreal beauty icons like Cher or Marilyn Monroe. Peaches Christ, a San Francisco-based drag queen, describes the importance of a good wig by saying “Wigs cover your flaws; they can add extra glamour, confidence, color, even height.”
Dover Street Market’s Honey Dijon reinforces this point, stating “drag queens have been wearing fake eyelashes longer than anyone else,” indicating how attention to detail plays a significant role in achieving a fishy appearance. High-end makeup products, full lace wigs made from human hair, luxurious fabrics, tailored dresses accentuate each drag queen on stage, contributing to the celebration of fishiness. Fish inspired ensembles represent the highest level of artistic skill and effort put forth by drag performance artists.
Fish-Category Competitions in Drag Pageants
Competitions in drag pageantry hold categories that allow contestants to showcase their interpretation of fishiness. These categories range from swimsuit models to evening gowns to talent competitions, and the subcategory of ‘fishiness’ is one of the most popular. Judges at such events score contestants on their ability to create fishy looks in both aesthetics and performance. A former Miss Pride Houston explains it by saying,” They want you to look like a woman from head-to-toe as much as possible.” The fish category comprises strict criteria, where queens are judged based on factors such as makeup, hair, nails, padding, tucking, fitting attire, and illusion matching.”
Therefore pageant participants spend copious hours finding the right tone for their skin color, creating perfect contours, executing precision grooming; everything needed to achieve that ideal feminine appearance. These factors represent traditional drag staples, but with an increased effort to amplify them further in the fish category. Winning this category means surpassing others in living up to the challenges imposed on elevating femininity to new levels.
Fishy Performances and Lip Syncs
Fishiness is celebrated in other aspects of drag culture as well – for instance, performers also aim to be convincing actresses while lip-syncing to music or narrating stories. Fishy performances embody storytelling through a glamorous medium, allowing audiences to experience heightened emotions as they watch unsurpassable beauty paired with raw artistry. Some Fish-inspired productions include mermaids tales, underwater adventure themes, or emulating celebrities who personify heavy femininity.
“You’re trying to turn yourself into a visual orgasm… a flawless boner for those men out there who are leg-humping dogs” says RuPaul Charles.
Pioneers like Ru Paul reinforce what it takes to make a successful fish queen during these types of shows: “It’s all about putting on the best body illusions.” i.e., becoming one with the personification of your drag self and portraying it artistically. Being fishy is all about evoking and maintaining a feeling of glamour, divinity, charm, desirability, assertiveness that only comes with fooling people into believing you are someone else entirely.
To conclude, drag culture celebrates various interpretations of gender and identity, where the concept of fishiness allows queens to transform themselves while paying homage to feminine beauty standards they seek to embody so convincingly. The creative outputs in makeup skills and fashion choices, competitions, or performances reflect not just on talent but also on perseverance, determination, hard work, and dedication. Fish presents itself as a form of celebration towards an idealized version of femininity that creates awe-inspiring spectacles that reinforce reflection on different forms of art within society today.
The Role Of Fish In Drag Queen Performances
Using Fish as a Tool for Empowerment and Self-Expression
In the world of drag performances, fishy looks are all about looking like a woman in every possible way. The term “fish” refers to queens who exude extreme femininity – from their makeup to their outfits. Putting on a fishy performance is not only about transforming oneself into a delicate lady but also about empowering oneself and expressing one’s individuality.
A lot of drag performers use the art form as a means to explore gender expression and push against stereotypes. Through these performances, they try to meaningfully connect with their audience and establish a safe space where people can come together and celebrate uniqueness and diversity.
“When you are dressed in drag or doing drag makeup, there is less judgement because everyone knows you aren’t trying to look like yourself,” says drag queen Miss Fame.
This lack of judgment allows them to express themselves freely, without fear of societal norms holding them back. For many drag performers, it’s essential to be true to oneself and feel comfortable in one’s skin. Creating a fishy performance allows them to do just that, and more.
Creating a Connection with the Audience through Fishy Performances
When drag queens take to the stage, they want to create a sense of connection with their audience. Whether it’s through humor, political commentary, or emotional performances, the goal is always to strike a chord with those watching. Using fishy looks can help strengthen this bond, as audiences often respond positively to performers who manage to transform themselves dramatically.
Drag queen Aquaria, winner of Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, believes that fishy performances allow for better communication between performer and viewer. “I believe the more convincing you are, the more effective your communication can be,” she says.
When a drag queen nails their fishy look and embodies all of the qualities that society ascribes to femininity, they create an illusion that allows audiences to suspend disbelief and fully immerse themselves in the performance. This creates an avenue for performers to connect with their audience emotionally and expressively.
Challenging Stereotypes and Redefining Beauty Standards through Fishy Performances
Fishy performances also help to challenge stereotypes and push against traditional beauty standards. When a drag performer takes on a fishy look, they’re not just recreating stereotypical images of what it means to be female; they’re redefining these standards altogether. By exaggerating traditionally desirable features such as hourglass curves or big hair, drag queens celebrate femininity while poking fun at what society deems attractive.
“Through drag culture, I tell people that beauty is whatever I make it, it’s subjective,” says drag queen Shangela Laquifa Wadley. “It’s everybody feeling confident about expressing who they are.”
By playfully pushing back and challenging preconceived notions of beauty, drag queens can empower themselves, and those watching them. They question assumptions by creating caricatures of what’s considered beautiful and illustrating how unrealistic many of these ideals are when taken to extremes. It’s a unique way to challenge structural inequality and poke holes in limiting beliefs regarding gender norms and performance.
The Impact Of Fish On The LGBTQ+ Community
Drag culture is an essential part of the LGBTQ+ community, and fishy aesthetics have a significant impact on it. Fish is a term that originated in drag culture to describe a queen who has an extremely feminine appearance. These queens embody the epitome of femininity with their curves, long hair, makeup, and glamourous costumes. However, the meaning of “fish” has evolved over time to represent power, strength, resilience, and acceptance.
Empowering and Celebrating Queer Identities through Fishy Aesthetics
Fishy aesthetics are an integral part of drag culture as they empower and celebrate queer identities, gender expression, and sexuality. Drag performers use exaggerated expressions of gender to challenge static expectations and confront stereotypes. In this way, fish acts as a form of self-expression as well as a celebration of uniqueness and individuality. They create vibrant looks, mixing high fashion pieces with thrift store finds. With its attention-grabbing look, fish celebrates bodies and encourages self-confidence in viewers.
“Fishiness is not something you can achieve; it’s something you’re born with.” -RuPaul
Breaking Down Barriers and Fighting for Acceptance through Fishy Performances
Drag performances play a crucial role in breaking down barriers and confronting prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community. Many drag shows offer a safe space where people can express themselves without fear of judgement or discrimination. Fishy performances challenge all forms of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination by pushing past societal boundaries. By embracing more traditionally “feminine” traits or taking charge of one’s own body, these performances force conversation about sexual identity and push back against threatening voices.
“A lot of times I’d hear someone’s hideous criticism about a performance, and I’d think, ‘That’s just because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that this person is in drag.’ But usually in those gay bars, everyone would shut down that kind of hatred.” -John Waters
Creating a Sense of Community and Belonging through Fishy Culture
Fish culture creates a sense of community among its performers, fans, and supporters. Through their makeup, wigs, and costumes, queens find a place to express themselves freely and feel accepted by others. This sense of support also extends toward members of the audience, who may come from all walks of life but find a common bond in shared experience.
“The beautiful thing about being queer… is that we’re born into families that don’t necessarily reflect us. We create our own. And honestly, that’s much more meaningful.” -Billy Porter
Highlighting the Diversity and Fluidity of Gender and Sexuality through Fishy Representations
The fishy aesthetic highlights the diverse and fluid nature of gender and sexuality within the LGBTQ+ community. As we see transgender and non-binary folks as well as people of varying sexual orientations embrace fishy aesthetics, it has become clear that the feminine form need not be exclusive to female-gendered individuals or heterosexual desires. Shows featuring these performances allow audiences to question earlier limiting social norms and appreciate experiences and modes of self-expression beyond what they have learned before.
“I became very successful at a young age… then eventually realized there had to be more to femme than pleasing men. That realization led me to the world of drag.” -Anastarzia Anaquway
“What Does Fish Mean In Drag?” is essential both for understanding drag culture and acknowledging the overarching meaning which cross-cuts mainstream society. The term’s embrace of femininity and its connection with positive terms like resilience, individually and power make it an essential part of the struggle for queer acceptance. Fishy performances offer a space to explore self-expression that is as meaningful for performers as it is for those watching while reminding us of our commonalities beyond societal constraints.
The Evolution Of Fish Throughout Drag History
Drag has been an ever-evolving art form since its inception. From comedy to glamour, drag artists have explored a variety of aesthetics in their performances. One of the most iconic and enduring styles is “fish.” But what does fish mean in drag?
The Emergence of Fishy Aesthetics in the 1960s and 1970s
The term “fish” in drag refers to the ability of certain performers to pass as women, specifically cisgender women who are perceived to be conventionally attractive. This aesthetic emerged in New York City’s drag scene in the 1960s and 70s when performers like Flawless Sabrina and Crystal LaBeija began incorporating glamorous and feminine elements into their looks.
“Fishiness was all about passing as a real biological woman,” explains drag historian Joe E. Jeffreys. “It was a standard that queens felt they had to achieve.”
As this style became more popular, it also came under criticism from some members of the LGBTQIA+ community who believed it reinforced harmful beauty standards and perpetuated transphobia by prioritizing performance over personal identity. Despite these criticisms, though, fishiness remained an important part of drag culture and continued to evolve throughout the decades.
The Influence of Fish on the Ballroom Scene and Voguing Culture
In the 1980s and 90s, fishiness found a new home in the ballroom scene, which originated within Black and Latinx queer communities in New York City. Here, performers developed their own interpretations of fish aesthetics, often emphasizing exaggerated femininity and high fashion glamour. At the same time, voguing – a dance form that originated within the ballroom scene – also incorporated fishy elements through fluid, graceful movements that evoked traditional feminine beauty standards.
“Ballroom culture is where fish really becomes something else,” says Raquel Willis, a transgender activist and writer who specializes in LGBTQIA+ issues. “It’s about being over-the-top with your femininity and your presentation.”
During this time, fishiness became firmly established as an important aspect of drag fashion, inspiring performers around the world to incorporate elements like padded hips, cinched waists, and contoured makeup into their looks.
The Continued Relevance and Innovation of Fish in Contemporary Drag
Today, fish remains a vital element of drag performance and culture. However, it has evolved beyond its origins as a way for performers to pass as biological women. Now, many queens interpret fishiness as a way to celebrate and subvert conventional femininity, creating glamorous and imaginative costumes and makeup looks that challenge societal expectations of gender expression.
“Gender is just a social construct. To be able to play with it, explore it, and manipulate it for artistic purposes is incredibly liberating.” -Drag queen Sasha Velour
For many performers, fishy aesthetics continue to offer a powerful form of self-expression and creativity. Whether drawing from classic Hollywood glamour, high fashion couture, or more avant-garde styles, these artists continue to push boundaries and redefine what it means to be a drag queen.
“Fish doesn’t have to mean one thing,” explains drag performer Jinkx Monsoon. “You can draw from different inspirations and create your own interpretation of it.”
- The Guardian – “Fame, envy and despair: what RuPaul’s Drag Race tells us about queer culture”
- Out Magazine – “In the State of Drag with Alaska, Bob, Jinkx, Sharon & Trixie More”
- Paper Magazine – “Sasha Velour on Her ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Win and Shaking Up Gender Stereotypes”
Why Fish Is More Than Just A Catchy Phrase
Drag culture has a language of its own, with jargon and slang terms that are specific to the community. One of the most iconic phrases in drag is “fishy,” which refers to a queen who looks very feminine and could pass as someone who was born with female anatomy. But what does fish mean in drag apart from just this definition?
The Symbolic Power of Fish in Drag Culture
In drag culture, fish symbolizes more than simply looking like a biological woman – it represents femininity and glamour at its finest level. In fact, many queens use their fishiness as a way to express their innermost desire for beauty, sensuality, and female empowerment.
“Fish is about being so feminine you don’t just call yourself a girl, but instead a goddess.” -Bob The Drag Queen
Moreover, fish embodies an artfully adorned sensual muse who commands everyone’s attention through her hypnotic sex appeal. It also carries these some other connotations: elegance grace confidence strength. Every one of these attributes can be found within the symbolism associated with faeries, queens except in drag there really exists a powerful subversion towards traditional gender roles and an embrace of love for who we truly are inside rather than societal gain or expectations.
The Intersection of Fishy Aesthetics and Political Activism
Fishy aesthetics have been used by drag queens throughout history to make political statements and raise awareness on critical issues such as feminism, transgender rights, homophobia, and HIV/AIDS activism. For example, RuPaul famously uses fishy drag not only as a means of self-expression but also to advocate for LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance.
“I think drag and trans are not so much differences as they are different aspects of the same thing. We’re all under the umbrella term queer, honey.” -RuPaul
Drag queens employ their fishy appearance to attract attention at events rallies or even street corners where everyone can see them in an admirable light when they hold placards on issues relating towards LGBTQ+.
The Importance of Fishy Self-Expression in Queer Identity Formation
Fishiness has been literally a means for queer folks to express themselves and feel more connected with gender fluidity and other forms of sexual difference without fear of reprisals. This “fishy” style is often adopted by individuals who have rejected conventional standards of beauty linked with gender. In this sense, it is an artistic process that enables people to refine their identities, becoming both empowered and visible to like-minded peers while also eschewing middle-class cisgender values. For many young queer persons, presenting oneself in drag takes confidence-building steps that pay off significantly in developing identity outside traditional social norms especially around sexuality.
“Whether you’re a man, woman, boy yak cow or girl dan groshkis! You can do what you want if you dare try” -Misster
The Enduring Legacy and Cultural Significance of Fish in LGBTQ+ History
“Fish” has a rich symbolic legacy associated with LGBTQ+ community discourse that transcends its superficial interpretation as just looking like a biological female. Its deeper meanings and cultural significance include breaking down oppressive notions surrounding femininity, allowing queer individuals to better understand their gender expression, promoting political activism and most importantly providing a bond between those society may deem outsiders yet we regard as true powerhouses.
“‘Fish’ doesn’t necessarily mean the club-kid look…fishiness is a state of mind that comes from within. That’s what everybody needs to tap into.” -Lady Bunny