Karamo Brown: Wellness Through Authenticity

Karamo Brown: Wellness Through Authenticity featured image
Photographed by Dana Scruggs at Virgin Hotels New York City; Groomer: Senoj Byrd; Stylist: Jessie Ajluni

In a landscape marked with surface-level interactions and fleeting fame, Karamo Brown stands out as a beacon of authenticity. From his start on reality television to his tenure on Queer Eye and his talk show Karamo, Brown has captivated audiences with his genuine connections and unwavering commitment to mental health advocacy.

But unlike some experts in the field, Brown isn’t one to shy away from sharing his own personal journey with mental health. Instead, he leads into the power of vulnerability. His memoir, Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope, has served as the most raw stage for this transparency, where he shares his experience with depression, addiction and beyond. “I share because I’ve healed from it. I want other people to know that they can heal from it too.”

Full look: Zegna; Bracelets: Jonas Studio, John Hardy; Necklaces: Jonas Studio

From Reality T.V. to Real Connections

Brown traces his television beginnings back to a little show you may have heard of. “My career began 20 years ago on The Real World, where a young, little 23-year-old me decided to have an opportunity to go on a reality show and get drunk,” he shares.

“Somehow during that, I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about other people. But I felt very isolated, I felt like no one understood me. The things we know now about gay culture, about the experiences people of color have, my cast mates didn’t have that knowledge—I don’t think the world had that knowledge. So I felt really alone and gaslit a lot of times. I decided I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way, so I asked myself how I could possibly make this into my career. It’s been a trajectory from there ever since.”

Brown’s journey eventually led him to Queer Eye, where he emerged as the show’s culture expert. However, his path to joining the iconic series wasn’t without its setbacks. After pleading with his agent to get him in front of producers after casting had already wrapped, it’s no surprise Brown’s passion for mental health advocacy shone through during his audition.

“I started talking about mental health—this is 2016, 2017, when people really weren’t talking about mental health—and how you can change somebody’s outer appearance, but if don’t focus on what got them stuck in the first place, the emotional trouble they were going through, they’ll go right back,” he explained. Ultimately, he scored the role.

Off-camera, Brown says his relationship with fellow hosts on Queer Eye have evolved to be as genuine as they appear on-screen. “We’re the best of friends, to be very honest with you,” he shares. “It’s really nice to be able to experience working on a show with people you love.”

Shirt: Vince; Jacket: John Varvatos; Ring: Luis Morais

Daytime Debut

In 2022, Brown had his daytime television debut with his show, Karamo—an experience he describes as a whirlwind. “It’s been a marathon… On my talk show, I shoot about 200 episodes a season. So you do around six a day. On Queer Eye, we shoot anywhere from 10 to 16 episodes that hit within two seasons.”

Despite the demanding workload, Brown approaches each episode and guest with a deep sense of empathy and attentive listening. “Having someone brand new sit in front of you and channel in quickly to what they’re saying, it’s challenging. I’m not just responding, I’m not just listening. I’m going to hear what you’re saying, take lots of notes and make sure everyone leaves with at least a first step, and hopefully a resolution.”

In navigating the landscape of daytime television, Brown has encountered comparisons to iconic hosts like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, initially sparking frustration. “In season one, I hated it… I know what people were saying by comparing me to them,” he admits, noting each of those men are “legends in their own rights and helped popularize the format so I could do my show the way I do it now.” However, he shares tha his show distinguishes itself by fostering genuine emotional expression without sensationalism. “I allow people to have real emotions,” he asserts. “As long as people keep watching, I’m happy.”

Finding Balance and Boundaries

For Brown, maintaining his own mental well-being means keeping boundaries and balance top priority. “I will work my ass off, and then I’ll have a very clear, balanced boundary. If I’m working for five days, I need five days off to do what I do.”

But it wasn’t always this way. “For a very long time in my life, it was all about never stopping—whether it was with my partner, my kids, my job.” Since then, Brown has made strides in creating what he calls a boundary balance. “It was a daily practice of building up the confidence with the people around me to say, ‘I’ve given you all this time. Now I need time, too.’”

“I remember the first time I did it with my kids. I said, ‘Dad is going to take some time, I’m going to have your aunt come over and watch you, and for the next five hours, you’re not going to contact me.’ They were confused, but I said, ‘This is me teaching you that I’m balancing and setting a boundary so you can understand how to do it, too.’”

Shirt: Versace; Pants: Brooks Brothers; Shoes: Christian Louboutin; Necklaces: Jonas Studio; Watch: TAG Heuer

The Role of Self-Care

So what does this “off” time look like for Brown? “I’m a spa guy,” he shares. “I go to this place in LA called Burke Williams almost every week. Give me a 90 minute massage and a spa day every day and I’m in for it,” he says. But resetting and recharging also means spending time with those he loves. “I love house parties, pool parties, game nights, movie nights because I love interacting with friends,” he says.

Another self-care staple: skin care.

Brown founded his own skin-care brand, MANTL, in 2020 after noticing a gap in the market. “I realized as a bald man, there were no products that helped me figure out how to take care of my head and my face at the same time.” After teaming up with a cosmetic chemist, Brown says MANTL launched with a dark spot–fading cleanser “to help fade spots when you’re shaving,” before launching a sunscreen, “because most men don’t realize you need to put on sunscreen daily, especially if you’re bald.”

Brown explains the brand has since expanded to men who aren’t bald— longtime cohost on Queer Eye, Bobby Berk, calls the SPF a favorite—along with women. “I’m really proud of it and how it’s going,” he shares.

Shirt: Versace; Pants: Brooks Brothers; Necklaces: Jonas Studio; Rings: John Hardy, Kloto; Watch: TAG Heuer

Promoting Mental Health Through Transparency

While it may seem like Brown has cracked the code to living a balanced, fulfilled life, he is the first to admit he is a work in progress. “Life has not always been this way. There’s been many times that I felt very dark,” he admits. Yet, through sharing his own journey, Brown hopes to inspire others to seek help and healing.

“I talk about it openly because by all means, by all odds, I shouldn’t be where I am. This system isn’t designed for me. I’m a black gay man with immigrant parents who grew up in the South. But because of my healing, because of the work I’ve done, because of the help that I’ve received, because I wasn’t afraid to share my truth, it has all helped me propel to where I’m supposed to be in my life. I try to show other people that they can make it as well.”

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