The Wednesday Weigh-in: Lady Gaga’s Body Revolution Edition

After the media erupted with the usual bullshit over photos that seemed to show the pop star looking chubbier than usual, Lady Gaga launched a new project on her site called Body Revolution and posted photos of herself in her underwear with the caption, “Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15.”

Lady Gaga in her underwear with caption "Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15"

Gaga encouraged her Little Monsters to post their own photos and “be brave and celebrate with us your ‘perceived flaws,’ as society tells us. May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous.” And post they have–with stories of battling cancer, recovering from eating disorders, living with disabilities. But as Kelsey notes at Bitch, many of the comments–from both Gaga and her fans–simply assure the posters that they’re looking good. The real revolution, Kelsey suggests, would be “to stop telling them how pretty they are and shift the conversation away from looks entirely.”

I agree somewhat. I’m reminded of Jessica’s recent post at the Nation, in which she argued that “girls don’t need more self-esteem or feel-good mantras about loving themselves—what they need is a serious dose of righteous anger.” On the other hand, everyone wants to feel attractive; it’s impossible to live in this world and resist that. And, not to ascribe magical powers to Gaga, but I think there’s real power in a star like Gaga–who certainly conforms to traditional beauty standards but who has also played with what it is to be “monstrous” in her art–saying, “No, this is beautiful, because I say so.”

What do you think? Is Body Revolution reinforcing beauty standards or helping resist them?

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Tae Phoenix

    I don’t see anything wrong with what Lady Gaga is doing. She’s attempting to draw attention to how the media’s obsession with thinness hurts real people, including her. She’s also encouraging people to look at themselves and their bodies through the lens of their own self love and to recognize that they don’t have to look like a pop star to think of themselves as beautiful.

    Gaga is conventionally attractive and still very, very thin. Thankfully, we have pop stars of many different body types from the very thin like Gaga to the curvy (e.g. Adele) to look up to. Things are changing, slowly.

    Whether we like it or not, physical appearance is a part of life. It would be lovely if everyone could see past it, but we can’t. I think it’s a reasonable goal to broaden our concept of what it means to be attractive, to reduce the level of our focus on it and place more importance on how people actually are, and to increase our own awareness of how the media influences our judgments.

    • Suzanne

      I agree with her intentions but not her methods. I don’t think she’s “encouraging people to look at themselves and their bodies through the lens of their own self love” if they’re posting photos of themselves and getting validation in the form of “you look good” from total strangers. Self-love shouldn’t require meaningless validation (from others, at that) on a superficial quality (one’s looks).

      I think what she’s doing just reinforces the idea that 1) our bodies are there to be commented on by others, now also from strangers browsing that site and 2) our looks are what matters. Both are dangerous, and I’ll note that 1) lies on the same spectrum with the problematic, pervasive idea that womens’ and girls’ bodies are public property.

      If promotion of self-love were the goal, wouldn’t it be a better exercise to ask people to write 5 things they like about themSELVES (whether it’s about their body, personality), not send in their pictures?

      • Suzanne

        Sorry, I meant to write “whether it’s about their body, personality, or whatever”

        • Tae Phoenix

          You have a very valid point, which is that we shouldn’t be looking for external validation and should instead be focusing on internal qualities that we like about ourselves. But that’s not where everyone is yet.

          I have a hard time putting a finger on what exactly I disagree with in your statement, though, so this thought may come out half-finished. I think displaying our bodies in this way is a metaphor for showing who we are and showing our struggle to accept ourselves in the hope of connecting with others and being accepted by them as well. Just as we are imperfect works in progress, our bodies are what they are: the parts that we like and the parts that we wish we could change. The parts that some find attractive and others do not.

          When we show ourselves, vulnerable and almost naked, and put ourselves out there asking for public comment and validation, it’s an act of vulnerability and courage. It’s saying, “here I am, not airbrushed and I’m trying to love my body.” And when other people say, “you’re beautiful,” it feels to me like what they’re really saying is “thank you for being brave and making yourself vulnerable, thank you for showing yourself, YOU are beautiful.”

          It’s a metaphor – an imperfect one that reflects our society’s obsession with bodies, to be sure – but a metaphor.

          Am I making sense?

  • Nancy Butterfield

    I read an article about her years ago that mentioned that she did not eat, or only ate tiny meals. And as I recall, there were also incidents of her passing out for unexplained reasons. It should have been apparent at the time that she had an eating disorder and was starving herself so she could appear half-naked on stage. The flip side of starvation is often excessive weight-gain. Unfortunately, our media and popular culture hates the bodies of mature women, so she will undoubtedly lose fans unless she starves herself again. It would be nice for her to find a medium size that she could maintain through healthy eating, but she seems to be in the binge/starvation cycle. As long as she is heavier, she at least should not wear clothing that shows everything to the world.

    One of the pictures she posted was from the back, with her back arched and butt raised up into the air like she was inviting guys to mount her from behind. This is not the type of photos you expect for a woman promoting a more honest view of their own body. This is just substituting raunchy sex photos to try to distract from the unattractive photos that have been posted online. It doesn’t seem like a healthy response.

    A healthy response would be to find better clothes, more attractive, not perform half-naked and subject herself to further ridicule. Put on some clothes.

  • Jacqueline Hentzen

    While Gaga is ‘traditionally beautiful’ in terms of body type and image, I’ve seen her trashed for her looks far too often — her nose, her eyes, her chin. Oh, and let’s not forget that when she originally came out, many people were jumping into arguments about whether she was actually female — I’m not kidding, I saw blog posts and rumors that she was actually a drag queen, that she had been born male, all sorts of nasty shit (and most of it was expressed in very ugly terms, calling her names and such, so that’s my basis for calling it ‘nasty’ — apologies if any trans-gender or gender-non-conforming readers see this.)

    So, honestly, I think it’s right in character for Gaga to be putting this out there — half the power of beauty standards is the narrow range of the definition, so by expanding it and undermining the status quo, I see more potential for destroying the power, altogether.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Her site won’t let me look at it without “logging in” which I don’t want to do, but what you’re describing sounds a lot like that “Re-belly-ion” kerfluffle between Amanda Palmer and Roadrunner a few years back. As far as this either-or question, where are self-love and righteous anger mutually exclusive? From the love of self comes the rebellion, the refusal to accept treatments and judgments one feels are unwarranted or unjust.

  • Carly

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to look and feel beautiful. I think what needs to happen though is that we need to redefine what beauty is. I think we need to realize that all of us look different and have different bodies and stop trying to find some ideal look. It’s impossible for us all to look the same and that would be so boring anyway! We need to step away from the ideal body type and realize that all body types are beautiful in their own way.

  • Rita Carlin

    Maybe ideally, women shouldn’t feel so badly about themselves that they need positive affirmations about their own physical beauty from total strangers. But I think that is where we are as a culture right now. You can’t start feeling beautiful if you feel ugly by denying the entire beauty paradigm that made you feel ugly in the first place right away.

    And this sounds rather therapeutic to me, in a PostSecret kind of way. Taking a photo of oneself, and posting it to a community that is going to respond positively may be extremely freeing and helpful for some women–and for some men too! Don’t be a snob just because you yourself are more secure in your body image than others.

    As to Nancy Butterfield’s comment above about the more sexually suggestive poses that Gaga herself may have posted “…like she was inviting guys to mount her from behind.”– you don’t think that’s a little judgmental? A woman can’t arch her back and enjoy the beauty of the shape that this creates without inviting sex? I arch my back like this every time I go to yoga class. Besides, it’s Gaga. Raunchy, artsy-ness expected.