Lady Gaga has hit the twittersphere and blogosphere this week, and this time not for erratic costumes or radical music videos. It all kicked off with the publication of her tweet: “Just killed back to back spin classes. Eating a salad dreaming of a cheeseburger #PopSingersDontEat #IWasBornThisWay”
The statement has faced a torrent of abuse, declaring her to be publicly endorsing dieting fads to the detriment of her many fans idolising her as a figure who stands against normative celebrity paradigms.
One website criticises her, announcing her to be dangerously flaunting her public image in front of her easily influenced fans. You can see the comments here. This differs from jezebel’s response, available here, which offers a different reading of Gaga’s words, and, more importantly, the response they have received.
But what do we really think about Gaga’s tweet? And does it even matter?
I’m a massive Gaga fan; in fact, Born This Way is probably one of the most played albums on my iPod (along with Florence, MJ, and Portishead). And I would definitely argue that Lady Gaga is one of our greatest public feminist figures. That’s not to say I adore everything about her, I’m still trying to get to grips with the fixed notion of identity inherent in ‘Born this way’, which seems to deny the possibility of the embodiment of differing subjectivities, or gender / sexual fluidity. Nevertheless, in an age where gender continues to be governed by archaic regulatory norms, and sexuality is limited to the socially sanctioned heteronormative, where the simple idea of same-gendered relationships is vehemently opposed by social debates on gay marriage, or a bus advertisement campaign promoting ‘anti-gay therapy’ (see here), anything that embraces self-love, self-worth, and celebratory acceptance is clearly needed. All this aside, it seems to me, that this case of Gaga’s tweet is fraught with various gender issues.
Firstly, many responses play the eating disorders card, arguing that Gaga has spoken out condemning the rise of eating disorders and the promotion of a false unattainable physical ideal. Tweets such as “@ladygaga If you are an advocate for ED recovery like you say you are, you should be ashamed of yourself” and “Dear @ladygaga please don’t say things like #PopSingersDontEat …it could make monsters think it’s ok/necessary to starve themselves :(” take issue with Gaga’s words as endorsements of anorexia. Whilst it is important to counter the pro-eating disordered behaviours perpetuated within celebrity culture and the media, blaming one person’s remark for an eating disorder is a little hyperbolic. Eating disorders are exceptionally complex mental illnesses which cause immense suffering for everyone, and are probably one of the hardest things to deal with ever. Ever. Certainly exacerbated by cultural ideals, eating disorders are serious problems that go beyond media influence. Simply blaming celebrities for the continuing rise in this problem is naïve at best, belittling, harmful, and destructive at worst. We live in a society in which many aspects function in conjunction to promote and endorse unhealthy attitudes toward eating and living in the never-ending striving for ‘perfection’. This is the problem. Not individual statements, but how everything works together. In fact, an eating disorder itself, is possibly the best metaphorical illustration of how various issues comes together to cause a serious problem.
Secondly, the case reveals how much we continue to judge women. Even in feminist blogs. Surely freedom of speech and freedom of subjectivities are much more feminist, than judging a woman, especially for the heinous crime of adhering to societal normative paradigms? And let’s face it, if Gaga didn’t work out, not only would she not be able to do her job (watch one of her shows, it’s EXHAUSTING just sitting on the sofa in front of it!), she would also be the subject of vile cascades of socially condoned hatred. What this debate indicates, if nothing else, is that a woman is always judged, irrespective of what she says / does / wears / looks like.
No matter how you interpret Gaga’s words, and I certainly think they’re ironic, it’s painfully evident that we live in a culture that publicly endorses extreme dieting, shouting it from the pages of gossip magazines and chat shows. You only have to walk past a newsagents for a snapshot of this fact. All Gaga has done is broadcast this fact – the fact that celebrities have to look their best, at all times, or they’re slammed for it – in a matter of fact manner. Her crime here, is truth, nothing more. And this is why she seems to have been subject to controversy, because, as a woman in the public eye, she’s supposed to shut up and take it, not speak out. The hash tag #popstarsdonteat just displays the stupidity of the system promoting unreal perfected images which the public will endlessly strive to live up to with no chance of success. Her tweet really demonstrates the utter ridiculousness of a world enforcing prescribed gender images to the detriment of physical and mental public health. And for 140 characters, I think that’s quite impressive.
[N.B. Quoted tweets from http://proud2bme.org/node/258]