I really like Lady Gaga. I like her, what she’s about, her message. I even like her ridiculous style. I’m all about people expressing themselves, even if they do it in a way that makes young people fight on the Internet about whether or not that expression was stolen from Madonna’s Express Yourself. Lady Gaga, by all accounts, is a talented, kind, generous young woman, and she’s a terrific role model for anyone, not just young people.
However, the photo of her on the cover of the Women of the Year December issue of Glamour is a problem. And I’m not the type to get nitpicky about these things for no reason. I agree with my colleague Meredith Carroll that the Melissa McCarthy Elle cover was no big deal – especially since McCarthy herself chose to wear the large coat she was in that critics said was used to try to hide her fat. I’m a chubby girl myself, and I make no bones about it (heh), but I’m not into shaming fit, thin or naturally skinny women. I do have a problem with the culture at large shaming women into being uber-thin, though, something women’s media has fueled for decades. And using an image of Lady Gaga with a clearly, uh, heavily photoshopped waistline when she’s already in that unfortunate inverted model’s pose is just more of the same messaging. BE SKINNY. ABOVE ALL ELSE. THIS IS YOUR KEY TO BEING BEAUTIFUL AND HAPPY. Hide. Disappear. Shrink.
Dear magazine industry: No more inverted, concave tummies. More Jennie Runks. Please. Thanks.
Thin women, be thin. Models, go ‘head! Do yo thang. But do it standing tall, please. I mean, you are some of the tallest women on the planet! Put your body out there, not in. Be tall and strong and brave. Not inverted and small. Enough of this shrinking. Enough enough enough. We, the readers, are collectively done with it, if you can’t tell. So just, please, photographers, editors … stop. No more.
My daughter is 7 years old. She isn’t exposed to women’s media or the culture at large more than any child is. In fact, maybe less so, since we live in a pretty liberal, crunchy area and don’t get out of the neighborhood much. Yet somehow she learned – as did the other girls at school – that when someone is taking your picture, you should turn to the side, tilt your head, be cute. You should bevel your leg. You should try to get small. She didn’t learn that from watching me pose for pictures; I stand straight on like a Mack Truck. (The better to show my headlights.) But she learned it. I let her pose like that in pictures for a while, because I figured she was exploring and I wanted to let her have space to do so. But finally, this weekend, when we were headed to a Halloween party and I went to take a picture of her in her Dorothy costume, I told her, “No. Stop posing like that. Just act normal.” She stood up straight and tall, and she looked lovely in the photo. Really lovely. Happy, and strong. This Glamour cover makes Lady Gaga look terrified and unsure, like all of her energy is going into compressing her already tiny waist. That’s even more problematic given that Gaga admits in the issue’s interview with Andy Cohen that she’s battled eating disorders for years. It’s also surprising since Gaga was so brash about facing down her critics when she gained a little weight last year, going so far as to photograph her “chubby” incarnation as a means of showing pride in her body, no matter its form.
One of the first things I started criticizing when I began doing stand-up was the way high-fashion models look dead all the time. A decade ago, it was common to see ad after ad wherein the models not only looked dead, but sometimes were actually playing dead, that’s how little the women in them mattered. That trend lasted for years, until Kanye West’s “Monster” video came out in 2011, and it was full of dead-women-as-fashion-statement. The backlash against the video was one of the things that helped usher in a new era of vital-looking plus-size models and actresses like Melissa McCarthy finally beginning to take center stage. I hate to see the energy of the burgeoning body acceptance movement be sabotaged by not only the cover of a still-relevant magazine (that has in the past featured plus-size models), but their Women of the Year issue. From the looks of it, there were lots more incredibly artistic and interesting photos of Lady Gaga to choose from, so why the Glamour editors picked this photo for the cover is beyond me. Well, it’s not beyond me. These magazine editors and our capitalist culture at large don’t want to have to learn how to function anew if we the people learn how to function in wellness instead of in constant need of fixing. They prey on our need for betterment. But, thanks in large part to the Internet, it looks like they’re just gonna have to get over it and learn something new. The people have spoken. We don’t want to be ever-shrinking women. We, like Lady Gaga, want to be what we were born to be.