When I first heard about Lady Gaga, it was from my daughter, who kept singing Bad Romance and Alejandro and Edge of Glory, making me play the radio stations that played these songs until I have to say I was fairly addicted to them myself. The girl is talented.
Next, I began to see photographs of Lady Gaga all over the place, particularly the supermarket and the waiting area at the Counseling Center where I worked, where People Magazine was an absolute staple. Her crazy outfits and makeup didn’t faze me, seeing as I grew up in the heyday of Boy George, Grace Jones, Robert Smith, Cyndi Lauper and, yeah, everyone in the eighties. What I found alarming about Lady’s photographs were how skinny she was.
Maybe she doesn’t look terrifyingly thin to you in the above photograph. But consider that she’s five feet one inch tall, and proportionately looks like a 6 foot supermodel. If you look this thin in photographs and you’re this short, you’re really skinny, often by unnatural means. I know this from experience. Here I am at 18. I was struggling with a form of anorexia at the time. I look too thin, in my opinion, but I was somehow not considered emaciated. (I’m just two inches taller than Gaga.)
Given my own experience in the ballet world, where skinny was the norm and people got there any way they could, given my own eating disordered past, any time I see photographs of extremely thin models and celebrities, I can’t help wondering: is that starved-looking girl okay? Is she just naturally like that because she’s six feet tall and seventeen? Or is she struggling? Does she slave for hours on the elliptical or the treadmill? Does she limit her caloric intake to harrowingly low numbers? Does she rely on illegal drugs to keep her body humming away while failing to notice the need for food?
Lady Gaga is young, so I didn’t jump to any conclusions right away, though of course I suspected there was something going on. Pop stars have access to cocaine, which keeps you rail thin and hyped up (and on a crash course for, well, crashing). Young pop stars have youth—which is always great for weight maintenance–possibly good genes–good jeans too, for that matter. But seeing as Gaga was a rich, successful celebrity, I wasn’t especially worried about her.
Then she disappears and gains twenty-five pounds which I have to say, probably brings her into the range of healthy. (Yes, it’s true. It may look smashing in a bikini, but being seriously underweight, as physicians will attest, puts your health at risk.)
Be that as it may, the media was abuzz with reports of Lady Gaga “ballooning,” the tabloids temporarily relegating Kate Middleton’s posing nude and/or sporting an alleged “baby bump” to the second page.
I know, when celebrities gain or lose weight, it’s always big news, because we’re all weight obsessed and starstruck. We love to know that stars are human just like the rest of us, but at the same time there’s this special American brand of schadenfreude, this glee when misfortune befalls the outrageously fortunate. In any case, I must state for the record that this:
is not a photograph of a fat person. I’ll own, it is a picture of a woman in a really silly outfit photographed from a less-than-flattering angle. But fat? Really now.
In interviews, Gaga confessed: she has struggled all her life with eating disorders. Lamenting the caloric bonanza of the food at her father’s restaurant, Gaga confessed that she stays out of New York to avoid the place, claiming she needs to be where she can “drink green juice,” safe from temptation. Gaga, whose album, Born This Way, celebrates individuality and loving oneself, warts and all, is clearly not one of those very rare souls who is an effortless size double zero. Still, until the much touted twenty-five came on, she’d appeared in public to be just that size.
As Huffington Post blogger, Michelle Konstantinovsky puts it:
“Mixed messages much? While I wholeheartedly appreciate the rare transparency, I can’t help but wish the “eat less, exercise more” ideal had never been blasted out to so many undeniably impressionable fans. Moreover, I wish Gaga had never subjected herself to fitting a narrow, predetermined pop star mold if she truly hadn’t been born that way.”
The mixed messages continue. On one hand, Gaga says she’s not a bit bothered by the “extra” weight; referring to the curves she says her boyfriend prefers. On the other hand, says she’s dieting hard to lose it.
But I don’t blame her for saying one thing and doing another. I do not fault a young, way-too-famous 26 year old, maybe-or-maybe-not-ex-bulimic for being confused about the meaning of food, size and hunger in her life. I give this girl a break. And hope she gets some gentle, supportive help from an eating disorders specialist soon. The good news is that Lady Gaga has begun The Body Revolution, a campaign on her website inviting fans to share their body struggles in the interest of healing. Let’s hope it helps.
Recovering from an eating disorder is so challenging. When you are recovering from bulimia especially, when you are even at the stage of considering recovering from bulimia (the lingo is “I’m trying to stop,” or “I’m thinking about stopping”), you have no idea how to begin, unless you are in very good treatment. You don’t understand food, you don’t understand what hunger is, you have to learn everything from the beginning. The result is often weight gain. Sometimes significant weight gain. I say often, not always, because I can’t find the statistic, but I can’t think of a single case when this was not the result. Food is scary, eating is scary, mirrors and scales are scary. I was only able to recover when I looked in the mirror and said to myself: I would rather be overweight than bulimic. Did I mean it? Was it that simple? More on that in another post, but I was on my way to being free.*
Whether you are anorexic, bulimic, or a tidy combination known in the therapy world as EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), the addiction to thinness—however elusive your idea of thinness is—and the coinciding dread of fat can be paralyzing. You communicate mixed messages to yourself all day long. Food is too good for me. I’m too good for food. In addition, you have lost your connection to food, lost your sense of nurturing your body and virtually shut down your metabolism. When you go from drinking only green juice, or in my case, consuming only apples and an occasional cup of popcorn, (throwing up anything over and above) to eating normally, you will get much fatter than you were before. I put it in those terms because that is how eating disorder sufferers think. This is your mindset: To have fat on my body is to be fat.
For me, challenging that way of thinking took three years of cognitive-behavioral therapy (which ultimately is how I overcame my illness). But how dare the media inflict that same kind of language on the public, especially young girl fans of Lady Gaga. And imagine–just imagine–what it must be like to live the journey of eating disorder recovery in the public eye.
Lady Gaga has been called a publicity hound (and worse). To be fair, you probably wouldn’t wear a dress made of meat if getting attention weren’t your thing. But she’s lived an eating disorder, and possibly, privately still lives it. It’s a life of fear and ambivalence, no matter what the crowd sees on stage. So even if she puts nearly nude photos of herself on her site post weight gain, publicly “embracing her curves,” she’s still got a struggle ahead. Especially if she’s still dieting to get “her body back.” (Which one is she embracing again?)
Here I am, by the way, after my own twenty-five pound weight gain (I’m far right, in the sunglasses).
Without those essential pounds I doubt I would have my children or my life. Here’s to “ballooning.”