In launching the feature on her social networking site littlemosters.com Gaga revealed that she herself has battled anorexia and bulimia. She is calling on all of her little monsters to share their own body and image battles by posting photos of their ‘imperfections. Gaga hopes the site will shatter pre-established ideas of what constitutes beauty.
(As someone coming from a crisis management background I can’t help but get carried away with all of the ways this could go wrong, but assume Mother Monster must have some pretty intense moderation going on to avoid catastrophe).
Her own revelation of an eating disorder struggle has generated massive media interest and will no doubt see a spike in registrations for the site.
But, I have to wonder, will it achieve it’s self professed mission of breeding some ‘m$therf*cking’ compassion? Will it help young people to boost their self esteems by displaying images that contradict what mass media portrays as beautiful?
Can social media have such a big social effect? Gaga is after all competing with a multi-billion dollar industry of corporations and their brands which make money out of selling products using ‘aspirational’ images of idealised, beautiful women and men.
While media effects are often debated with some leading scholars (Gauntlett, 2005) questioning whether it has the massive effect often attributed to it, it seems obvious to me that the images we are fed as being ‘beautiful’ determine what society predicts as beautiful. This would explain why trends in perception of body weight change so much. Before supermodel ‘twiggy’ entered the scene, underweight models with androgynous looks were not in demand. Rather, more curvacious models were highly paid. However, with a push and saturation of twiggy and similar models in fashion magazines, the every day woman suddenly aspired to be thinner.
Will Gaga’s revolution change the tide?
A 2006 study by Henderson-King examined individual difference and social factors in moderating the effects of media images on women’s body satisfaction. Participants heard a conversation where two people either were judgmental about a mutual friend’s weight gain or discussed their friend’s recent move. Participants then viewed slides which were either neutral or depicted “ideal” images of women. Results underscored the importance of individual differences.
According to the authors, “When exposed to ideal images, thinner women more positively evaluated their sexual attractiveness, while heavier women reported more negative self-evaluations. Compared to low self-monitors, high self-monitors who were exposed to ideal images were more positive about their physical condition. The findings demonstrate that media images do not similarly affect all women’s body esteem.”
So, this study would suggest that while media might set the agenda of what is considered ‘beautiful’, this is not the only impact on self-esteem.
What are your thoughts? Is Gaga onto something or does self esteem run deeper than media effects?
Gauntlett, D (2005) Moving experiences: Media effects and beyond (2nd ed.) Eastleigh, UK, John Libbey Publishing
Henderson-King, E. and Henderson-King, D. (1997), Media Effects on Women’s Body Esteem: Social and Individual Difference Factors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27: 399–417