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So, today marks history in little monster land with the launch of Lady Gaga’s Body 2013 Revolution.

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?

(As an aside, for interesting reading about media effects and social change click here).
Interested in going Gaga? Check out Alicia’s commentary on the Lady Gaga social media revolution here.

References:

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

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8 thoughts on “Media effects: Can we breed some ‘m$therf*cking’ compassion?

  1. Such a strange concept, but I do agree with you, there must be some sort of major damage control protocol in place as to manage this domain 24 hours a day. On the other hand, this could be a great way of embracing one’s imperfections and being comfortable with who you are, and what you look like. Lady Gaga is no role model in my opinion, however I do think there may be a nurturing factor behind this as eating disorders are of major concern in modern society. I didn’t even hear about this through news, social media etc however it seems that there are little monsters that believe she can make a difference.

  2. I agree Eva. I think that with the rise of anti-bullying messages and reporting on ‘trolls’ this is timely and should be well received. Whether social media platforms like this have the ability to bring about large scale social change like a body revolution remains to be seen though!

  3. I agree with you both. I don’t see Lady Gaga as a role model either but it’s good to know she’s using her reputation for a good cause. It provides a sense of realism to the idea that a celebrity has had her share of trials and tribulations that people can relate to and really she’s addressing an issue that while is more well known in society, is still considered somewhat taboo to talk about. At the end of the day though, it’s a concern that ‘celebrities’ like Lady Gaga seem to have more of an impact than policy makers and governments. Much like Justin Bieber and One Direction, it’s interesting that they literally make the world go around and it’s taking over Generation Y and younger (although not discounting that there are older fans of the the two haha).

  4. Thanks for the plug Kate! I think the questions you post here are valid, in my opinion, I think social media is having a significant affect on social change. From a cultural perspective, I think social media is ‘democratising’ minority voices – and key SM influencers like Lady Gaga are in the case of Lady Gaga – I think that people are using SM to emphases alternate / minority points of view that have the potential to challenge the norm(or at least drive awareness to alternative views).

    I would like to think that self esteem is deeper than media effects (and hopefully it isn’t just related to the outside!) but I do think Lady Gaga is onto something. She has created a ‘safehaven’ for people to come together to talk about body issues and together build a network of support.

    • You are most welcome Alicia!
      I love your point regarding the democratisation of minority voices. This is certainly something that didn’t happen with mainstream media. So, perhaps the body revolution won’t solely increase self esteem, but instead help to challenge mass stereotypes…it reminds me of the whole Seth Godin Long Tail theory where niche communication will reign supreme.

  5. Pingback: Social media monster – Going Gaga | asocialspectator

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