Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Katie Couric: Stars Start Taking Control of Body Image Expectations (INSIDE STORY)
With one blunt sentence this week — "Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15" — Lady Gaga threw herself into an impending avalanche of celebrities seizing control of the conversation about unrealistic body expectations and the dark paths those pressures often lead to. The revelation, accompanied by a baring-it-all photo, came just one day after X Factor judge Demi Lovato visited Katie Couric's show to discuss a long struggle against a harmful self-image. Couric, 55, also admitted she herself battled bulimia from her teen years into and beyond college.
"Striving for perfection is an endless battle," Dr. Susan Albers, eating disorder specialist and author of five books including Eating Mindfully, tells Celebuzz. "Airbrushing and computerized images have raised the bar even higher, to impossible standards. Thankfully, many celebrities have begun to come forward with 'real' photos and no makeup to acknowledge that they are human and want to be held to those standards."
Dr. Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for Avvo.com and author of Think, a compelling book discussing body image issues for women, finds the actions of Couric, Lovato, and Gaga healthy as well as remarkably courageous. "Women in show business always try to put on a brave front—we have hair and makeup and clothes and we smile when the cameras go on. You're trying to pretend everything is great, but we're all human beings and we all have our challenges and I think it's very brave of them to admit that they struggled like everyone else."
Smartphones and the subsequent advent of the civilian paparazzo likely acted as catalysts for Hollywood's swelling shift toward body-image honesty; publicists were formerly the gatekeepers of all things celebrity-associated. "Now celebrities really have no privacy and can't hide their foibles and their flaws," says Dr. Wendy Walsh, a behavioral expert and author of The Girlfriend Test. "They're coming out and combating it by just being human. They're telling their fans, 'This is what I'm dealing with.' In the long run it really helps their career—it makes them more real, more vulnerable, more authentic."
This may not have been a voluntary move on celebrities' part—copious shaming has slammed stars like Ashley Judd, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, and even Kate Middleton (from Katie Couric, oddly enough). There's a baffling dichotomy between stars supposedly "letting themselves go" and caring too much about their appearances. Dr. Albers differentiates between aesthetic beauty and the problems often attached to it. "We love glamour; what we don't like is pressure, judgment and urging people to live unhealthy, dangerous lives to conform to a certain standard," she says. "The focus on Lady's Gaga's weight was harsh and at times brutal. Hopefully, her admission will lead to a turnaround and encourage support and healthy living."
Honesty is, as they say, the best policy. But along with candor comes a responsibility to show that issues like anorexia and bulimia can be triumphed over. Dr. Bloom, who calls the self-image crises plaguing stars and young women alike sad, sees a ray of positivity. "It's hopeful because these women have overcome, certainly Katie Couric. She's one of the most successful women in our country—journalist, talk show host, everything she does she does it very well," Dr. Bloom says. "Women struggling with bulimia or anorexia or body issues can look at someone like Katie Couric and see it doesn't have to be the end of us, it doesn't have to define us—we can overcome challenges and have a great life."
Though these messages are just now finally beginning to gain Hollywood traction and hit a built-in audience straight from the mouths and tweets of stars, the prognosis is promising. "I think in the long run, the public will start to understand. Because let me tell you, what's going on in the psyches of teenage girls because of Photoshop right now is terrible. We have eating disorders, teen depression, teen suicide, so we've got to make celebrities real and help teenage girls understand how fake the world of advertising is," Dr. Walsh says. She has a hard time getting past the fact that America is experiencing an unprecedented increase in female economic and educational success, but "the media has sexualized women and sent a message that all this doesn't matter, it only matters if you have a nice rack and a high butt."
Dr. Bloom concurs, noting that America leads the globe in plastic surgery and purchases 40 percent of all makeup produced worldwide. "Hollywood leads the way, but the rest of us all follow," she says. This is one path her latest book treads heavily, "these ridiculous levels of attention to what we look like instead of what's going on in our lives, and how that's lead to a real emptiness in American women and girls. We know something's missing when all we care about is what we look like. And by the way, our boyfriends and husbands want us to be more than just empty shells that look nice. They're very much with me when I talk about these issues."
Even with hopeful prospects, the problem could very likely be at an all-time high. Dr. Walsh says the positive trend of honesty and self-love reflects just a small portion of entertainers. "The rest of them are starving themselves, they are exercise anorexics working out with trainers, they are getting plastic surgery in their 20s—that's really what's going on in Hollywood with the majority of celebrities, trust me. It's not going away anytime soon. The worry to compete and be more beautiful than the next one is enormous."
So enormous that unfathomably young girls (see: Toddles & Tiaras) deal with it every day. "Half of American girls three to six years old worry about being fat. Twenty percent of girls under the age of 12 are wearing foundation or eyeliner or lipstick every day," Dr. Bloom tells us. "I urge girls to step away from the mirror and focus more on what's in your head than what's in your closet. We have to stop obsessing about our appearance and use our brains. It's going to help us more in the long run and make us happier."
Beyond taking action independently and within the self, Dr. Bloom believes a public outcry is warranted. "I think it's very healthy for women to say, 'Enough. Stop judging me. And especially stop judging my appearance.' I would like to evaluate women and men based on our goals, our achievements, our accomplishments, our kindness, our compassion, our creativity—qualities that we have more control over and are ultimately a lot more important in terms of defining who we are."
And until we reach that moment, what's the next step for celebrities? "Continuing to insist that there be more compassion and being truly themselves rather than conforming," Dr. Albers says. "Lady Gaga did that this week."
For more, watch The Daily Buzz, where Celebuzz Editor-in-Chief Dylan Howard and celebrity experts discuss the new trend in body-image honesty and its chances of bucking what Dr. Sara Gottfried calls our "national eating disorder."