When Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl a few weeks back, we saw a strange thing happen. Once people got over the initial debate about whether or not the show was meant to be political, a new debate seemed to arise, and this one was solely focused on Gaga’s physique.
Given the nature of the sometimes not-so-kind internet, we weren’t necessarily shocked to see people critiquing the star’s figure, but it warmed our hearts to see the amount of people coming out in social media droves to not only defend her, but applaud her for baring her belly just the way it was. Instead of headlines about trolls ripping her body apart, we saw mostly pieces about her fans ripping the body shamers apart, and immediately felt aglow inside.
Yet, we felt a twinge of pain as well. Not for Gaga, per se, but for the “Gagas” that came before her — the stars that only saw the negative side of the social media sword. Take Britney Spears, for instance. Though it happened 10 years ago, it still seems like yesterday that Brit-Brit took the stage at the VMAs looking… a little less like Britney than usual. Looking back on the photos today, we struggle to find fault with them: Girl has better abs in them than most of us will ever have, and gave birth to not one, but two children both years prior. Beyond that, she was embroiled at the time in a very public mental health and addiction crisis. Yet, despite everything, people chose to tear her appearance apart.
Just the day after Spears’ performance, headlines were comprised of things such as “Lard and Clear” (The New York Post) or embellished with lines like “The bulging belly she was flaunting was SO not hot” (E!). Where was the outrage then? Where were Spears’s “little monsters” standing up for her when she needed it most? Where Gaga’s fans supported her to a level that she felt empowered enough to address the haters, saying that she was “proud of her body and you should be proud of yours too,” Britney reportedly felt so ashamed following that now infamous show that she ran offstage yelling, “Oh my God, I looked like a fat pig!” Simon Cowell even went so far as to claim that “she could have killed her career.”
It got us thinking: Is this a sign of how far we’ve come as a society? Have we really become that more accepting in the past 10 years than we were back then? Mayyyyybe: Britney’s fans were certainly quick to interject this past weekend when fellow pop star Katy Perry seemingly mocked her more difficult days of yore on the Grammys red carpet — particularly her head shaving incident.
Not only were journalists like Emily Nussbaum and Matt Stopera (who penned an entire piece documenting Katy’s apparent obsession with the event entitled, “Dear Katy Perry, Please Just Stop”) not on board with the “joke” — fans didn’t appear to be either, and flooded Katy’s Instagram with messages of disapproval and snake emoji. It certainly would appear that we’re in the midst of a positively changing tide, then, no?
And yet… a part of us remains slightly skeptical. In the aforementioned instances of defense, the stars in question were in society’s “good graces,” if you will. We collectively like Gaga. We feel good about her performance, and so we’re outraged by the critiques against her appearance. Britney, too, has found her way back into the brighter side of the spotlight (and society’s hearts), making her big comeback at last year’s VMAs.
But what about the stars that have fallen into the shadows? The ones, who, while once on top, have seen the tides begin to turn against them? Would the same champions defending Gaga and Britney today be so quick to defend someone like Taylor Swift (who all but saw the world turn against her in 2016) if she were carrying a few extra pounds? Or would we all point and laugh? What about someone such as Lindsay Lohan, who, despite her best efforts, has yet to fully shake her party girl image? Did former UFC champ Ronda Rousey, who suffered her second straight loss at the hands of Amanda Nunes earlier this year, actually have it right when she told The Mirror, “People want to see people rise, because they want to rise, but they want to see people fall, because they want to feel like they’re human, like they are?”
Perhaps we should ask Miley Cyrus. These days, she’s one half of everyone’s unexpected favorite couples, but just four years ago in 2013, her image wasn’t *quite* so squeaky clean. And while people didn’t necessarily criticize her physique, she was certainly slut-shamed for showing it off during her MTV VMAs performance with Robin Thicke.
If we’re going to stand up for the Gagas of the world, we NEED to stand up for the pre-comeback Britneys too. If we’re going to cheer on body positivity for ladies such as Ashley Graham (AKA the first plus-size model to ever walk for Michael Kors — yay!), we also need to accept gals like Miley Cyrus who feel comfy enough in their bods to bare them to the world. No one’s body is “better” or more “appropriate” than another’s, and that fact shouldn’t change based on our personal feelings toward the person inhabiting them at any given time. If we ever want the shaming to stop — really, and truly — we can’t be part of the problem. We can’t only defend those that we like, for the moment, or when it suits our needs.
We’re all in this together, and we need to not be hypocrites. We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but we can do even better. Here’s hoping we will.
Do you think our society has evolved or that there’s something to our theory of celebrity favoritism? Share with us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Al Bello, Neilson Barnard, Christopher Polk + Kevin Winter/Getty)