Lady Gaga, as an openly bisexual woman who challenges gender norms, has long been an icon for queer communities. The NFL’s choice of Gaga for the Super Bowl halftime show was thus significant, as it is a league which has often had problems with misogyny. It is even more significant now, considering Donald “likes women to dress like women” Trump and Mike “family values” Pence are in the White House.
For many there was subversive potential in this decision, especially after last year’s halftime show in which Beyoncé (with her backup dancers) subtly referenced the Black Panther Party, using her spotlight to draw attention to black power.
Lady Gaga lived up to these expectations. We should have spent the days following the Super Bowl discussing the emancipatory message of ‘Born This Way’, or highlighting the connections between her singing ‘This Land is Your Land’ and Guthrie’s criticism of Trump’s father. Instead, fans and critics alike were occupied with defending or attacking Gaga’s appearance.
Across Twitter the subversion of the halftime show was ignored, with people condemning Gaga for exposing a stomach which was not perfectly flat. This is indicative of societal values which elevate an unattainable body image and caused spectators to focus on Lady Gaga’s perceived challenge to these beauty standards, rather than her technically complex and perfectly executed performance.
Much of the media also missed the point of her performance, concerning themselves with defending Lady Gaga’s stomach and contradicting the veracity of the comments. However, there is no reason for any sort of discussion about the size of Lady Gaga’s stomach to be included in any serious publication.
Rather than defend her body, it is our responsibility to defend the right of Lady Gaga, and of all women, to be valued for characteristics besides their physical appearance. It is important that Lady Gaga chose to wear what she wanted to during the show, regardless of perceived beauty ideals, and it must be acknowledged that her attitude is empowering for women. Comments about her ‘bravery’ only reinforce the narrative that her body is ‘unattractive’ and is an obstacle to be overcome; and that, by choosing to show it off, she is fighting back against the attention placed on female bodies.
The negativity surrounding Gaga, however, must be recognised. Gaga posted a message on Instagram to this end, saying “I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I’m proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don’t need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you.”
Not only did she meet criticism with defiance, rejecting the premise that any specific body could have an attribute worthy of criticism, but she did not assume that criticism was natural or inevitable. If we are going to take anything away from Gaga’s halftime show, it should be the defiance through pride which she has consistently and elegantly used to shift the narrative.
Image: Inez & Vinoodh