2/26/19: BREAK THE ROOF! (The Lady Gaga Episode)
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Morning Mantra Podcast Transcript, 2/26/19: BREAK THE ROOF!
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If Lady Gaga — the woman who told us all she was “Born this Way,” jumped off the roof of the Super Bowl stadium in sequined hot pants, has worn a dress made of meat, and crooned with Tony Bennett — can’t be allowed to present her face however she likes and be taken seriously, just imagine how the rest of us feel.
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Hi, my name is MK Fleming. I'm a run coach based in Denver, Colorado. But this isn't a podcast about running, exactly. Don't tell my clients, but *whispers* we're never really talking about the running. When you know a crap-tastic event is coming it helps to have a mantra to keep you centered and focused as you move through it. You don't have to be an athlete to be hashtag #coachedandloved by coach MK. And if you are here, then you are hashtag #winningatlife.
Today’s mantra is: break the roof! BREAK THE ROOF!
I am fiercely protective of my mother, a beautiful woman who has been openly bullied for as far back as I can remember. I remember my grandfather telling my mother how good she looked, then turning around and telling us, "powder and paint makes you look like what you ain’t", and my mother laughing along with everyone else in that fake laugh all Southern women have been conditioned to perform so the men around them can feel really witty and important. Even when attacked, even when hurting,even when your dad calls you ugly, these women protect the male ego first.
She is visiting this week, which is probably why I was spitting nails this morning for all of the praise Michael Strahan heaped on Gaga for "toning it down" for the Oscars.
Toning it down. Toning WHAT down? Where you been, Michael Strahan?? The meat dress was MTV music awards in 2010. She has been toning everything down since then, did you hear about her collaboration with Tony Bennett in 2014? How about her album Joanne? The sharpest criticism of those albums were precisely that she was toning down her look and sound in order to be taken seriously, so that her voice could be front and center. Yep, that was criticized as pandering, because WHAT could she do to neutralize that meat dress in the minds of the public? Women pander, men 'evolve'.
Clearly, the movie studio had the same questions. They made this talented woman, this legendary performer who performs sold out live shows consistently, perform a screen test. But before she could even get there, Bradley Cooper had to clean her up. He had to convince the studio to give her a chance. He had to show them WHO SHE REALLY IS, then turn around and prove that WHO SHE REALLY IS has talent that will translate to a screen.
The story, which has now been repeated by its stars several times and elevated to lore, goes like this: During their first filming session in her home, Cooper, who is the producer, director, and lead actor in the movie, whipped out a makeup wipe and dragged it down Gaga’s face from forehead to chin. He then told her, “Completely open. No artifice.” (Never mind his own reluctance to be open with the New York Times in a disastrous interview from September is widely credited for derailing A Star Is Born's oscar chances! I digress...)
This no-makeup story got so much attention in part because Lady Gaga has built her persona using props that are sometimes purposely jarring. Makeup, wigs, shoes, facial prosthetics, a giant egg, and, yes, a meat dress have all been part of her repertoire. She likes to challenge what we consider norms for women’s looks and fashion, so seeing her with her natural hair color and no makeup is jarring in a different way. You always wonder what Gaga is going to do, and the studio wanted you to KNOW that you would not see a meat dress or loud makeup in that movie.
But does not wearing loud makeup or any makeup mean a woman is more authentic? As a society, we claim to value what’s “natural” when it comes to women and their looks, but when you dig a little deeper, that’s not really what we want. We want them to look beautiful without any intervention at all, which is an unachievable goal considering that society’s idea of what is beautiful is so narrow: young, skinny, conventionally pretty, light-skinned.
On top of this, in the movie it is made abundantly clear that no one thinks Ally is pretty save Jackson. That’s why we are supposed to love him, he sees the beauty in this ugly woman whose amazing voice he can barely hear because he won’t wear his damned earplugs. And why does Ally wanna wear orange hair when she has that voice? You don’t need makeup or costumes when you have talent! Somehow we never talk about the singing, and somehow that voice, that talent, isn’t allowed to speak for itself. Because we can’t hear it when she wears orange wigs? In this story, as in her life- Lady Gaga's incredible talent, her show-stopping VOICE, is a footnote, it's never the story no matter what she wears. I guess we couldn't hear it through that chemistry.
Gaga’s singing made that movie worth watching I was thrilled that her music made The Oscars worth watching (FOR THE SECOND TIME YOU GUYS). Finally, we can talk about that voice, that voice that raises the roof and...oh wait, no. We’re talking about how she toned it down for the oscars (like 2014 never happened...come on you can't see the shoes! Like 2015 never happened...), thanking her for not wearing a meat dress. She’s managed to not wear one for 9 years, you guys.
I’m not sure what’s worst in how we talk about Gaga, but it’s all gross. All of it. A woman that talented, with a loyal following and proven bankability, should be able to do whatever she wants; she doesn’t need Bradley Cooper or anyone else telling her to tone it down. Neither do the rest of us.
So, the mantra: next time someone advises you to tone some part of yourself down, hear MY voice quoting Erin Van Vuren and saying "don’t you DARE trim your wings just because they’re taking up all the space in the room. Let them break the damned roof!" When your equivalent of the Oscars rolls around, I guarantee you will be the only one walking out of the room with a statue in your hand.
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You are coached, you are loved, and you ARE winning at life. And you are definitely winning at life if you follow Coach MK on Facebook, @morningmantrapod on Instagram, or subscribe to my Nuzzel Newsletter. Feel free to do all three!
While we are on the topic of women busting norms wide open, I beg you go check out Fat Running Chef's Facebook page, follow her like her and please donate to the GoFundMe campaign I started for her. Women who are doing this work, who are putting themselves OUT THERE are getting beaten up on a regular basis. Remember, even Lady Gaga, they take her makeup off so they can put her in a movie where it is made perfectly clear that no one thinks she is attractive at all. What a horrible place to be. And that space is where Latoya Shauntay Snell lives and works. Busting these norms wide open is hard, heartbreaking and frequently unpaid work. I beg you, please please please go support her. Even a dollar or two is enough for her to know you see and appreciate what she is doing for fat acceptance and body positivity, it says you notice and you give a damn. Let's do that.
**Citations and quotations linked throughout this post. Thank you so much to Erin Van Vuren, Jennifer Gerson, and Cheryl Wischhover for saying EVERYTHING better than I ever could. I appreciate your work SO much.**