Rebellyons and Revolutions in the name of happiness

When it comes to body image and eating disorders, it’s hard to know the right thing to do. Do you speak up when you fear a friend is starving herself? How can we know the right approach when these types of illnesses are almost a taboo topic?

Lady Gaga’s “Body Revolution”, a campaign that celebrates the imperfections of the human body, attempts to bring these much-needed dialogues into mainstream language.

The campaign began when the popstar responded to press criticism of her recent weight gain.

Gaga, nearly as well known for her whacky clothing choices as for her music, posted a photo of herself online. It was a photo of herself dressed only in her underwear which ran alongside the caption  “bulimia and anorexia since I was 15.”

GaGa’s “little monsters” reared up as one, supporting their “Mother Monster” in the best way they knew. They posted photos of themselves highlighting the parts of their body they themselves have struggled with.

And it’s not just those with eating disorders or issues with their weight.

It’s those that have scarring from acne, amputations, surgery scarring, birthmarks, awkward blemishes – those parts of our bodies that we have rebelled against.

Gaga’s campaign is about acceptance, and even celebration of the bodies we do have, not the ones we want. It’s not about airbrushing, it’s not even about preaching. It’s about being able to say, hey, you know what? I’m still beautiful despite the scars life has given me.

And it’s important for those with a following to remind us that despite their success, they too have struggled with the same issues the rest of us have. Furthermore, it’s important for them to be represented in the media realistically, sans photoshopping.

For Amanda Palmer this resulted in the split from her music label.

The American singer sparked controversy in 2008 after the release of her video clip “Leeds United”, when she claimed Roadrunner Records, Palmer’s label at the time, had wanted to pull images of her from the video that exposed her stomach because she allegedly “looked fat”.

While this was not such an orchestrated campaign as Gaga’s, Palmer’s fans reacted in the same vein.

They posted pictures of their stomachs online with messages to Roadrunner Records. It was a “ReBellyon”.

For Amanda Palmer, this clear difference in values between herself and her music label was a deal breaker.

After further campaigning from Palmer, including a song called “Please Drop Me”; she was released from her contract.

For Palmer this wasn’t the end of her success, but rather a new beginning. The singer, who’s not afraid to challenge feminine beauty norms, has just released a new album funded by $1.2 million worth of Kickstarter donations, a new record for music projects on the fundraising site. It proves that success is not linked to image – you can reject social norms of beauty, such as women shaving their underarms, and still have fans, success and money.

The ReBellyon resulted in further community collaboration and support for body image with the fans publishing a book of over 600 photos and stories. “The Belly Book” was sold to fans all over the world.

This is why these campaigns are positive. It’s not about the person who triggers it, but rather about the response: from fans, the press and the wider community. These campaigns help for the wider community to understand problems that are largely kept in the dark. Understanding can lead to better community dialogues and community participation on solution plans.

For information and support on eating disorders please visit The Butterfly Foundation.



Filed under Mind, Body and Soul

5 responses to “Rebellyons and Revolutions in the name of happiness

  1. While I don’t discount the struggles women have with eating disorders and body issues, I think it’s important to remember that the fastest growing demographic for body dimorphism, bulimia and anorexia are actually young men in their late teens to mid twenties. I sometimes feel, especially when mainstream media sources like Sunrise do segments on these issues, it always focuses on female sufferers and silences the men who have the same issues. Neither group is more important to me than the other, I just think that in mainstream media, only one side of the story is presented.

    • Miranda

      I think the problem with programs like Sunrise is they try to simplify what is an extremely complex issue. They often paint it as a one-trigger kind of mental illness which doesn’t help people with the illness or those trying to provide adequate support. Let’s hope in the future that not only are these groups of illnesses represented in an accurate manner but support is more readily available. Thanks for your comment Joel, we hope you’ve been enjoying all of the Rubies blog posts.

    • You make a really good point, Joel. Off the top of my head, I can think of two prominent Australian men who’ve been sufferers of such conditions: Guy Pierce and Daniel Johns.

      It’s interesting that these times in their lives haven’t become major talking points. I think that it could definitely be a male health issue that might get more coverage in the coming decade, like the way male cancers and depression have through the Movember initiative.

  2. Sean

    Having been involved with women who suffer from anorexia and/or who have family members who suffer from anorexia I think the media/societies insistence on being slim is terrifying and it does place extra and undue pressure on both women and men to be slim at the detriment of being healthy.

    There is a very important counterpoint to this and in this regard (as a reformed morbidly obese person) I think I am entitled to speak from a point of some authority.

    Society, not popular society (i.e. magazines, television etc.) but peoples friends and families, strangers on the streets and people asked to give “reasoned” views tend to insulate people from the truth about being overweight.

    It is rather telling that a 2008 study on the perceptions of weight and what is overweight has actually increased by 20% (i.e. people don’t see people as overweight as early (lower weight) as they did even 40 years ago) this actually puts the view of what a “healthy” person is in the eyes of “society” into the medically overweight range.

    There seems to be a growing perception that all body types are acceptable and it is wrong to question a person or tell people they are overweight for fear they will develop a negative gain eating disorder.

    Whilst I agree you should be sensitive about these issues, it is wrong to isolate and insulate people from the fact that they may be overweight.

    I have heard women argue it more than men that they are “real sized women” (and to argue a point I’ve never heard a medically healthy weight woman say she was “real sized,” only women who are medically overweight usually teetering on medically obese), but I truly believe that the problem is actually more endemic with men than women. This comes from the fact that popular media and society in general doesn’t seem to place the same emphasis on men being slim (it still does but you cannot argue that it is as sever as it is for women) and so it is more acceptable for men to carry “beef.” That being said I don’t advocate the loss of “curves” women with curves are what appears in men’s magazines for a reason but “curves” as it was intended to mean meant breasts, bottoms and thighs it did not apply to muffin tops, or overhanging stomachs that isn’t a curve that never will be.

    The truth is that being both underwieght and overweight are dangerous and extremes in both senses of the word are horrific and horrendous but I think it is imperative that as a society that we don’t abandon a pursuit for a healthy weight for fear of giving someone an eating disorder or fear of offending someone.

    In my own experience I know people made excuses for me but that really just fuelled the fire and made me feel like being 70kgs overweight was ok. In reality it wasn’t but truthfully I encountered as much resistance from friends, family and colleagues when I was trying to lose that weight and people condoned that. In fact had i stopped where most people told me to I would of been roughly 20kgs over my medically healthy weight range.

    Whilst the end product of anorexia or bulimia is a much more powerful and saddening image because of what it does to young otherwise healthy people the truth of it is there are probably (and I apologise as I didn’t do my research on this otherwise I would give exact figures) but I would assume more people die in a week from complications of being overweight (heart disease, diabetes etc. etc) than die in a year from all negative gain eating disorders.

    Please don’t misinterpret this as a reduction in the significance of the negative role the media plays in what is a healthy body image, just as a conscious raiser that hopefully makes people see that there is as much if not more harm in ignoring the other side of the coin.

  3. Geoff

    I’m morbidly obese… well according to the BMI I am.
    But I’m 6’2″ tall, broad shouldered, athletic and out of season my body fat percentage is at the upper end of the healthy range for my age.

    Morbidly Obese… doesn’t sound good does it.
    If even the medical standards get body image wrong is there any wonder people develop self-image disfunctions.
    If I was average height and build(frame) maybe I would be clinically morbidly obese, but I’m not.

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