What Lady Gaga Taught Me About Being More Than “A Piece Of Meat”

It’s been seven years since Gaga wore slabs of meat to the MTV VMA’s, but everyone still knows what you’re referring to when you talk about “the meat dress.” There are many speculations as to the reason behind her bold move, but even Gaga said that there can be “‘many interpretations.’” No matter how you want to read into the controversial dress, it’s clear that Gaga wanted to be acknowledged for more than what her flesh presents; as she said that night, “I am not a piece of meat.”

Seven years later and that sentiment takes on a lot more meaning for me after watching Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. Though she may be small, Lady Gaga is fierce as hell and has never been afraid to show it. But in the documentary, she gets vulnerable about her emotional and physical challenges over the years in the show business, something that taught me about the importance of recognizing your own worth. “Over the years I just started to feel like what I was on my own just wasn’t good enough,” she says. “I never felt comfortable enough […] to just sing or wear my hair back. I never felt pretty enough or smart enough or [like] a good enough musician. That’s the good part. The good part is that I just didn’t feel good enough, and I do now.”

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We are used to seeing Gaga in bizarre and show-stealing costumes, but now we know at least one reason behind all the theatrics. “[Male producers] have so much power that they can have women in a way that no other men can,” she says. “When they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop, I always f---ing put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I was still in control.” Gaga gave herself a voice and a presence when producers only wanted her to be a sexual object. “They expect from me what those girls have to offer when that’s just not at all what I have to offer in any way. Like, that’s not why I’m here.”

And that’s not the only reason why Lady Gaga, or any other person, should be here. We have so much more to offer than being sexy or beautiful. You can be compassionate, articulate, funny, a fierce friend, a great cook, the world’s best rock climber, etc. I’m not saying sexy is a bad thing. It’s just not the only thing that makes someone valuable. You’re allowed to have opinions and express yourself without being someone else’s definition of beautiful.

“Honestly, we’ve just seen me f---ing glamorous for almost ten years [and] it’s boring,” Gaga says. “I can see now I don’t need to have a million wigs and all that shit to make a statement.” Whether you’re in Hollywood or not, there will always be someone ready to tell you that who you are is not enough, but you don’t have to believe that. We place a lot of blame on society for establishing strict standards, and while a good portion of that blame is well-deserved, I think we often trap ourselves in other people’s expectations. We become content with playing it safe because it’s easier than fighting to be ourselves, but there’s going to come a point when pretending is exhausting. “I don’t think that the world was ready to see who I really [was] because I wasn’t ready to be myself,” says Gaga about her earlier albums. But with her most recent one, Joanne, “[she’s] saying, ‘This is me with nothing.’”

If you find yourself questioning your motives and where your life is headed, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what really matters to you. “You gotta leave yourself behind,” advises Gaga in her documentary. It’s okay to find a better version of yourself, even if that means leaving behind the person everyone has grown accustomed to seeing. Like Lady Gaga said about her meat dress, “‘If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.’”

Graphics by Charlie Ananas; sources: 1, 2, 3, 4