Lady Gaga and the High Heels of New Feminism
by Madison Moore — Yale University
August 04, 2010 – 00:02
Lady Gaga showed up at the 2010 Grammy Awards in a dress that was as fabulous as it was hazardous. Designed by Armani Privé, the dress is made of galactic, glitter-filled interlocking circular tubes that hula-hoop around Gaga’s body; she stands at the center of her own image. We knew that the Gaga Lady would show up in an outrageous outfit. But if we set the explosive nature of this outfit aside, I think we can focus on the broader question the look is posing. Can a feminist embrace glamour?
Gaga’s greatest tool is her ability to be glamorous and grotesque at the same time, a split personality that revels in the glamour but that’s also critical of it. Take a closer look at this outfit: despite how spectacular it is, it’s also very frightening. First of all, the Lady doesn’t smile once, wearing a deeply severe look all over her face, despite the nearly comical outfit. The look relies on the bass notes of drag and the seriousness of camp to get its point across, and in that way we’re looking at the glamour of Old Hollywood mixed with the volume and drama of French couture. But with that clutch of spikes, we’re warned that even though we’re possessing her by looking, she’s still the master of her own image.
The most surprising thing about Gaga’s Grammy look is that as a work of fashion, in this situation that is the apex of images, she reveals her very constructedness. Her wig is unnaturally yellow, a "blond," satirizing the beauty and sex appeal of blond pin-ups. But if you look even closer, you’ll see that she’s wearing a head-to-toe body stocking, and her wig is deliberately placed to reveal the part of the stocking that’s on her head.
This move is especially poignant when thought alongside the current debates about models and Photoshop. For instance, laws have been proposed in Europe to curb the use of airbrushing and Photoshop in fashion images, placing a warning that the image has been altered. But Gaga wastes no time: in this look, she’s an image playing at being an image.