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Lady Gaga goes barefaced at Oscars – Why do we care?

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo by Justin Higuchi. The image has been cropped and compressed.

Staff writer Ava Mellor questions the controversy surrounding Lady Gaga’s choice to perform without makeup at this year’s Oscars. 

The Oscars are the biggest night of the year for Hollywood’s rich and famous. Breaking barriers this year: Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian Best Actress, James Martin became the first actor with Down’s Syndrome to win an Oscar, and Lady Gaga… performed without wearing makeup?

The singer-songwriter has dominated Oscars coverage this week after her performance of “Hold My Hand” featured her in ripped jeans, a plain t-shirt, and barefaced. The act, which has been praised for its “progressive” nature, begs the question: how much significance should be placed on a woman of Gaga’s status choosing not to wear makeup?

Admittedly, the decision to conduct a stripped-back performance was always destined to attract some media attention. Gaga has not yet commented on the matter, leaving room for much speculation and curiosity. The BBC published an article explaining that Gaga’s lack of attention on her appearance “made sure her vocals were centre stage”, a slightly patronising take on a relatively trivial move. This comment implies that Gaga’s usual style distracts from her career, and that the only way for her to be seen as a singer rather than an object of admiration is for her to completely strip back her usual appearance.

Though the coverage of Gaga’s performance has been mostly positive, with both the media and the public speaking in admiration of her theorised attempt to normalise female celebrities not wearing full faces during events like the Oscars, this apparent phenomenon has continued to garner more and more attention. Perhaps a truly progressive reaction on behalf of the media would be to have not drawn so much attention to the situation, illustrating that it should be normalised for anybody to choose how they want to present themselves, whether they are female or male.

In recent years, celebrity culture has become more accustomed and welcoming to male figures wearing stereotypically female attire or attending events in make-up. Yet when female celebrities choose to attend awards ceremonies in masculine clothing, or without having their hair and makeup done, they appear to be in uncharted waters. Personalities such as Harry Styles have frequently attended awards ceremonies presenting themselves with more traditionally feminine fronts. Despite initially causing a stir in the media, men going against gender stereotypes in Hollywood arguably now garner less coverage than the women that break the same barriers, potentially deterring female celebrities from continuing to do so. Reports on male celebrities diverging from gender norms tend to praise their creativity; in contrast, displays of the same behaviour from their female counterparts are usually described as a deliberate attempt to be taken seriously, rather than an act of free, creative will.

Time will tell as to how quickly Hollywood accepts the no-makeup revolution that will almost inevitably occur as a reaction to its uninterrupted history of glitz and glamour. It cannot be denied, however, that Lady Gaga’s performance is a step in the right direction for women’s freedom of expression, whether it was covered appropriately or not.

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