“Gaga: Five Foot Two” and what it means for chronic pain sufferers

I have finally got round to watching “Gaga: Five Foot Two” on Netflix, a documentary looking into the private life of Lady Gaga whilst working on her album “Joanne” and leading up to her Superbowl performance last year.

She says that is the first time she’s been filmed since “Born this Way” 3 years ago, where she also suffered with a hip injury. This trauma has developed into wide spread pain, which we now know is a result of fibromyalgia, but there is no mention of the term in the documentary. Gaga explains that when she goes through bouts of depression, her body goes into spasm and she suffers intensely.

Throughout the documentary, we see moments of extreme pain, Gaga laying down in tears with a number of people massaging her and applying ice packs. It looks as though there’s a team there to assist with the pain whenever required. We can see marks from cupping therapy on her back, her being injected during trigger point therapy and an array of other different treatments. I have seen on social media that Gaga has been getting some stick for this, saying that this is not how other people can treat this condition. It is obvious that the resources available to her are greater than the average sufferer, but honestly, if I had the resources I’d take them all if it helped. Her profile and status requires so much more of her, especially physically in her appearance and performance. She does state in the documentary,

“I just think about other people that, like, have maybe something like this, that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don’t have the quick money to have somebody help them. Like I don’t know what I’d fucking do if I didn’t have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do?”

Gaga is fully aware of how privileged she is to have access to this treatment, but it will not cure her, the same as any other sufferer. It did open me up to some of the more “out there” treatments such as the cupping therapy that I would never have thought of and that aren’t mentioned by doctors. Whether it’s Gaga herself or her associates, someone has really done some research into what could help. She has since shared on her social media platforms some of the techniques she uses to ease the pain, again addressing that she knows it’s not available for everyone, but wants to share her methods anyway if they are of help to others.

As a fibromyalgia sufferer, I could see other less obvious ways in which her condition has affected her. During filming in an episode of “American Horror Story” in which she starred, we can see what Gaga describes as a “mini meltdown”, when it’s is not made completely clear to her what she has to do before shooting. Whether this is just a reflection of her perfectionism or a side effect of FMS, I could identify with her. Whenever I don’t know exactly what I’m doing during a given day, or am not completely filled in with plans, I go into panic mode and feel anxious over any changes that I haven’t mentally prepared for. During this moment, she says how tired she is and how she understands that things happen last minute but too much at once can become stressful and unclear. Could this be a sign of “fibro fog”?

“Gaga: Five Foot Two” also documents Gaga’s change in creative direction from electronic pop to more acoustic tones in her music as well as a change of fashion. She is famous for her extreme looks, most notably the meat dress she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010. The documentary showed a montage of times she has left various venues with the paparazzi outside and how she looked and approached the attention. We see the unusual yet elegant Gaga we have come to know. This was shown alongside Gaga leaving a venue in the present day (2016) wearing a white cropped t-shirt and jeans, a stretch from what her fans and the public have become accustomed too.

She talks to her creative director and stylist about how she feels she doesn’t need all the wigs and costumes to make a statement anymore, and how she wants to wear more of what she wears everyday, mainly black and more uniform. It was agreed that this was the new direction they’d go into. Again, as a fibro sufferer, I couldn’t help but feel that this could have something to do with the condition. As part of my FMS, I have very sensitive skin, which is affected by different fabrics and fittings of clothes. I don’t wear tight clothes and rarely wear any tops that aren’t cotton. I can wear them, but become very irritated, which affects my mood and limits my movement. I couldn’t help but feel when watching her change in fashion direction that this could also be to help her condition. Just thinking about performing in some of the costumes she wore previously, sends me into panic mode. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that either.

She did receive some bad press about this whilst promoting her album, saying she wore the same outfit twice, to which we see a montage of her going to launches and interviews in similar attire. I can’t imagine the pressure this woman has on her appearance. With a team of make-up, hair and fashion stylists on hand whenever she leaves a building, making sure she is presentable for the press, seems insane. I can’t imagine the backlash she would receive if she were to wear what I wear when I nip out on a flare day. A baggy tshirt, board shorts and flip flops with freshly washed hair and no make up would definitely make the headlines.

Amongst the online communities of chronic illness sufferers, it has been greatly talked about, but outside of that community I am uncertain as to how the documentary will be interpreted. The documentary was quite difficult to find on Netflix, so wouldn’t necessarily be watched by the passing viewer, but people who are watching it with intention. Other demographics for Five Foot Two would of course be Gaga’s fans as well as music lovers in general, as well as relatives and friends of people who suffer with a chronic illness ans are aware of Gaga’s fibromyalgia.

Since the documentary has been released, I have noticed a change in tone in news articles written about the condition, often far more empathetic. Initially, articles about Gaga cancelling gigs because of “rest” (putting rest in quotation marks, suggesting it’s an excuse) to being more balanced in use of language. From The New Yorker to The Sun, news sites have started to write about fibromyalgia and its symptoms. There are some inaccuracies in what is being said, but generally are giving more knowledge to the reader on the condition.

Overall, this documentary can be good for fellow chronic illness sufferers. Gaga has brought fibromyalgia further into the public eye and generally, from what I can see, has only done good. The name of the condition is out there at least. She has raised awareness but not necessarily given more knowledge. She continues to make headlines though since the documentary concerning her illness, which will surely further the impact on the general public.

Personally, since the documentary has been released, I have had more people talk to me about my condition. They have not watched the documentary, but saw the news that Gaga had fibromyalgia and they knew I had it too. I have had friends and relatives of different ages ask me questions about it. How does it feel? Do you find it difficult to treat? Were you relieved when you finally had a diagnosis? Lady Gaga “coming out” as having fibromyalgia doesn’t necessarily need to be about raising awareness to those that didn’t previously know about it, but to help the people that care about a sufferer be more supportive and understanding. For sufferers, that is a huge gift.

References

Daly, R. 2017. Lady Gaga gives update on health following tour postponement – NME. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nme.com/news/music/lady-gaga-gives-update-health-following-tour-postponement-2146142. [Accessed 03 October 2017].

Gunn, C. 2017. Lady Gaga’s Five Foot Two – 5 things we learnt from the Netflix doc. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/five-foot-two-lady-gaga-documentary-2144317. [Accessed 25 September 2017].

Harrison, G. 2017. What is fibromyalgia, what are the symptoms of Lady Gaga’s condition, how’s the pain treated and is there a test? All you need to know. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/4489222/fibromyalgia-symptoms-lady-gaga-condition-test-treatment/. [Accessed 03 October 2017].

Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two, 2017. [DVD] Chris Moukarbel, USA: Netflix.

Petrusich, A. 2017. Lady Gaga Documents a Transformation That Doesn’t Feel Real | The New Yorker. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/lady-gaga-documents-a-transformation-that-doesnt-feel-real. [Accessed 03 October 2017].

Robinson, A. 2017. Fibromyalgia: the chronic pain that thwarted Lady Gaga’s tour | Life and style | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/19/fibromyalgia-chronic-disorder-lady-gaga-tour. [Accessed 25 September 2017].

Sousa, J. 2017. The Fibromyalgia in Lady Gaga’s “Gaga: Five Foot Two” Documentary. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fibromyalgiatreating.com/gaga-five-foot-two/. [Accessed 25 September 2017].

Wyant,P. 2017. Lady Gaga Talks About Unknown Future With Fibromyalgia in Documentary | The Mighty. [ONLINE] Available at: https://themighty.com/2017/09/lady-gaga-five-foot-two-documentary-netflix/. [Accessed 25 September 2017].

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