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Phoenix Forward

Is Lady Gaga good for girls?

Looking for positive role models for girls

In an entertainment industry full of negative role models for women, Lady Gaga encourages everyone to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Pumped up bustlines, lips and derrieres, excessive use of Botox, skintight clothing and hypersexual behavior have become the norm when it comes to women in entertainment — and experts say these portrayals can have a negative impact on the mental health of young women.

Interestingly enough though, one prolific trendsetter, Lady Gaga, arguably as well-known for wearing a meat dress as for her music, is seen as being a positive role model for young women despite her skin-baring costumes, male alter ego and envelope-pushing music videos, according to Ashley Norris PhD, regional assistant dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education.

“It's interesting to think about the effect that Lady Gaga in particular has on the body image of young girls,” says Norris. “Lady Gaga’s message in her music relies on acceptance and promoting a culture of self-acceptance for all. She also takes on this androgynous type of personality that promotes self-acceptance across genders and shapes, sizes, etc.”

Norris noted the importance of promoting self-appreciation in young people, citing a 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Lady Gaga's message in her music relies on acceptance and promoting a culture of self-acceptance for all.

“Self-esteem has been linked to body image in previous work, with most studies suggesting that high self-esteem is associated with positive body image,” Norris said. “In general, researchers have suggested that men and women with higher self-esteem also tend to evaluate their bodies more positively and are more satisfied with their bodies at all ages.”

Although Gaga’s message promoting individuality and self-appreciation comes in a loud and sometimes risqué package, Norris noted that not every avant-garde gift from the media is a good one. The growing popularity of reality TV seems to have ratcheted up the amount of intense, diva-like behavior and in-your-face sexuality in media portrayals of women as of late. Norris says only time will tell how much of an impact the voyeuristic style of reality television will have on society.

“People begin to identify with the images they see and think they can go get Botox or dress a certain way,” said Norris. “Many moms are trying to be like the women they see on reality TV. I don’t think we even know what our obsession with reality TV is going to have on our culture over time.”

Because it is unrealistic to keep children and young teens away from all potentially harmful media images, Norris says there are tactics parents and mental health counselors should use to combat them.

“I’ve always been big on exposing young women to different models of women who have been successful in other ways,” she said. “It’s also good to have discussions about the images and the issues they create.

Instead of keeping girls away from unhealthy icons in entertainment, she suggests helping them to build their self-esteem.

“Find their interests and hobbies,” says Norris, “and identify those things that will make them feel good about themselves and encourage them to take part in those activities.”

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