Be honest: There are only so many distractions that are truly fantastical enough to steal the show during the Super Bowl. Amidst the pulsing lights and strident sounds, countless acrobatic dancers and boisterous crowd surrounding Lady Gaga during Sunday night’s performance, critics zeroed in on one thing and one thing only — her “real-life stomach.”
As dispiriting as the body-shaming jabs may have been, the trend toward transparency — of owning one’s authentic self, and putting it on full public display — is not going away. Gaga, for one, wasn’t having any of the backlash. As she tweeted: “I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I’m proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too.”
Celebrities are embracing transparency now more than ever before. They’re changing the way people perceive natural beauty, using their position of power to transform cultural ideas of perfection. Alicia Keys embarked on a “no make-up revolution” (and faced a backlash for doing so). Singer Selena Gomez — Instagram’s shiniest star with a record-setting 108 million followers — confessed to fans in 2015 that she was diagnosed with lupus, which later led to a short stint in rehab for depression. Kim Kardashian and model Cara Delevingne both openly suffer from psoriasis, and it’s only a matter of time until more come forward.
“It’s an invitation for the rest of us to embrace our own lives more fully and more appreciatively and not to judge ourselves against this fabricated other,” Dr. Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in celebrity mental health, tells Billboard. “Right now, and maybe for the past few years, there’s been this longing for transparency because there’s been a sense that there isn’t any. Transparency is a buzzword now, a rallying cry.”
This shift in ideals may also impact the beauty industry itself. “If celebrities make it fashionable to, say, go without false eyelashes and just show their own beauty, it could swing marketing [for beauty brands] and how you see makeup companies advertise,” says Dr. Rockwell. “Celebrity has a very powerful currency in Western culture and even some of Eastern culture, so my thesis has always been that celebrities can use their currency of fame to really make a difference in the world in very profound ways.”
Makeup brands also see the value in this beauty revolution. Benefit Cosmetic’s Makeup Master Jose Rivera tells Billboard, “Celebrities so often set the mark for our aesthetic ideals or definition of beauty, whether it’s through their craft in films or onstage, or in campaigns covering the pages of magazines. With all that is going on in today’s climate, people are seeking a higher level of truth in all things, including beauty. People see value in truth today more than ever and are choosing to celebrate that.”
In lieu of more experiential methods for attracting attention, like, say, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge — a hugely popular phenomenon that spread swiftly on social media but failed to properly educate anyone on the disease itself — celebrities’ transparency is now a tool for informing the public.
“In an age when Instagram and Twitter are the final word or a place for public discussion, it is a major breakthrough when celebrities discuss private health manners in such an open forum. This open discussion demystifies the problem and educates those who didn’t know about the condition,” Dr. David A. Colbert, the founder of New York Dermatology Group, tells Billboard. “Before the social media frenzy, most people only knew one thing about psoriasis from a television commercial. Now, with Kim Kardashian speaking out about the condition in such a public manner, millions of young people will learn a slew of facts.”
Legend has it that the ultimate beauty icon, Marilyn Monroe, walked the streets of New York at the height of her fame in casual clothes with no makeup and went completely unnoticed. Freedom is the fruit of authenticity, and the veneers are finally lifting. Truth be told: Being who you are requires the least amount of work.