Poor Little Bad Girl: Female Celebrity and the Drama of Mental Ill Health
In: Going Cheap: Celebrity, Tabloidism and Popular Culture, June 2008, University of East Anglia.
Text (Conference Paper)
- Accepted Version
This paper explores discourses of mental ill health in popular media ‘scandal’ genres, particularly celebrity autobiographies. It emphasises the ways in which the female celebrity autobiography is produced at increasingly early stages in the author’s fame, and how these precipitate memoirs are habitually structured as narratives of ‘female’ mental illnesses such as depression, self harm, and eating disorders. It argues that the genre is clearly gendered in that it is a product for, and a product of, of a popular culture that already trades on pathologizing, and thus devaluing, female celebrity.
Consequently, the celebrity memoir of mental illness is a career move that effects a shift in the trajectory, pubic image, and, increasingly, the physical appearance of a previously ‘cheapened’ female celebrity. They (re-)construct an un-threateningly suffering persona - ‘somebody just like you’ - who articulates the experience of mental illness. This need to psychologically (re-)brand a female celebrity can profitably replicate the telltale conventions of gossip media. It can also pre-empt and undermine the pathologized persona that the gossip media ‘expose’.
The paper explores typical examples of the genre that construct, perpetuate, and/or intervene in scandals about the author. Texts include Drew Barrymore’s Little Girl Lost, Geri Halliwell’s If Only, Gail Porter’s Laid Bare, Jade Goody’s My Autobiography, Daniella Westbrook’s The Other Side of Nowhere, and Kerry Katona’s Too Much, Too Young. These memoirs do not explain psychological problems as consequences of the hedonistic excesses of fame, but as the urge for fame, the inability to deal with fame, and the failure to sustain a successful and publicly acceptable celebrity persona. In this way, they benefit from the popularity of the scandal media, whilst substantiating the ideology that female celebrity is a process of ‘feminization’. Thus the memoirs both react against, and reinforce, the pervasive pathologization of female celebrity in popular culture
Actions (login required)
Downloads per month over past year