From Bad Girl to Mad Girl: British female celebrity, reality products, and the pathologization of pop-feminism
BELL, EMMA (2008) From Bad Girl to Mad Girl: British female celebrity, reality products, and the pathologization of pop-feminism Genders, 48. ISSN 1936-3249
Official URL: http://www.genders.org/g48/g48_bell.html
This paper 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. Tthe 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 focuses attention on the ways in which memoirs of mental ill health collude in a wider cultural backlash against 1990s pop feminist culture by exploring examples of the genre that construct, perpetuate, and/or intervene in scandals about the quasi-feminist rasgerssions of their authors. Texts include Geri Halliwell’s If Only, Gail Porter’s Laid Bare, Daniella Westbrook’s The Other Side of Nowhere, and Kerry Katona’s Too Much, Too Young. The paper argues that 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. Thus the memoirs both react against, and reinforce, the pervasive pathologization of female celebrity in popular culture.
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