Lady Gaga is famous for fashion that exaggerates or obscures her body, but a few months ago, she made a foray into ‘actual’ body-modification. Gaga appeared on Jay Leno’s talk show wearing two pairs of pyramidal prosthetics on her face, along with cartoon-villain horns on her shoulders. Some sources speculate they were surgical implants, but it’s doubtful that Gaga would risk permanent scars on that million-dollar face; more likely the effect was the work of a clever makeup artist.
Body-mod enthusiasts like the artist Orlan or the Mexican ‘Vampire Woman’ Maria Cristerna may be practicing a form of beauty, but their beauty is predicated on shock. They are in opposition to the standard view of what is acceptable and attractive. In contrast, Gaga’s posthuman prosthetics may have more in common with the French hyperbodies in Erwin Olaf’s Le Dernier Cri.
In Olaf’s vision, extreme implants and surgeries have become the new normal. Le Dernier Cri echoes cultures where cranial deformation, neck elongation, or enormous lip plates are standard marks of status or beauty. Just because industrialized society practices more-or-less subtle interventions like liposuction and breast implants doesn’t mean we will never again favor modifications that completely invert the ‘natural’ human form.
Is Lady Gaga going for shock alone, or does she (along with her stylist) actively recognize that our posthuman society needs posthuman beauty standards? I’d argue that Gaga may be the first star of augmented reality: she is deformed, but temporarily; she is disabled, but temporarily. Anthropomorphobic audience members are reassured that beneath those Kermit frogs she is still young, white, thin and able-bodied. Gaga’s transformations may echo our desire for low-risk, low-investment novelty, rather than any societal trend towards unconventional hyperbeauty.