By Donna Gregory Burch.
There’s been an incredible buzz within the fibromyalgia community since pop star Lady Gaga officially announced her fibro diagnosis as part of the publicity leading up to the Sept. 22 release of her Netflix documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two” (FF2).
My Facebook feed has been flooded with news articles about Lady Gaga’s diagnosis and what it means for those with fibromyalgia. Articles about the documentary indicated she would be sharing her life with chronic pain, leading some to assume – myself included – that her illness would be a big part of the film.
With all the hype, I was super excited to watch FF2 over the weekend, but it wasn’t what I expected.
I think a lot of us mistakenly believed fibromyalgia would figure more prominently in the film than it did. In fact, fibromyalgia was never even mentioned during the one hour, 40 minute documentary. (I’m guessing her diagnosis may have come after the filming of FF2, which explains why no one uttered the word fibromyalgia.)
About 20 minutes into FF2, as I watched Lady Gaga talk about her self-esteem issues, I started wondering, “What the heck does this have to do with fibromyalgia?” It would be another few minutes before there was any indication that Lady Gaga suffers from chronic pain.
In total, I think there were three main scenes where she shared her health issues, totaling maybe 10 minutes of the documentary. The rest of the film was focused on her life as a performer – how she writes and records music, how she prepares for shows, etc. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just not what I and so many others in the fibromyalgia community were expecting.
As I watched FF2, I tried to see it through the eyes of both a chronic pain patient and a healthy person. As someone who lives with chronic pain, it felt like FF2 sent mixed messages. In one scene, there’s Lady Gaga on the sofa, crying because she’s in pain, but in another scene, she’s rolling around in the dirt, singing and dancing while filming a music video. The two scenes just don’t mesh.
If I was a young, healthy fan, I would’ve thought chronic pain wasn’t a very big deal in Lady Gaga’s life. It seemed more like an afterthought – just something she had to deal with as a performer. I may have even assumed, “Oh, she’s just sore because of all the dancing she does!” I wonder how many viewers will think, “If fibromyalgia is so bad, how is she able to sing and dance like that night after night? She must be overdramatizing her pain!” Some critics have already accused her of faking her illness as an excuse to cancel her European tour.
Whether intentional or not, I feel like the media misrepresented the intent of FF2. If you’re a fan of Lady Gaga as a performance artist, then you will love FF2. The singing, the dancing, the costumes, the makeup – I can see where some would find that entertaining to watch – but if you were hoping FF2 was going to give an accurate representation of life with fibromyalgia, then you will be sadly disappointed. The scenes involving her chronic pain are a small fraction of the entire documentary. Still, it’s a fraction we didn’t have before, and for that I am grateful. Any increase in awareness is still a win for the fibromyalgia community – no matter how small.
Now, it’s your turn: Have you watched “Gaga: Five Foot Two” yet? What did you think? Share in the comments below!
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.