Lady Gaga opened up about her struggle with an eating disorder this week when she launched her Body Revolution 2013 campaign. Her deeply personal admission came just as she was facing criticism for an alleged weight gain.
In the days since announcing the campaign, Gaga's Little Monsters flooded the site with their own tales of personal struggle. And according to experts, it's that type of catharsis that can help lead to healing, along with the right professional help.
"In terms of the fact that her reach is so huge, it's just a critical thing to have someone who is willing to speak out about really unrealistic standards and that incredible pressure to be thin often at the expense of health," said Susie Roman, director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association. "From our perspective, it's really a step in the right direction when a celebrity like Lady Gaga is willing to do something like launch her Body Revolution campaign and really make statements to advocate for overall health as she did in her 'thank you' letter rather than focus on the pressure to be thin, which is just such a wonderful message for so many people who struggle with these issues in terms of developing healthier self-esteem and well-being."
"The biggest and most important thing is it really gets people talking and gets people focused on it," noted Laura Discipio, executive director at the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. "Talking about eating disorders, talking about body image, talking about how women are viewed in the media, whether you like Lady Gaga's music or not, it still at least gets attention for it. I think it definitely can help. It's getting people the chance to stop and think. She's talking about 'you have to be brave.' But we shouldn't have to be brave about this; it shouldn't occur."
While Roman notes the positive in having a safe haven to open up, she said it should also be a place that is "providing support to one another to pursue recovery and get professional help. Stories of hope can be incredibly powerful for people suffering, because eating disorders can be a really isolating experience. And so being able to connect in a responsible and healthy environment is great.
"I think when you have such a huge fanbase, as a lot of these celebrities do, they have the opportunity to provide much-needed education about the seriousness of eating disorders and encourage those to get help," she continued. "Recovery is possible from an eating disorder, and there absolutely is help available."
As for the criticism that Gaga received for looking curvier, Roman thinks it's an incredibly positive step that the singer is opening up about it. "It's so unfortunate that that continues to happen, but it's really fantastic when people like Lady Gaga are in that really public position [and] are willing to say something about it and point out the harm that it does and talk about it from a perspective from how it influences everybody," she said. "To have someone like Lady Gaga willing to step up and advocate changing our overall media landscape is incredible.
"I have no idea how much she weighs, but it's just sad that someone's going to sit there and think, 'Wow, look what people are saying about her. She's this great famous celebrity; she's smaller than me. What do people think about me?' " Discipio said, noting that while they may not be the person being criticized directly, "it really does affect people who hear it at the same time."
At the end of the day, Discipio has this simple advice for anyone with an eating disorder: "Go to somebody that you trust and get some help."
For more on body-image issues, visit the MTV Act Blog.