Lady Gaga covers the December 2019 issue of ELLE magazine photographed by Sølve Sundsbø and styled by Tom Eerebout and Sandra Amador.
Fresh off the launch of her new makeup line, Haus Laboratories, the Oscar-winning, Grammy-slaying Lady Gaga sat down with Oprah, the original multifaceted female mogul and an early champion of emotional well-being, about her exponential career path and her battles with mental health issues. Gaga opens up to her hero about her personal growth from both pain and kindness and what she sees as her mission now. “I have a responsibility to the world,” she says. “I actually said this the other day on social media. I said, ‘I didn’t do this for fame, I did it for impact.’…I recognized very early on that my impact was to help liberate people through kindness.”
Lady Gaga on how kindness has helped her heal:
“Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations” Podcast: When you look back on the past 10 years, at what moment do you feel that you were most able to express that kindness heals all things?
LG: I think it really started with my relationship with my fans. Looking out into the audience and seeing so many people who were like me, people who felt different, who didn’t feel seen or understood. And then also seeing a lot of kids who felt afraid to be open about who they were, it became sort of an existential experience for me, where I thought about what it means to be an individual—I wanted to fight for those individuals. I actually said this the other day on social media. I said, “I didn’t do this for fame, I did it for impact.” And that’s the truth. I recognized very early on that my impact was to help liberate people through kindness. I mean, I think it’s the most powerful thing in the world, particularly in the space of mental illness.
Gaga on the inspiration behind her new beauty line, Haus Laboratories:
O: Let’s talk about this. What made you feel ready to become a beauty entrepreneur?
LG: I wanted to do it because (a), I had the time—I wanted to put everything into it, which I do with everything that I do. I don’t just put a company together, hire a staff, and have them do it. I said this the other night at our launch: “My fingerprints are all over this. It’s a crime scene.” And (b), I felt that I had the platform and had built the foundation around what I stand for, so that when this company came out, it would be a rebellion in a kind way against the status quo of beauty as it is today, which is in many ways on social media, a competition. It’s a beauty pageant in a lot of ways. This company exists in an influential space in culture where we say, “Our Haus. Your Rules.” And everyone is welcome—all gender identities.
O: So that’s the mission of the line, to be inclusive of all gender identities?
LG: All gender identities, all racial identities, everyone, every age. This is for everyone.
On what her mission in life is now and reflecting on her infamous meat dress:
O: I’m wondering, Do you still feel pressure to constantly outdo yourself? Is it a shackle on you in any way?
LG: Not anymore. I used to, though. Oprah, I’ve got to level with you 100 percent: I used to try to wrap my brain as heavy as I could around what I could do to.… Instead of being shocking (I used to say “shock art” or “performance art”), I would use the word “bemuse,” which is basically putting the audience in a state of confusion where they can’t look away. I used to just go, “What am I going to do next to get people’s attention?”
O: After the meat dress, did you feel that way: “Where do I go from here?”
LG: Well, the meat dress, quite frankly, I didn’t think it was going to be as shocking to everyone as it was. But that’s just me. I have a sort of eccentric brain, so for me, I was like, “Of course this makes sense. I’m showing up to make a statement about “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” I went to the event with soldiers who were discharged from the army because they were out, or they were found out, and to me, if you’re willing to give up your life for your country, does it matter what your sexual orientation is or what your gender identity is? For me, it was like, “Flesh is flesh,” so that was the intention of the meat dress. For me, that wasn’t shocking; it was shocking to the world. And I have to say, it was quite recently—after doing ‘A Star Is Born’, and working with Bradley Cooper, and my experience even with winning an Oscar—I sort of just went to myself, “You have a much greater mission on this earth than to freak the hell out of people. Your mission is to give people a form of love through your art that lifts them up.”
On the ‘silly’ rumors about Gaga and Bradley Cooper during ‘A Star is Born’:
LG: Quite frankly, I think the press is very silly. I mean, we made a love story. For me, as a performer and as an actress, of course we wanted people to believe that we were in love. And we wanted people to feel that love at the Oscars. We wanted it to go right through the lens of that camera and to every television that it was being watched on. And we worked hard on it, we worked for days. We mapped the whole thing out—it was orchestrated as a performance.
O: You were orchestrating it as a performance to evoke exactly what it did.
LG: It did. In truth, when we talked about it, we went, “Well, I guess we did a good job!”
On why winning the Oscar for “Shallow, represented pain to Gaga and how she deals with suffering from PTSD:
LG: When I won the Oscar for “Shallow,” I looked at it, and a reporter asked me, “When you look at that Oscar, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a lot of pain.” And I wasn’t lying in that moment. I was raped when I was 19 years old, repeatedly. I have been traumatized in a variety of ways by my career over the years from many different things, but I survived, and I’ve kept going. And when I looked at that Oscar, I saw pain. I don’t know that anyone understood it when I said it in the room, but I understood it.
O: The pain that you had taken to get there. Because when you’re raped, particularly repeatedly and at that age, you would have PTSD for years about that.
LG: I have PTSD. I have chronic pain. Neuropathic pain trauma response is a weekly part of my life. I’m on medication; I have several doctors. This is how I survive. But you know what, Oprah? I kept going, and that kid out there or even that adult out there who’s been through so much, I want them to know that they can keep going, and they can survive, and they can win their Oscar. I would also beckon to anyone to try, when they feel ready, to ask for help. And I would beckon to others that if they see someone suffering, to approach them and say, “Hey, I see you. I see that you’re suffering, and I’m here. Tell me your story.”
Gaga about being a cutter and what she hopes people can take away from her experience:
LG: I’ve actually not opened up very much about this, but I think it’s an important thing for people to know and hear: I was a cutter for a long time, and the only way that I was able to stop cutting and self-harming myself was to realize that what I was doing was trying to show people that I was in pain instead of telling them and asking for help. When I realized that telling someone, “Hey, I am having an urge to hurt myself,” that defused it. I then had someone next to me saying, “You don’t have to show me. Just tell me: What are you feeling right now?” And then I could just tell my story. I say that with a lot of humility and strength; I’m very grateful that I don’t do it anymore, and I wish to not glamorize it. One thing that I would suggest to people who struggle with trauma response or self-harm issues or suicidal ideation is actually ice. If you put your hands in a bowl of ice-cold water, it shocks the nervous system, and it brings you back to reality.
On dealing with her fibromyalgia, a psychotic break and why medicine has ‘saved my life’:
LG: Although there are many different theories about fibromyalgia—for me, my fibromyalgia and my trauma response kind of go hand in hand. The fibro for me is a lighter pain; the trauma response is much heavier and actually feels the way I felt after I was dropped on a street corner after I’d been raped repeatedly for months. It’s a recurring feeling. So I had a psychotic break at one point, and it was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. I was brought to the ER to urgent care and they brought in the doctor, a psychiatrist. So I’m just screaming, and I said, “Could somebody bring me a real doctor?” And I didn’t understand what was going on, because my whole body went numb; I fully dissociated. I was screaming, and then he calmed me down and gave me medication for when that happens—olanzapine. So I take methocarbamol, and olanzapine, which is probably the most important—it helped me that day, and that man and all my friends, they saved my life.
Gaga on what life is asking of us:
O: This is my last question: What do you believe life is asking of us?
LG: I believe life is asking of us to accept the challenge. Accept the challenge of kindness. It’s hard in a world the way that we are; we have a very, very grave history. We’re in trouble, and we have been before. But I think life asks us amid these challenges, this hatred, this tragedy, this famine, this war, this cruelty: Can you be kind and can you survive?
[Photo Credit: Sølve Sundsbø/ELLE Magazine]