Ariana Grande's Good Side: Diva Demand or Symptom of Body Dysmorphia?

Photo: Tom Munro / V Magazine
Photo: Tom Munro / V Magazine

You might not know her name, but you definitely know her music. This summer, Ariana Grande matched Adele's record of having three singles in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100. And just last week, she scored her second number one album in less than a year. But this success is not what people are talking about. Instead, the focus is on which side of her face Ariana prefers and what a diva that makes her.

The Atlantic's Trey Taylor took on Grande's "portside motif" and charted the long lineage of stars wanting to control how the public interacts with their faces: from Barbra Streisand making Oprah change her set, to Mariah Carey uncomfortably trying to keep it cute, all the way back to old Hollywood star Claudette Colbert covering her "bad side" with green greasepaint to remind the cameraman of her best angles.

This obsession with putting one's best face forward is not exclusive to the famous, though. In this Instagram age, everything we do is judged based on how we made it look and how we looked doing it. When is the last time you took one selfie, instead of approx. 22? We all care about what people think of our faces, and a large number of us know which angles work best for us and try to stick to those. We live in a beauty-obsessed culture and we're vain products of it. 

So think about all the posturing you do for your 200 followers and multiply that by a million and you have Ariana Grande. We've seen what fame and all the pressures that come with it can do to a young girl (see: Britney Spears' head-shaving revolt against the beauty paradigm), and that was before social media! Grande lives in a world where opinions about her hairstyle, her outfits, her dancing, her dimple, etc. are tweeted directly to her. Under this microscope, a loose preference for a certain side of one's face could easily turn into an obsession.

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Body dysmorphia disorder, a condition that shares qualities with eating and obsessive compulsive disorders, is defined as "mental illness that involves belief that one's own appearance is unusually defective (worthy of hiding or fixing), although the perceived flaw might be nonexistent." Ariana's alleged demands at photo shoots and left-side-only media presence fall in line with symptoms of BDD. And this is not at all surprising. Her face is a public commodity, on which we feel the right to express our opinions and project our own insecurities. The same person who will say Her nose is ugly will later say Ew, she got a nose job. We expect our female pop stars to be perfect, and that's exactly what Ariana Grande is attempting to do, yet that very attempt has become the problem.

On top of the "good side" controversy, Ariana Grande is also getting flack for being rude and not having enough of a personality. How dare she not want to discuss ex-boyfriends, being in Mariah Carey's shadow, and her dead grandfather in every interview? This is the same vilification that Christina Aguilera experienced in the early aughts, as she was slut shamed and branded rude in comparison to polite, girl-next-door Britney Spears.

Then and now, I wonder the same thing: if rumors of a bad attitude are in fact true, who cares? A musician is expected to make good music. Judging by her record-breaking summer, Grande is doing that. So why do we have to want to be best friends with her? Why has pop music become a pageant? And why don't we ever hold male artists to the Goldilocks standard: be sassy, but not too sassy; sexy, but not too sexy, etc?

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But back to the facial question: Ariana Grande became famous as a teenager, a time when most adolescents figure out who they are and how they feel about themselves. Most of us get to do that without pressure from network/record label execs and input from the public. Most of us aren't told: If you want to do what you love, you have to be beautiful. Yes, there are perks to being a pop star, but there's also a shadow side, which, for Ariana, has taken the form of the right side of her face. We forget about the dark parts of fame because celebrities hide them from the camera, to protect themselves from us, and to protect us from what we do to them.

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