Published: Aug. 1, 2008 By

(part of a series in Special Issue #48: GOING CHEAP? Female Celebrity in Reality, Tabloid and Scandal Genres – Edited by DIANE NEGRA and SU HOLMES)

“Hi everyone, I’m Kerry.
You probably think you know everything about me already,
but don’t believe all that crap you read in the papers. I’ve got bipolar,
so I have my highs and I have my lows… Watch the show.
You never know, you might even like me!”

[1] The statement above forms the introduction to, and advertising campaign for, a 2008 MTV UK docusoap entitled Kerry Katona: Crazy in Love. The show charts the “day to day life” of Katona, a high-profile British celebrity and former member of the girl band, Atomic Kitten. Katona joined the Kittens in 1999 at the age of just 19, and left in 2001 after suffering a mental breakdown and becoming pregnant. During her days with the Kittens, Katona was represented in the tabloid press as the most notorious band member – a brazen, busty, foul-mouthed, lower-class, binge drinking “bad girl”. Her public persona was of an ex-soft-core porn model and lap dancing “wild child” who successfully transitioned to more respectable fame as a pop star. Yet, Katona was also represented as the hard-faced little sister of the power-girls, “ladettes”, and “wild child” pop-feminists of the 1990s, such as the Spice Girls.

[2] As a “bad girl”, Katona has attracted consistently and aggressively conflicting attention. She is locked in to a vicious and contradictory bond with the British tabloid and celebrity media: she has been hailed as a survivor and as “Best Celebrity Mother”, while she has also been branded “Worst Celebrity Mother” and, most pervasively, “Crazy Kerry”. In 2006, with her public image at an all time low, Katona released an autobiography, entitled Too Much, Too Soon: My Story of Love, Fame, And Survival. The book is a rags to riches story of brutal childhood neglect, addiction, and domestic abuse. It also details the wild “excesses” of early fame, breakdown and recovery, and her ongoing battle with mental illness.

[3] Part of Katona’s motivation for publishing the book was clearly to try to gain agency and effect a rebranding of her negative media persona. “Star agency” is, as David Marshall points out, increasingly reduced to such “privatized, psychologized representation of activity and transformation” (cited in Williams, 118). Accordingly, Katona’s transformation involved explaining how her chronic mental illness in part contributed to her “bad girl” persona. The “real Kerry” is represented as a woman with agency and self control, who is psychologically self-actualized and likeable, and has, above all, matured from “bad girl” to “good” woman. Yet her celebrity persona remains the product of an ongoing and vicious battle with the British tabloid and gossip media, with stories emerging (on an almost daily basis) about breakdowns, hospitalization, bad mothering, stays in rehab, custody battles and her scandalous past. Katona’s career is now comprised of a steady stream of what can be termed “reality products” – autobiographies, reality TV shows, docusoaps, a column in celebrity gossip magazine OK, self-help literature and blogs. Her role in popular culture is as an identity-as-such, and her career is an ongoing process of managing, repudiating, and creating the scandals that afford her media attention. She is “Crazy Kerry” whose mad, mad life promises relentless and lucrative media content.

[4] Far from being unique, Katona’s decision to disclose mental illness as part of her rebranding is indicative of a trend in post-feminist celebrity culture, whereby the bad girl/mad girl-redeemed script is a recognizable genre of female celebrities’ reality products. There is now a propensity for “bad girls” such as Katona to renounce their apparent negations and transgressions of acceptable femininity as symptomatic of mental illness. Such renunciations frequently take the form of using reality products to make penitent apologies for “bad girl” behavior and involvement within pop-feminism. Yet repackaged bad girls habitually reassert their sanity – and seek social acceptability and cultural worth – by engaging with and invoking deeply problematic discourses about the relationship between femininity, fame, and mental health, and reactionary stereotypes derived from the tabloid press.

[5] When Germaine Greer contemplates the “bad girl” in The Whole Woman, her 1999 study of the construction of the contemporary female body, she insists that we address “the brief and catastrophic career”‘ of such “girls behaving badly” and “girls on top”, because “though the career of the individual bad girl is likely to be a brief succession of chaotic drinking, casual sex … with consequences she will have to struggle with all her life, the cultural phenomenon is depressingly durable” (310). Greer invites us to question the enduring cultural construction of the “bad girl”, not as a courageous rebel, but as an ill-fated casualty.

[6] Far from being empowered or radical, the bad girl’s apparent refusal to conform to conventional femininity can be seen as making a virtue out of an inadequacy. Yet the bad girl’s career is both tragic and transitory: she is, from the outset, fated to an unhappy end. Greer’s invitation also begs the question of what female behaviors are considered bad, and why the women who display these behaviors attract – and often seek to attract – negative attention. If the bad girl archetype is depressing, does this mean that the women who are labelled as such should become “good”? And, if so, what process of transformation – of self-making – might that involve? Yet what if the girl turns out not to have been bad, but mad? What if her rebelliousness – her excesses, provocativeness, and belligerence – are reframed as pathological, as symptomatic not of a frustrated and ostensibly feminist refusal to conform, but of mental illness? Does her self-pathologization conceal and reinforce repressive gender structures she once transgressed?

[7] This “bad-to-mad-girl” genre is indicative of a complicated postfeminist backlash against what can be identified as the pop-feminism of the 1990s. In its British context, pop-feminism took the form of the self-proclaimed feminist “ladette” and “Girl Power” cultures. “Pop-feminism” refers to the quasi-feminist rhetoric overtly staged within popular culture and organized around female celebrities who embraced the “bad girl” stereotype and who were both derided and revered in the tabloid media for that very reason. British “bad girl”, “Girl Power”, and “ladette” cultures were promotional devices for girls bands, most notably the Spice Girls, to describe a new kind of liberated and empowered femininity marked by assertiveness, provocation, and success. But they were also media constructs to describe an apparently new breed of boisterous and scandalizing female celebrities. The label “ladette” was both applied by the media and embraced by the wolf-whistling-beer-drinking-independent-bad-girls epitomized by actors such as Billie Piper, and TV and radio presenters such as Gail Porter, Denise Van Outen, Zoe Ball and Sara Cox.

[8] It is the work of this essay to explore the ways in which many of these women have more recently produced reality products, such as autobiographies and documentaries, in which they emphatically reject their pop-feminist celebrity persona and their once bold “wildness” as symptomatic of mental illness. I explore three consummate examples of British “bad girl/mad girl” pop-feminists who, after a long period of media antipathy and subsequent indifference, re-gained media attention through revelations of mental illness: Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, “ladette” Gail Porter, and “wild child” Kerry Katona. As these women entered their late 20s and early 30s, their celebrity personae became surplus to popular culture – their “bad girl” excesses were incompatible with the postfeminist shift toward “girlie” culture, and their sex-appeal was compromised by “aging” bodies. These one-time “bad girls” now almost exclusively produce autobiographical reality products that describe a continual process of self-making that is interrelated with their representation in the tabloid media. As such, they seek to remake and rebrand themselves in noticeably similar forms, by making revelations of mental ill health through reality products, through dramatic physical makeover and through commitment to public service and charity, and by claiming redemption through motherhood. They now seek public roles as charity ambassadors, psychological and diet gurus, and producers of products for children. Setting the record straight, then, means asserting “I’m not bad, I’m mad…!”

[9] Narratives about, and images of, “real-life” mental illness are profuse in contemporary popular culture, from psychologized reality television shows such as Big Brother, confessional and chat TV, to weblogs and docusoaps. These images help to shape public attitudes toward mental illness. In fact, many studies have established that most people in the West receive their basic information about mental health from the mass media. For example, pivotal research in the 1990s by the Glasgow Media Group established that representations of mental illness have tangible and powerful social effects in the UK (Philo). Also, the 1991 Daniel Janklovich Group survey found that 87% of Americans cited television as their main source of information about mental health, with 76% also citing newspapers, 75% magazines, and 51% friends and family (Diefenbach and West, 181. See also: Wahl, 3). Given the extent to which mental health has become an urgently topical issue in contemporary society more generally, it is possible to assert that sectors of the audience for these images and narratives are the ever more unwell. Between 1990 and 2000, diagnoses of mental illness in Western countries more than doubled such that almost 30% of people are diagnosed with mental illness at any one time. And this figure is likely to increase; in 1997, The World Health Organization warned of a pandemic of mental health problems, and epidemiological studies predict that by 2020, mental illnesses will be the most significant Western health problem and will be the primary cause of disability after heart disease (WHO; Murray and Lopez; Mind). If celebrity is now central to popular culture, then the mentally ill celebrity occupies a potentially influential position in terms of stigma reduction and public awareness campaigns.

[10] The market for the celebrity memoir of mental illness also intersects with that of a pervasive culture of psychological transformation, self-help, and makeover products. McGee persuasively argues that self-help books serve to reinforce traditional moral values and gender roles in consumer capitalist culture. This is because emotional and psychological health is equated with material success: one’s sense of self, and one’s ability to be a successful self, is a commodity that operates according to the market. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the celebrity culture in which being a self – “being somebody” – is the fundamental substance of a career. In terms of the gendering of self-help, McGee points out that, in self-help literature, the mythic narrative of the “self made man” is juxtaposed to the narrative of the “self-salvaged” woman. For McGee, the female consumer is encouraged by lifestyle makeover gurus such as Oprah Winfrey who use domestic and “female” qualities such as the nurturing, support, and emotionality to achieve material success. Similarly, celebrities such as Madonna profit from the “femme fatale turned mother” archetype whose emotional stability and ongoing profitability seem to depend to a large part upon embracing an essential maternalism. (203 n.19) The work of being a celebrity, then, – of being a commodifiable “self” – is intrinsic to the gendered nature of consumer capitalism and of celebrity product.

[11] For example, in the UK, celebrity misery memoirs are routinely published by Ebury Press – a factual content imprint of Random House. They are categorized in bookstores under “mind-body-spirit” and “self-help” sections (as well as “autobiography”), and they are promoted as guides to life by legitimated celebrity experts on mental illness. They also overlap with “misery-lit” – the increasing number of first-person accounts of trauma. This genre started in earnest with the publication in 1993 of Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, and has now reached saturation point with the creation of a distinct bookstore category: “true life”. These texts usually follow a generic format: considering and narrating personal suffering from a position of wise reflection with the stated intent of imparting compassionate wisdom to the reader.

[12] Yet as the celebrity confession of mental illness is partly an appeal for cultural value, and partly an attempt to reconstruct a new persona, then the messages imparted in celebrity narratives of mental illness can be deeply problematic – especially in terms of shaping conceptions about what is “normal” and what is “pathological”. Yet we should not dismiss the genuinely positive and consolatory role that celebrities can play in stigma reduction by offering empathetic and gratifying representations of mental health recovery. As comedian Ruby Wax explains regarding her 2002 Ebury autobiography How Do You Want Me?, “‘There’s such as stigma when you’re mentally ill [so] I’m speaking up for those people. If you have a show-business career you can get away with it – either you have a one-woman show, or you’re sectioned…”‘ (Wax, cit. Johnson)

These confessional and autobiographical mediums are clearly gendered. Stephen Harper, for example, notes how revelations of mental illness by male stars, such as Stuart Goddard (Adam Ant), are seen as therapeutic acts of “self-fashioning”, rather like the constitution of McGee’s “self-made man”. They are seen as indicative of creativity and courage and can function to re-consolidate and increase men’s “cultural power” (Harper, 316). Like McGee’s “self-salvaged woman”, female stars’ revelations of mental illness are tragedies, melodramas, and narratives of “failure” that undermine their creative agency and diminish their cultural power. The “bad boy” image of hedonistic excesses – drug and alcohol addiction, promiscuity, violence – is in many ways acceptably masculine. If “bad girl” hedonism is “unfeminine”, then rebellious and uncontained female celebrities are, by default, somehow insane. Salacious media reporting of female crisis celebrity reinforces the unrelenting representation of female celebrities per se as pathologically narcissistic and out of control. As such, the need for famous women to rebrand their psyches and reveal mental ill health is paradoxically both self-creating and self-defeating.

[13] Celebrity autobiographical products about mental illness are self-reflexive texts predicated on a knowingness of the need to continually remake the self within popular culture. As Holmes and Redmond observe, tabloids, celebrity autobiographies, and gossip magazines “would now seem strangely empty without celebrity disclosures ranging from the horrors of plastic surgery to eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention ‘confessions’ about depression” (289). As they rightly point out, “to observe this is not to trivialise the experience of any of these matters (whether associated with celebrities or not) but only to point out their increasing conventionalization within celebrity discourse” (Ibid).

[14] Celebrity autobiographical products also appear at increasingly early career stages. Katona, for example, was 26 when she brought out her first autobiography. In “Making Fame Ordinary”, Jo Littler defines contemporary celebrity culture in terms of compulsory intimacy and emotionality. This values discourses of “authenticity”, “reflexivity” and “keeping it real”. The precipitate autobiography is a recognisably contemporary genre produced by “stars who appear only too keen to tell us very early on in their careers about how they are unheavenly and how they have dirty emotional closets to clean out” (20). Again, it is important to point out that this genre is deeply gendered in that female celebrities remain subject to the narratives of tragedy and failure that Harper describes, as well as to the disturbing fixation in the contemporary media on constructions of female celebrity in crisis. Moreover, the tabloidization of contemporary culture has been framed, by Levy amongst many others, as a proccess of “feminization” by which constant attention to individuals, and to emotionality, domesticity, relationships, physical appearance, sickness, and trauma has overtaken the “masculine” sphere about politics and social affairs.

[15] In terms of the gendered nature of the celebrity autobiography, British examples include life-writing and reality products by “power girl” Geri Halliwell, Victoria Beckham, “wild child” actress Daniella Westbrook, leading “Ladettes” Gail Porter and Billie Piper, and glamour model and professional celebrity Katie Price (aka “Jordan”). Piper’s Growing Pains (2006), for example, reveals her struggle with anorexia, Westbrook’s The Other Side of Nowhere (2006) details her anorexia and the contours of the very public cocaine addiction that famously destroyed her nose, and Price’s Pushed to the Limit (2008) contains revelations about post-natal depression, stress, and anxiety. All of these women found fame at a very early age, were known as bad girls and/or pop-feminists, and were the subjects of innumerable scandals about drink, drugs, sex, and generally being “out of control”.

[16] For the women in question, their celebrity depends on their both being in and out of control – not only of their public images, but of themselves. Yet this lack of control can be culturally valuable: the mentally unwell celebrity woman is, by default, not in control of her person/persona, but she is also therefore, seemingly unmediated and “authentic” in Littler’s sense of the term Rebecca Williams explains the exchange of power and privileges between the celebrities and the media as only the impression of “star agency” (112). Although they are produced in reaction to a relentlessly prying media, the autobiographical reality products are also almost always a uniquely controllable means of (re)constructing a public persona. Through the memoir, one can offer emotional intimacy, dispute or create media scandals, and assert authenticity. Documentary and interviews can be edited and misappropriated, but the autobiographical product – conforming to genre conventions, designed for a sympathetically receptive “misery market”, and rigorously managed by a publicity team – is generally under strict industrial control.

[17] What is more, celebrity as such – being somebody – can be a precarious means of trying to transcend discontent. Media attention on what Holmes and Redmond term “fame damage” undermines the promise of celebrity as a means of success because one “risk[s] everything to lose your own sense of self” and “gamble your identity to acquire wealth, to become acknowledged, to become somebody” (3). The fame-seeker, the wanna-be-somebody, can be “a split figure, dissatisfied and unhappy” who reaches out for fame as the promise of “plenitude or ontological and existential wholeness”, yet only finds selflessness (Ibid). Fame damage evidences a shared sense of psychological inadequacy, as well as exposing the failure of celebrity to end this inadequacy. According to Holmes and Redmond, “In the modern world one is psychologically damaged, whether it is an anomic fan or a lonely famous person” (3).

[18] What follows explores the autobiographical reality products of three British female celebrities, Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, “ladette” Gail Porter, and “wild child” Kerry Katona, as superlative examples of the ways in which the pathologization of pop-feminism is intertwined with revelations of mental illness and contemporary reality genre. In Halliwell’s autobiographies If Only (1999) and Just for the Record(2002) and documentary Geri (1999), she talks candidly about her struggle with eating disorders and depression; in the memoir Laid Bare: Love, Survival, and Fame (2007) and numerous interviews and reality shows, Gail Porter discusses her public breakdown and mental illnesses ranging from bipolar disorder to stress-related alopecia; inToo Much, Too Soon (2007) and the docusoap Crazy (2008)Katonadiscloses her anorexia, depression, drug addiction and bipolar disorder, and in her self-help book, Survive the Worst, Aim for the Best (2007), she explains her experience of, and recovery from, these illnesses while imparting lifestyle advice to the reader.

[19] Halliwell, Porter, and Katona’s autobiographical and reality products are especially indicative of a backlash against 1990s pop-feminism, as well as of the ways in which female celebrities now seek to intervene in a media culture already primed and impatient to pathologize female celebrity. What is more, they describe mental illness as instigated by an apparently unruly female body which manifests itself in eating disorders, self harm, sexual promiscuity and post-partum depression. In essence, Halliwell, Porter, and Katona’s autobiographical products pathologize their pop-feminism as an escape from mental health problems, and as the cause of mental health problems. The narratives follow a set format: re-narrate the breakdown of fame, discuss early childhood trauma, explain “bad girl” behavior as symptomatic of mental illness caused by trauma, explain fame as a pathological lack of sense of self and fame-seeking as a symptom, explain how the celebrity false-self collapses under the pressures of fame, and explain the processes of, and motivation for, recovery as redemption though motherhood. By making over “bad girl” personas, their reality products initially attracted enough positive attention to allow their subjects to re-emerge into the celebrity mainstream. To be in control of their selves and their bodies, they repudiate the “bad girl” behaviors they once proudly promoted as “feminist”.

Ginger to Geri: Mind and Body Makeover

[20] One of the disheartening aspects of the un-conforming female is that she is portrayed as a “girl” – diminutive, infantile and pubescent. “Girl Power” was primarily aimed at adolescents, and even political female movements organized themselves as “riot girls”. “Riot Girls” offered an ostensibly repackaged feminism as a form of defiance against social power through an essentially female strength, whereas “Girl Power” offered a more playful ideal of individualism, attitude and material success. “Girl Power” was also dedicated to sexual forthrightness and “girls on top” pleasure seeking which often took the form of provocation and exhibitionism. Halliwell’s Spice Girl character, Ginger Spice, was the most vociferous exponent of “Girl Power”: “I was always serious about ‘Girl Power’ and felt that the Spice Girls were on a mission to save girls and lift their self-esteem” she asserted (Halliwell, “Just”, 93).

[21] “Girl Power” coincided with the dramatic shift in British politics from Conservative to New Labour leadership in 1997. In a classic interview in political magazine The Spectator, Halliwell cited Margaret Thatcher as “the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology – ‘Girl Power'” and their first single, “Wannabe”, as “an anthem to Thatcherite meritocratic aspiration” (Montefiore, 14). Yet as Justine Ashby explains, “Girl Power” became synonymous with New Labour sloganeering and the high-profile “Blair’s Babes” – 120 new female MPs elected in 1997, the largest amount of women ever to sit in the House of Commons. “Girl Power” complemented the idea that “Blairism would usher in a new, more democratic era in which opportunities for women would be there for the taking”, yet “Girl Power” “confounded any real attempt to politicize it” (129)

[22] In terms of its vaguely feminist rhetoric, “Girl Power” has been both praised and vilified by feminists. Kathy Acker, for example, praised “Girl Power” as ”Being who you wanna’ and not taking any shit’ (cited in Greer, 310). In contrast, Rosalind Coward denounced it as ‘a good label to use in any situation in which girls might be putting themselves forward in new, brash, “unfeminine” ways’ (122), complaining that “Girl Power” was, in essence, a declawed and market driven caricature of the more earnestly feminist and political Riot Girl movement. Ginger may have espoused feminist rhetoric, but Halliwell firmly rejects it: “feminism is bra-burning lesbians. It’s very unglamorous. I’d like to see it rebranded. We need to see a celebration of our femininity and softness” (Halliwell, cited in. Moorehead, 14).

[23] As Ginger, Halliwell enjoyed media affection for her provocative behavior. In 1996, for example, at the height of Spice-mania, her old glamour photos emerged and were published in Teazer porn magazine. Rather than threatening her career, the photos played into the “Girl Power” image; she braved the scandal and went on to pose for Playboy in May 1998. Yet by the late 1990s, Halliwell became derided for her “brashness”; as Spice Girls’ fans grew up and her mischievousness came to look like clichéd adolescent rebellion. Rapidly, Halliwell’s kudos diminished with the transition from post-feminist “Girl Power” to “girlie culture”.

[24] When Halliwell left the Spice Girls in 1998, media speculation was rife and her first autobiography, Ifwas an attempt to create closure. The book charts her early life, her “wannabe” desire for fame, and her decision to leave the band and “move on”. Simultaneously, the remaining Spice Girls issued their own collective biography, Forever Spice, which only briefly mentions Geri’s departure (“Spice Girls”). Halliwell quickly embarked on a video diary, and accepted an invitation from esteemed filmmaker Molly Dineen to combine the footage with a “warts and all” documentary entitled Geri. The film was an attempt “to understand me and what happened to me” (Halliwell, “Just” 105). Using the media to find a sense of self was risky, yet the film showed a vulnerable side to her image: “I probably revealed more than I should about my loneliness and low-self esteem, but I was feeling lost [and] looked to the film for help” (Ibid). She used the film to “work through it very publicly and very loudly” (105), but she was aware of the popularity this openness and uncertainly could have because of the burgeoning market for reality products showcasing the construction of authenticity and intimacy that Littler describes as significantly structuring contemporary celebrity. As Halliwell puts it:

In the eighties stars like Michael Jackson and Prince had an air of mystery about them and they came across as untouchable and inaccessible but in the 21st century that no longer works – people want aspirational figures who are also accessible. Even during the making of the documentary, I realized that I couldn’t give people a one-dimensional character any more because that’s not what they wanted. The public want to see you, feel you, and touch you enough to know that you are real. That’s exactly what they got! (105)

[25] Halliwell also sees the documentary as a political commentary on “fame damage” and consumerism that “‘blew away the myth that celebrity brings happiness [and] questions our values because it makes you think about whether material things bring happiness” (“Just”, 126). She also saw it as potentially inspirational: “I believed that sharing my vulnerabilities and letting others see how I was feeling, I might help one person deal with their own problems and realize that they are not alone” (Ibid, 105). Geri enjoyed huge ratings, and viewers were mostly sympathetic to the “real Geri” behind the cartoonish Spice Girl façade: “The whole Ginger illusion thing had been completely shattered. Suddenly people realized that I was a real person with real feelings who gets lonely and unhappy just like they do … Many people came up to me to thank me” (Ibid, 126)

 Geri Haliwell - Just for the Record Cover

Figure 1

[26] Halliwell’s second autobiography, Just for the Record is a diary that plots her solo career. Along with her un-ironically titled first single Look at Me and her album Schizophonic, Just narrated her transition to a solo singer as an ongoing battle against mental illness. Becoming “Geri” was about pathologizing “Girl Power”. In the book, Halliwell apologizes for her wild behavior, claiming that “Girl Power” didn’t work for her because it was a displacement of depression: “it was like putting on a uniform. You don’t have to think, you don’t have to deal with being a human being, and that was perfect for a vulnerable young woman who didn’t want to feel anything” (Ibid, 94). She goes on to reject Ginger’s pop-feminism and laddishness as symptoms of such mental instability and self-alienation. (See figure 1).

[27] Halliwell’s book promotes her dramatic physical, as well as psychological, makeover. Over 50% of Justcomprises pictures of the newly authentic Geri. The front cover is a picture of an extremely thin Halliwell posing topless with a tape measure around her size-zero waist. The image constructs her body as evidence of her psychological stability and authenticity, while hinting at the candid revelations she will make. After the star was photographed leaving an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, Halliwell’s dramatic physical transformation was the subject of tabloid scandals that potentially jeopardized her solo career. In Just she confronted this by affirming that she had suffered from anorexia and bulimia since adolescence, and that her eating disorder intensified after her father’s death, whereupon she joined the Spice Girls. “Podge Spice”, as she was known in the media, was adolescent – a late bloomer who was sexually unconfident and emotionally immature, physically inhibited by late menses, still developing breasts, and puppy fat. After leaving the group, she claims that she was able to gain control of her body and cure her depression through yoga.

[28] In her book Halliwell asserts that the real Geri is authentically petite, yet conflicting media reporting both rhapsodized over her amazing “new body” and insinuated that she was really anorexic. Geri’s “mind-body-spirit” yoga DVD’s were one of her most lucrative products in that they were produced in reaction to positive speculation about how everyday women could “get Geri’s body”. Also, Halliwell was one of the first celebrities to endorse that now fashionable form of exercise as a mind-body-spirit panacea. Yet while Halliwell uses her makeover products to talk about her recovery from eating disorders, they also showcase a modishly size-zero body. In many ways, media reporting of her dramatic transformation instigated the contemporary media obsession with seeking out signs of the unruly and fame-hungry female body, and constructing the female celebrity body as both pathologically and essentially physically remarkable. Halliwell’s body became an immediately visible signifier of both her sense of stability and media gossip abut her eating disorder and mental instability. Any and all changes in her body – perceived, or real – are, as is the case for all contemporary female celebrities, central preoccupations in media constructions and deconstructions of her celebrity persona and in terms of emotional wellbeing and value.

[29] By the early 2000s, other ex-Spice Girls became subject to accusations of mental illness – notably (once again) eating disorders. Victoria Beckham – Posh Spice – endured vigorous speculation about her own dramatic weight loss and physical makeover. Tabloid coverage of her miraculous “recovery from pregnancy” instigated media obsession with scrutinizing the female celebrity body for signs of post-partum ugliness, sexual unavailability and undesirability and mental and emotional instability. Beckham initially denied the rumors, stating: “with the other [Spice] girls I have a responsibility as a role model. Some young fans might get the wrong idea” (, “Posh denies”). However, in a high profile interview on the primetimeParkinson TV show just months later, she intimated that she had an eating problem, but that it was related to pregnancy (Ibid).

[30] In her 2001 autobiography, Learning to Fly, Beckham revealed that she had suffered from anorexia as a psychopathological reaction to fame, but has now recovered. Like Halliwell, Beckham was at pains to state that her now dramatically thin body is authentic because she is mentally stable, representing the (less famous) “real me”. The book was an attempt to “set the record straight on the controversies that surround her especially regarding her new appearance” (, “Posh admits”). As Learning was published, Beckham was trying to launch a solo career with the unfortunately titled single Out of My Mind. And ex-Spice Girl Mel C has also revealed that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia during her career. Through these autobiographies and documentaries, “Girl Power” was reconstructed as mentally and physically disempowering.

Gail Porter: Mental Health and Public Service

[31] Simultaneous with the rise of “Girl Power” in Britain was the emergence of a new “lad” and “ladette” culture which appeared as a defiant reaction to the caring, sharing, emotionally open “new man”. “Lad” culture involved rebelling against the apparent “feminization” of society in order to reclaim an essential, unreconstructed and shared masculinity. “Laddism” found its primary expression not through specific celebrities but through male-oriented magazines such as GQ,Loaded, and FHM, which trade on soft-porn images of women and celebrations of the wilful immaturity and compulsory hedonism. First coined in 1995 by advertising agency Collett Dickenson, the term “ladette” referred to a growing number of young women and female celebrities engaged in similarly “male oriented” activities including drinking and sport, and whose behavior is judged to be “unfeminine”. In so much as it was seen as empowering and quasi-feminist, “ladettism” meant embracing hedonism as a means of “taking on men at their own game” and “giving as much as you get”.

[32] Gail Porter was a darling of both the “lad” and “ladette” scenes, known for numerous scandals centering on her hedonism, her willingness to appear naked in “lad’s” magazines, and her overt displays of sexuality. Porter started as a runner before breaking through in 1995 as a presenter on Scottish and UK-wide children’s television shows including Scratchy and Co. and Fully Booked.Increasingly represented as a wild-child sex symbol, her notoriety came into conflict with her image as a wholesome children’s presenter. Porter created scandals by appearing naked in soft-core shoots for FHMGQ, and Loaded at the same time as Halliwell’s photos appeared in Teazer and Playboy.

[33] Firmly established as a “ladette”, by 1998 Porter transitioned from children’s presenter to mainstream music shows like Top of the Pops. Notoriously, in May 1999, naked photographs of Porter were projected onto the Houses of Parliament as a marketing stunt for FHM. Porter claimed to know nothing about the stunt, and thus reacted unconcernedly to how her image was used, expressing delight at the fuss it had caused. Yet she is now at pains to distance herself from “ladette” culture and assert a more “feminine” self:

We were all called “ladettes”. [After] the Spice Girls and “Girl Power” in the mid-90s there’s been all this stuff about “sisters doin’ it for themselves”, challenging men at their own game [but] I’ve never had the slightest inclination to be a man or, rather, a lad (Porter, 150).

In The Daily Mail tabloid supplement, Femail, fellow ladette, Sara “Coxy” Cox, also recanted her unfeminine behavior: ‘”ladette” is a word that makes my toes curl now’, says Sara, screwing up her pretty nose in disgust… ‘It was a younger me'” (Cox Cit. Hardy).

[34] Porter’s career came to an abrupt halt in 2005 through a mental breakdown that was initially made visible by her sudden hair loss, and then became a media scandal after a much reported suicide attempt. Suddenly, “Ladette-Gail” was “Mad-Gail”. After a period of recovery, she was approached in 2006 by Ebury to write an autobiography, and she agreed to write the book to counteract negative press about her illness. Throughout Laid Bare, Porter describes being a ladette in terms of a lack of self and loss of agency that became defining symptoms of her mental illness. She was “acting”; playing a role foisted on her because she was pretty, provocative, and partied a lot. When she unashamedly appeared in public without hair and spoke candidly about alopecia and depression, tabloids such as The Daily Mail suggested that she was paying the price for her laddish misbehavior, going so far as to ask “did she deserve it?” (See Hogan)

[35] Porter says she would not have agreed to write her book or make documentaries had stories about her mental ill health not prompted such media derision. Her public image can, potentially at least, edify the public by de-stigmatizing women’s mental ill health. She is attractive to organisations that are “keen to garner celebrity support as they raise news profile of an issue and engender affective identifications” (Littler, 17). Porter is now indivisible from “mad Gail”, and has not appeared publically in any context that does not focus on her mental health. For example, in a high profile 2006 BBC documentary One Life: Gail Porter Laid Bare, she talks about living with bipolar illness and alopecia to educate the public about both of these conditions. Yet her apparent altruism is constantly undermined by way of reference to her “madness” and fame-seeking. In an indicative interview with columnist Phil Hogan in UK broadsheet The Observer, Porter explains her motivations while Hogan interprets what she is saying in an analytical stance shared with the reader:

I feel able to ask her whether she would have written this book if she’d still had her hair. “No” she says, twiddling with one of her false eyelashes which has become unhinged [sic]. “When I first got approached [by Ebury], I was not interested. I’m so bored of all these girls who have written about 20 books by the time they’re 25. I didn’t want anyone to know about my sex life or who I fancied. But I thought that this was a different take on a celebrity book … I’m 36 now and I’ve had my fair share of strange things happen”. By this, she means her history of mood swings, anorexia, episodes of binging of one sort or another and self harm (on holiday in the Maldives, she needed 10 stitches to repair a wound self-administered with a Swiss Army knife). There’s a story about sleepwalking too (out of her flat on to the streets of Soho) and a terrible crisis point when she wakes up on “suicide watch” in hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills and vodka (Hogan, 14).

[36] Like Halliwell, Porter understands her story as a positive intervention in the public sphere whereby she might use her celebrity notoriety to speak openly about mental illness and to reach out to other women. She clearly differentiates her autobiographical work from apparently “shallow” celebrity product because she sees it as less a cynical attempt to stay in the public eye, than a bid to provide some form of public service. In this way, her book is sold in an informative tone, classified in the “social and health issues” and ‘mental heath’ sections of booksellers such as, and her films are presented as “serious” documentaries meant to edify the viewer and reduce stigma. As Harper notes, scandals about celebrities’ madness may function by “reassuring audiences that, far from being a barrier, mental distress may in some sense constitute a rite of passage leading, ultimately, to social and/or professional success” (314).

[37] Yet, as I have sought to establish in this article, while Porter’s transition to heroic survivor and “someone just like you” is crafted to demonstrate renewed value and purpose, her altruism is habitually undermined and pathologized by the media as the attention-seeking behavior of another burnt out “ladette”. Porter is routinely derided because public knowledge about her mental illnesses can undermine her “authenticity” and because she can be seen as using her illness to pursue authenticity. Appearing without her hair, for example, she makes a seemingly defiant refusal to conceal her unrecovered self.

[38] Returning to Hogan, for example, he notes that her bright forthrightness conflicts with an “eyelash which has become unhinged” (Hogan, 14). This betrays a general urge to devalue female celebrities’ credibility by taking an analytical stance to undermine and assess their state of mind. Hogan is analyzing neither attitudes to women’s mental illness nor the postfeminist culture in which celebrities like Porter are constructed; he is pathologizing Porter’s willingness to speak about her experiences in the public sphere, and her daring to be seen with no hair. Reaction to her appearance focuses on comparing bald Gail to the 1990s pin-up Gail, and attitudes to her alopecia are, of course, highly gendered. One can compare Porter’s public appearance at this time with reaction to Britney Spears shaving off all of her hair as a sign of her mental instability. In Porter’s case, her unattractiveness– the physical manifestation of her mental state – effectively ended her career as anything but a professional mad woman. But Porter parries that now that she is no longer seen as attractive, she can do “serious” work:

With big eyes and blonde hair I was going to get fluffy jobs [then] your hair falls out and you get invited to go to Cambodia to do a documentary on inter-country adoption… I’m probably going to have a longer career now than I might have – because how long can you be blonde and pretty for? I keep seeing in the papers, “Oh, poor Gail’s gone mad!” Everyone wants to feel sorry for you, but I’m fine, I’m great (cit. Hogan, ibid)

[39] Porter regularly appears in public to raise awareness of mental illness, global poverty and women’s heath. She shuns the “heroic survivor” label, yet exerts agency by inviting media interest in her strangeness: “I refuse to be called brave or a victim. I urged charities to capitalize on my novelty value” (Ibid). Likewise, Halliwell works as a UN Ambassador for women’s health and for breast cancer awareness charities, yet her role is undermined by similar cynicism about her sincerity and motivations. In an article in The Guardiannewspaper entitled “We’re all for Girl Power, we just don’t want this girl to have any”, feminist Marina Hyde comments acerbically on Halliwell’s charity work:

Pay attention, apocalypse-forecasters: Geri Halliwell has held talks in Washington in her role as UN ambassador … one of these Washington power players describes Geri as “a shining example of how one woman can make a difference for the health and dignity of women everywhere”. Um … is it OK to say, “Not in my name” at this point? (12)

This type of reporting is predicated on the ostensibly un-feminist assumption that it is acceptable for these women to comment on “private” feminine spheres, but not apparently “public”, masculine, spheres.

Kerry Katona: the Madness of “Keepin’ it Real”

[40] By the late 1990’s, pop-feminism had become synonymous with the notion that liberated, independent, and progressive females participate in, consume and exploit sexualized consumer products. Younger “wannabes” like Katona, who had cut their teeth on “Girl Power”, were embracing its message of liberation and empowerment through celebrity and provocation. Halliwell, Cox, and Porter all took amateur and glamour modelling work before they were “discovered”. In Cox’s case, it led to her presenting Channel Four’s “Girl Power”Girlie Show (1996-97) showcasing bad girls, “lad badgering”, pop music, and celebrity gossip. Their bodies were a valuable commodity, and soft-porn was a seemingly “feminist” route out of poverty and fame-lessness. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy explains the mainstreaming of pornography as the rise of “raunch culture” – apparent sexual assertiveness that perniciously veils female misogyny, whereby women attempt to compete with men by sexually objectifying themselves as well as other women. Yet Levy argues that in contemporary feminist debates about porn, the “artificial schism reinvents itself: the Good Girls who exhibit fear and repulsion [and] the Bad Girls who get a kick out of being politically out of line” (115) (see also Fairclough in this issue). Likewise, pop-feminist ideals of sexual freedom and pleasure seeking quickly became absorbed into a postfeminist culture in which the sex industry is seen as empowering for women and a lucrative and acceptable career choice, where “good girls” can also be “bad”.

[41] For fans of the “power girls” and “ladettes” such as Katona, selling the female body became not a barrier to, but a quasi- feminist vehicle for, fame. At aged 16, Katona commissioned a glamour portfolio for the “page-three” topless pin-up in tabloid newspaper, The Sun. She wanted the photos to start a career, not in pornography but in mainstream popular culture. In Too Much, she explains that she pursued glamour modelling as a practicable route out of poverty and abuse, and because of her lack of education: “I did have a 34DD chest and a size 6 waist, so I decided the way forward was to become a page-three model [because] perhaps this would make a difference to my life’ (Katona, Too, 138). Her pictures were not used inThe Sunbecause she was underage, but on leaving high-school Katona started worked as a lap dancer until being “discovered” dancing at a nightclub by a dance music band called “The Porn Kings” who were looking for dancers to accompany them on tour. After her dancing success, Katona was approached by Andy McCluskey, a music producer looking to start a new “Girl Power” band, which eventually became Atomic Kitten.

[42] Katona’s fame in the Kittens was predicated, she claims, on her genuinely ladette persona – on a refusal to be anything other than herself. Despite having only sung Karaoke, Katona was invited by to join the Kittens because McCluskey told her “your rawness is just what we want. Just be yourself” (Ibid, 154). The Kittens “were so real. We didn’t pretend to be anything more than we were” (150). Yet the band also imitated their big-sister power girls, and were “sold as the new-Spice Girls” (179). With striking similarity to the trajectory of Halliwell’s pop stardom story, Katona is now at pains to state that, rather than being authentic, being a Kitten was actually an avoidance of facing her demons and her deteriorating mental state: “Being one of the Kittens was like acting… I wasn’t being myself” (120).

[43] Katona’s celebrity has always been intensely inconsistent. She is widely considered to be a brave survivor of a brutal childhood and transcendent of a “white trash” background, yet has been dubbed by the tabloids as a “Bingeing Hellcat” and “Drunken Slapper”. As a Kitten, Katona quickly became a scapegoat for the moral panic in Britain surrounding drinking and its impact on young women. Katona explains her behavior as nascent bipolar disorder brought about by childhood abuse and the pressures of fame. Part of maintaining some kind of celebrity for Katona involves repeatedly generating a “real” and “likeable” self, while simultaneously refuting scandals and contradicting an extremely negative media image. After becoming pregnant and suffering a mental breakdown, Katona left the Kittens and devoted herself to her husband, boy-band star, Bryan McFadden. In 2003, she returned to present a daytime magazine show calledLoose Women, a role that played on both her bad girl and white trash mother images. She also appeared as both judge and contestant on reality talent contests including You’re a Star and Stars in Their Eyes,and was interviewed regularly in magazines and on television. Her second big breakthrough came when she gained the nation’s affection in 2004 by winning I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here! – a reality surveillance show in which lesser and erstwhile celebrities are trapped in a jungle and compete in gruesome trials. On leaving the jungle, Kerry was regarded as a national treasure — celebrated in newspaper headlines as “Our Kerry” and “Queen of the Jungle” – and hundreds of fans turned up outside her house to welcome her home. Yet tabloid stories about her drug addiction quickly re-focussed media attention on her as an at-risk and unfit mother. She eventually checked into “rehab” at the London Priory clinic where innumerable celebrities go for private treatment.

[44] In 2005, Katona appeared as the quintessential ladette in her Pygmalion reality show, entitled My Fair Kerry, in which she stayed with an Austrian Count and Countess learning how to be “the perfect lady”. It was intended as a light-hearted process of behavioral correction – demonstrating to the public that Katona was a bad girl who wanted to change. The show followed the format of another British Pygmalion reality show called Ladette to Lady in 2005 which was integral to the backlash against “ladette” pop-feminist culture. In the show, to win prizes, usually working class women are taken to finishing school to be chastized, tamed and trained in traditionally “ladylike” skills. Although highly sensationalist in tone, the program was sold as a quasi-public service intervention into Britain’s “out of control” female youth culture, drawing on discourses of psychological therapy and behavioral correction to “cure” a recognizably “bad girl” working class pathology. According to the opening voice-over of the show, it would “transform some of Britain’s most extreme binge-drinking, sexually shameless, anti-social rebels into respectable young ladies”. Viewers are invited to see if the women will change or “stay stuck in their vicious cycles forever”.

[45] During the filming of My Fair Kerry, Katona became mentally unwell and increasingly uncertain of her own identity. She felt humiliated by the program which appeared to focus on erasing her “unacceptable” low class identity and on “curing” her of her pathological personality. She states that “hearing [them] tell me that so much about me wasn’t good enough when I felt so low was horrible” (Katona, “Too”, 302). The show ended with scandalized scenes of Katona drunk and obviously unhappy. Soon afterwards she was admitted to rehab at the Arizona Cottonwood centre where she was diagnosed with bipolar illness. In 2006, Katona returned with self-produced reality products, including autobiographies, reality TV, docu-soaps, and self-help books. Her 2006 Ebury autobiography, Too Much, is a traumatic story of childhood neglect and domestic violence, rise to fame, mental breakdown and lone motherhood that narrates her urge for fame, her inability to deal with fame, and her infamous wild child persona as symptoms of bipolar psychopathology.

[46] Her 2007 Ebury self-help book, Survive the Worst, Aim for the Best, is classified under the “mind-body-spirit” section in bookstores as a guide to life written from harsh experience intended to help other women. Like Porter, Katona’s books have the potential to rebrand her as a wise, and possibly even an inspirational, figure who has survived abuse and neglect and come out of it a better person. She has the right to not only to voice her experiences, but to impart advice to others. Katona emphasizes that celebrity is the prize for her unhappiness, and that she can help her fans by showing that even “trash” like her can make it: “It’s so much worse when you’re famous. I want people to say ‘If she can do it, so can I'” (Katona, “Survive” 15).

[47] There is reason to believe that the genre of celebrity memoirs and other reality products about mental ill health have reached saturation point and that as such, they are now released into an increasingly cynical market. As reviewer D. J. Read complains:

this is something like Katona’s 5th (yes 5th) autobiography, no small achievement for someone of such meagre fame … as you would expect, it is half-baked nonsense only aimed at trying to wring out some pity [so] she can resurrect her floundering career (Read).

Read goes on to criticize the over-abundance of too-similar narratives: “people are getting cheesed off with this kind of (ghost written) nonsense” because the market is “saturated by this dross from Z-listers” (Ibid). Negativity and cynicism about the financial motivation for confession conceals the sad irony that the woman with little or no sense of self is ‘ghost written’ for the celebrity market because tabloid constructions of “bad girls” and female crisis celebrity appear morereal than she is.

Bad Girl to Good Woman: Redemption through Motherhood

[48] “For the ex-bad-girl, the transition to good womanhood seems largely to depend on her fitness as a mother, or better still, on the persona of the “yummy-mummy”. As McGee tells us, celebrities are subject to, and construct, the “femme fatale turned mother” archetype whose stability and value is predicated on transitioning enough to accept an essential maternalism (33). In this way, the work of being a commodifiable “self”, and of producing selfhood as a commodity, is intrinsically gendered. This is in keeping with the ways in which celebrities such as Madonna and Katie Price have conspicuously challenged their “bad girl” images by appealing to a virtuous, genuine, and material maternalism. Yet this role is precarious in that the women have to appear to incarnate a very particular kind of maternalism, in the form of the redeemed “good mother” (see also Cobb in this issue).

[49] The mummy role is acceptably feminine and also appeals to the generational nostalgia and life changes of a once-teen fan base now in their 30s. Halliwell’s next career step, for example, was to produce a children’s book series organized around the young female character of “Eugenia Lavender” – promoted as the “re-launch of ‘Girl Power'” for the young female audience of today. Yet promotional interviews in the June 2008 edition of Glamour magazine for example do not promote the books so much as assess Halliwell’s appearance in terms of her mental healthDespite repeated dramatic weight gain and loss, Halliwell makes renewed assertions in the interviews of having recovered for the sake of her daughter, Bluebell Madonna (Glamour). In The Guardian, Marina Hyde dismisses Halliwell’s maternalism as insincere and as contrived as “Girl Power”: “Geri has totally bought into this version of herself. And don’t forget she’s about to start on your daughter with her forthcoming range of empowering children’s books about a thinly disguised Geri Halliwell character called ‘Eugenia Lavender…'” (Hyde). While stereotypes can be used to rebrand celebrities, neither the bad girl nor the mother are seen as acceptably “authentic” to the media.

[50] Porter is also involved with numerous children’s charities and states that her daughter, Honey, is her motivation for recovery, sobriety and stability. Yet she is still represented as “mad Gail”. Sara Cox expresses similar feelings about being “cured” by motherhood: “‘I enjoy my roles as a mum and caretaker of the house. I really relish those roles and I think I’m good at them. I’m much happier now than I’ve ever been” (cited in Hardy). Yet her interviewer, Rebecca Hardy, notes that this is “not quite the brand image Sara created for herself during those L-word years, talking about her intimate self, her sexual appetite, her partying, her breasts” (Hardy). While these women’s maternalism may dissipate the perceived threat of pop-feminism, neither is stance accepted as “real”.

[51] Katona’s vacillating status in the affections of the media can be charted through the UK’s “Best Celebrity Mother” polls – she won best mother in 2002 and 2005, and then worst mother in 2008 – when tabloid allegations of drink and drug addiction branded her an “unfit mother” who should have her children taken away. Since 2004, she has been employed as the public face of a long-running ad campaign for the budget retailer Iceland Frozen Foods – tagline: “Mum’s gone to Iceland!” Since 2006, Iceland has sponsored the I’m a Celebrity reality show that Katona won in 2004. In the role of “regular working class mum”, Katona was chosen to reflect the company’s mostly low-income, female, celebrity fixated consumer base.

[52] When she joined the campaign, the tagline changed to “That’s why mum’s go to Iceland!”, framing Katona’s maternal image as a shared, pluralized identity, and focussing attention on the products to suggest that even a celebrity like Katona chooses to buy Iceland products – even though she does not have to buy them because of low income. She was dropped from the campaign after negative media attention around her drug use, but rehired in 2008 when her public image seemed to become more positive.

[53] Katona’s background is still said to appeal to Iceland’s female consumers because of social shifts away from the traditional nuclear family. As Lucy Barrett in The Guardian puts it:

Katona is not being wheeled out as a role model – far from it – but as a personality that plenty of Iceland’s consumers can identify with. As well as struggling with her demons, she has experienced divorce and a second marriage, and had children with two different men…Perhaps the former Atomic Kitten’s antics as played out in the tabloids help to raise [Iceland’s] profile along with hers (Barrett, 10).

 Kerry Katona - Crazy in Love Advertisement

Figure 2

Katona’s popularity depends on her ability to promote herself as a good, sane, (still) working class mother despite her circumstances. In the 2008 show Crazy, Katona expresses her belief that that being frank about her illness and letting the public get intimate with her as a mother could help her reclaim public affection. In the advertising campaign, she tells the viewer “I’m pregnant, as you can see, very pregnant, and I’m even going to give birth on TV. So watch the show, you never know, you might even like me!” Her invitation evinces the ways in which contemporary celebrity culture is intractably fixated on domestic intimacy and on the vacillations of the fame-hungry female body. (See figure 2)

[54] Ad campaigns for Crazy attempt an integration of Katona’s most negative media images of “bad girl”, mad woman, and (un)fit mother. The brand image portrays Katona and husband Mark bound together in matching straitjackets with the restraints pulled tight over her heavily pregnant belly. A tie-in competition invites viewers to ‘upload a crazy picture to win Kerry’s straitjacket!’ Katona’s attempts to establish herself as a survivor are thus undermined because her mental health and fitness to mother are subject to parody. In later episodes, Katona undergoes a breast-reduction and liposuction to “cure” her of post-partum deformities. Her weight has been the subject of much media derision as she “failed” to return to a size 6 body after having four children. Rather than seeking the impression of “authentic” physical beauty, or promoting diet and exercise regimes, Katona invites her audience to witness her artificial transformation to “yummy-mummy”. Yet her attempts to “keep it real” still attract vicious negativity as she becomes the public scapegoat for moral panics about lone-mothers and “bad girls” to the extent that she was still voted “Most Hated Woman in Britain 2008”.

[55] During the show, Katona routinely intervenes in newspaper scandals, especially a story sold to tabloids by her mother, Su Katona, whom she exposed in Too Much and Survive as a drug-addicted and abusive prostitute whose negligence caused Katona’s mental illness. As she was recovering, Su announced that she too has written a candid autobiography about her own bipolar illness and addiction in order to negate her daughter’s accusations that she was an “unfit mother”. During filming, Katona suffered another breakdown and was again checked into The Priory clinic. Tabloids then responded sympathetically, and a front page exclusive in The Sun condemned Su for “trading on her daughter’s fame” (The Sun) (See also Cobb on celebrity mothers in this issue). Seeking ancillary fame by selling stories about a mentally ill woman is, it seems, shallow, exploitative and cruel. Kerry gains status as a brave victim when Su is positioned as a madder and badder mother.


[56] As Greer predicted, the ‘bad girl’ pop-feminists of the 1990s have not fared well after the demise of “ladette” and “Girl Power” culture. It is not only that their cultural power has been diminished by shifts in pop culture, but that they are constructed within the pervasive pathologization of female celebrity in postfeminist culture. In many ways, the 1990s rhetoric of “girls on top” was fated to this end in that it promoted female rebellion as a false identity that evaporates on maturity. Halliwell, Porter and Katona claim not to have been the agents of their once personal pop-feminism, stating emphatically of their prior incarnationas that that person “wasn’t me”, and that this sense of identity confusion is a symptom of latent mental illness. The stories of these women are of lost identities; the celebrities they reminisce about are psychopathologized as manifestations of a lack of self and agency. In a newly vulnerable – one might even say remorsefully feminine – celebrity, the once vigorous power-girl and ladette culture is pathologized by the very women who were once its pin-ups.

[57] Halliwell, Porter, and Katona’s reality products raise important issues about authenticity and idealized images of femininity. Reality and gossip products, as Littler points out, foreground celebrities’ emotional responses (and “real”) behavior and “generate interest in ‘other’ sides of their characters, to present us with new ways of getting intimate with them” (20). Yet they demand public judgement and prompt outrage and derision. To continually trade on the celebrity persona, reality and gossip media demand access to and construct a “real me” that is anything but stable, but is – and has to be to stay in the media – continually in flux and process. Mental illness and negative constructs of “bad girl” femininity afford such ongoing and “excessive” emotionality, drama, and psychological insecurity. As such, mental illness becomes an integral part of postfeminist female celebrity culture. Psychologically (re)branding female celebrities runs this risk of replicating and reinforcing the already pathologized image of female celebrity in the tabloid and gossip media.

[58] Mad Geri, Mad Gail, and Mad Kerry may have been empowered personally by, and have profited financially from, their memoirs of mental ill health, and their reality products have, in some ways, successfully rebranded their personalities and career trajectories. But at what cost? As they fight media derision, they pay a discounted price for their “cheapened” celebrity personae, and their penitent tales of sin and regret very often end up in the bookstore “bargain bin”.

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