Are Celebrities Really The Best Role Models To Hold Up As Our Inspirations & Influence?

It’s a question that may never have a definitive answer, especially in a culture that is increasingly obsessed with the influence of celebrities and public figures. With social media giving rise to a different kind of “celebrity”, it adds a whole new dimension to the discussion over what constitutes an “acceptable” role model.

We’re also seeing a new wave of feminism and female empowerment, where it seems common place for especially female celebrities to be asked whether they consider themselves a feminist or not. While it is great to see more focus on the idea of empowering women, it can become somewhat of a trap to ask celebrities this, because everyone’s definition is different.

The narrative about that person then becomes what they personally think of feminism and equality, and we judge them accordingly – either stripping them of their “inspirational” title, or putting them up on a higher pedestal. What happens when the media assigns the status of “role model” to a celebrity who does not necessarily want this?

Singer Rihanna, arguably one of the biggest and most popular artists on the planet, has previously stated she has no interest in being considered a role model. While there are many admirable things she is doing outside of her music, such as encouraging education and activism, should we also be giving her room to live life on her own terms and not be beholden to standards she has no desire to adhere to?

She has been criticized for posting images on social media where she is smoking weed, criticized for her dating choices, her lyrics, and the types of photo shoots she does. Sure, someone in the public eye is never going to escape constant scrutiny, as it comes with the territory, but neither should the public criticize her for her choices if she is not deliberately or intentionally encouraging people to “f0llow” her.

Then there are other types of celebrities who are very open and honest about their public lives and not wanting to follow the crowd. One of those is uber-successful singer Celine Dion, whose most notable feature is undoubtedly her voice. She has expressed a lack of desire to be considered an “It” girl, which in itself could make her a role model.

The Canadian singer once famously stated: “I’ve never been cool – and I don’t care”.

She has hardly been the subject of tabloid fodder throughout her successful career and remains scandal-free compared to others. In fact, she has even stated that she doesn’t necessarily want to be known for her musical ability, either.

“I want to be more successful as a mother than I am in show business,” she once said.

Does a statement like this mean she should be held up as a role model because of her reserved public presence? It often comes down to a matter of personal preference.

Throughout the past few decades it’s easy to see how female celebrities often become the target of divisive media narratives about whether they are worthy to be held up in a favorable light, and it often comes down to the patriarchal binary categories women are placed into: the “madonna” or the “whore”.

We see it in almost every magazine we pick up aimed at women, in the “who wore it best?” columns, “rate these women according to their post-baby bikini bodies” editorial spreads, and of course, the constant “trainwreck alert!” narratives that seem to become an excellent way to sell units.

We get used to seeing celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, and many others being dragged through tabloid media for their behavior, being told by subtle societal cues that they are no longer good enough to be considered “role models” because of this.

But who decided on the standards for being a role model in the first place? Whose subjective gaze are we being bombarded with when it comes the way magazines and media assigns characteristics for certain celebrities? It is often down to the way women’s bodies take up space in public which determines whether they are considered “good” leaders to follow, whereas for men it is generally about what they do.

Consider activist and former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who made headlines for refusing to stand for the national anthem before games, and instead kneel in peaceful protest to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement. There were many divisive opinions about what he was doing, but the point was that the contention was over his actions in the first place.

Some focused on his passion for racial justice and philanthropy which saw him give away literally millions of dollars to charities helping low-income and vulnerable groups, and others saw a “disrespectful” public figure who shouldn’t be considered American because he wasn’t doing his patriotic duty at football games. To some he was a role model, to others he was a disgrace.

Perhaps the most famous person right now in the world of pop culture, in terms of how she drives conversation and differing opinions, is Kim Kardashian. The former stylist and best friend of Paris Hilton who became an internet and international sensation after a leaked sex tape. Kim (and the rest of the women in her family) have amassed a multi-million dollar empire for themselves as well as a large following, mainly for fashion, style, reality TV shows, and creating viral internet stunts like her nude photo shoot for Paper Mag.

Depending on who you ask, she is either a role model, or simply another celebrity looking to cash in on her fame. She doesn’t always openly speak out about philanthropic passions or interests, but she has given money to organizations who raise awareness about the Armenian genocide. So does that mean she can now be considered a role model?

Perhaps the discussion over the influence and inspiration of celebrities should be less of a media narrative and more of a personal choice. People choose role models for various reasons, whether they are famous or not, and it may not be because they like every single thing that person did. Role model narratives can often be very limiting and confusing. It may be better to instead focus on how each of us can use our lives and influence in a way we feel is best. Putting ourselves in the equation and discussion about role models can open up new perspectives, and give us time to reflect on who each of us are first and foremost.






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