As a young teenager, I was obsessed with Hilary Duff. I bought her albums, recorded every TV appearance, watched her movies — I was the perfect fan. After about two years, I left this Hilary-loving phase unscathed. Mostly because, while I admired her and thought she was cool and talented, I never felt the need to model my behavior after hers and base my life choices on the ones she made. She wasn’t my role model.
While the media was praising Duff for being a good role model and bashing Paris Hilton and other party girls of the early 2000s, I came to the realization that Duff can do what she wants. She was and still is an independent person with her own free will and the burden of facing the consequences of both good and bad actions was her alone. She didn’t get to decide what I did — that was my job.
Our culture seems to be concerned for young girls who are looking up to celebrities. But what media commentators don’t seem to realize is that these people don’t have to be role models. Their jobs are to make a living by developing their artistic talents to make art others enjoy — not teach others how to act in their personal lives.
Today’s Duff is arguably Miley Cyrus, who used to think of herself as a role model for young girls but doesn’t seem to be worried about that anymore. Think what you will about her music and her image, but the media shouldn’t constantly moan, “She can’t do that because she’s a role model!” No one has to agree with her decisions; she has the right to be whatever kind of artist she wants to be and her fans in turn can choose to like her or not.
Cyrus can stand for whatever she wants to stand for. If she wants to be the poster child for twerking, fine. If she wants to be end world hunger, fine. The media shouldn’t arbitrarily pick people, label them “role models” and then judge them for their behavior.
I understand that young children are impressionable because they are still trying to figure out who they are. But if parents don’t like the way certain celebrities are affecting their children, they shouldn’t attack the celebrities, chiding them for not being a paragon of perfection for their spawn to emulate. If parents don’t like the way Rihanna, Katy Perry or Cyrus are influencing their children, they can ban these celebrities from their homes. A celebrity shouldn’t have to act a certain way to please others and parents in turn shouldn’t pressure celebrities to be role models to their children. It’s not their job.
Do celebrities with young fans have a responsibility to be good role models? Only if they chose to take on this responsibility, but they can just as easily chose not to be. Rihanna herself said it best after being criticized for being a bad role model. “See, people … they want me to be a role model just because of the life I lead,” she told British Vogue in 2011. “ … [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be. But no, I just want to make music. That’s it.” Can we choose one or more celebrities to be our role models? Yes, but with the knowledge that looking up to someone doesn’t mean we have to adore everything they do. If people decide to make Rihanna a role model, they also have to keep in mind what she said last year: “‘Role model’ is not a position or title that I have ever campaigned for …”
Though the media seems to throw around the “role model” label at random, female celebrities seem to be hit the hardest. We hear about Cyrus but no one talks about how Justin Bieber or the boys of One Direction are influencing their female fans or how actors who have played superheroes are influencing the young men and women who love heroes. People sometimes hail Beyonce as a role model but don’t place the same burden on her husband Jay Z, who is famous in his own right. We’re doing a disservice to our children and our society when we judge others for not acting the way we think they should whether they’re male or female.
It’s not bad to have role models. We all need someone to look up to. In fact, we all need several people to look up to. But I look up to whomever I want. The media doesn’t get to decide this and celebrities don’t either.