New generation, new expectations

Jude El Buri

photo by Muhammad Al-Rawi

When former Disney star and teen pop idol Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hannah Montana, posed naked in a photoshoot for Vanity Fair magazine, America cringed. People were even more stunned after Miley was caught on video smoking a bong containing a drug called salvia.

A supposed role model for young children, Miley’s apparent love of smoking, flashing, scanty dressing and raunchy dancing, not to mention her frequent need to grind on guys and an occasional pole, is a bit of a turn-off for the parents of her mainly young, preteen fan base.

Whether it’s Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Michael Jordan, Soulja Boy, Barack Obama, or, yes, Miley Cyrus, almost all young children have role models. The media’s in-your-face attitude and its 24/7 availability makes it increasingly hard to avoid celebrity role models. Children nowadays are more exposed to scandalous pictures that are leaked online and the media’s constant coverage of them than ever.

Psychologists say the media is a super peer and has as much influence on adolescents and young children as their friends at school. David Myers, a renowned psychologist, professor of psychology at Hope College and the author of numerous psychology books, including the one RBHS’ AP Psychology class uses, says young people who see their role models involved in bad behavior are likely to imitate them.
“There is at least some influence of role models, whose behavior serves to write “social scripts” for appropriate behavior—inner guides for how to act in certain situations,” Myers said. “People will deny that media models influence them, though they’ll agree that they influence others. Everyone thinks it’s someone else who’s getting influenced.”

But, for those whose lives aren’t dictated by celebrities and the media, celebrity role models aren’t always the go-to people. Many adolescents choose to look up to their parents, a sibling, or a celebrity who is not known for their notorious partying and drunkenness.

Junior Ariel Brown says her role model is Maya Angelou because she hasn’t let fame get to her head, and that she respects herself and works hard.

“[She] has been through a lot and she decided to take all she’s been through and the pain of her life and create beautiful poetry out of it,” Brown said. “She fights for the good things in her life. Sure she did some bad things, but she decided to change for the good.”

However, the media does, in fact, influence the majority of adolescents. Girls are often bombarded with messages about their appearance and about how they should look, from endless products, to models that reinforce unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness.
According to a study by Michigan State University, on average, children spend 32 hours a week in front of a television. That’s more than 5,000 hours of television – including 80,000 ads – before they even enter kindergarten. Another study found  Saturday morning cartoons alone come up with 33 commercials per hour. So, if those commercials catering to children can heavily influence children, the influence of commercials on the easily swayed adolescent period is just as considerable.

In 2002, researchers at Flinders University in Australia studied 400 teenagers. They found that girls who watched commercials on television that featured underweight models lost self-confidence and became more dissatisfied with their own looks.

The negative impact of celebrities is obvious for many. Junior Joseph Gu sees people like Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians as too much unnecessary drama.

“I view those people as over-arrogant,” Gu said. “and [they’re] completely undeserving of public attention.”

But it’s not all going down the drain. Companies like Dove have made efforts to change the way young girls and women see themselves. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty promotes self-esteem and inner beauty. They even made a highly popular evolution commercial showing how makeup, hair stylists, and photoshop enhance an average looking woman to be the stereotypical glamorous and beautiful model.

A standard for beauty has always existed, throughout time and cultures, whether it was pleasantly plump, relatively thin, or curvy. But Kennon Sheldon, a psychology professor at Mizzou, believes today’s standards of being obsessively thin, with voluptuous curves at the same time, and perfect features is unattainable.  Perhaps today’s celebrity role models are exemplifying unreachable expectations.

“Nobody with much sense favors celebrities over parents as role models,” Sheldon said. “Celebrities are for entertainment, not for guidance on how to live life.”