Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Are Her Role Models?

Contemporary pop culture is enthralled with generic celebrity. While there are many people who achieve commercial success through talent, hard work and investing their time and energy, there also seems to be an entire generation of young women who are famous because of who she is related to or because her face or name was branded at a very young age and she is now a product to be sold for as long as her handlers can do so.

Little girls are emulating these interchangeable celebrities at younger ages and assuming their own adult lives will be filled with designer handbags and a welcome entourage of paparazzi. Girls tend to look up to other young (celebrity) girls as a way of figuring out who they will be and what they want to emulate as they grow. 

I don’t think that all of these role model choices are bad ones.  When my guitar playing daughter looks to musicians for inspiration – I like to point out the women that write their own music and are famous for their skill and dedication to their craft rather than because of their notoriety in the press.

However, this is not just about admiring someone from afar, it has become so common today to hear that a girl’s goal for her life focus on fame, celebrity and the hopes of a performing or modeling career.   I think that many of us want to encourage more practical pursuits without crushing our children’s dreams.  

Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Discuss what it might cost some young celebrities to grow up in the public eye. Point out your daughters cherished private moments: a restaurant lunch with a parent, a swim in a public lake, or reading her book in a backyard hammock. Help her to imagine how few private moments a young celebrity has and how she might struggle with the lies and sensationalized stories that are created to sell magazines, movies and products.
  • Celebrity careers are so visible and appear fabulously exciting. According to the  Geena Davis Institute on Media and Gender,  in research looking at all G-rated family films between 2006-2009,  NOT ONE female character was working in the field of medical science, in law, politics or as a business leader.  In fact, of all characters shown to be working or in careers at all, over 80% of them were male.  So clearly, film is not where girls will find ideas for their own careers. Parents can attempt to balance that by making other career options viable and exciting as well. Spend time talking about who you consider to be real heroes. This might be someone who builds schools for girls in developing countries or someone who started an animal rescue organization. Talk about the work that your female friends do and highlight their successes. Be sure to talk proudly of your own work or education, because you are still her most relevant role model.
  • If your daughter wants to pursue acting, dancing or other ways of performing - encourage her participation because these talents and varied experiences will help her build confidence and skills that will be useful in many areas.  If her talent is truly promising, remind her that local productions or teaching in these areas are also worthwhile pursuits. Over time, if she truly loves her craft, she will be motivated by her passion more than her quest for fame and wealth.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of role models for a while – thinking how lucky my daughter is to have many strong women around her but how we still have to make a point of showing that our work, passions and choices about family and lifestyle are interesting and ultimately satisfying – at least as much as the celebrities she has her eye on. 

Because my daughter is interested in science, math and leadership I am especially excited by Dove’s® most recent initiative and have signed up to participate. The event is called Women Who Should be Famous, and it takes place on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7pm EST at  It is a free live-streamed event. Any Canadian with a Facebook account and access to a computer can register on Dove’s® page and is encouraged to participate along with a girl in her life. During the hour-long event the stories of four inspirational women in the fields of science, leadership, environmentalism and the arts will be highlighted. The goal is to “shine the spotlight on the stories of strong role models for the next generation of women.”

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