A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Whether it’s the latest X-Factor pop sensation, a reality star or even the regal glamour of William and Kate – we are bombarded by these ‘famous’ people across all spheres of popular culture.
Increasingly, these famous faces are tagged as role models, but the behaviour adopted by this collective isn’t always the type we would want our young people to emulate or aspire to.
What’s in a role model?
Role models aren’t new. History is peppered with many high-profile roles models – think Abraham Lincoln, the First Lady of Finance – Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, pilot Amelia Earhart and of particular significance from the past week – Nelson Mandela. These are all people who made a positive impact in their time, and who have inspired generations.
But as we’ve previously mentioned – the modern day role model is no longer a coveted position – anyone in the media spotlight could be assigned this tag, whether they like it or not.
Take Rihanna for example. She is hugely successful around the globe – working tirelessly to release new albums and go on sell-out tours year after year, showing that hard work and dedication can be rewarded. But her risqué image and lifestyle, and controversial reunion with Chris Brown, who had previously assaulted her, means that she has been tarred as a ‘toxic’ role model for young women, even though she never set out to be one in the first place.
The fact is, celebrities have to accept the likelihood that young people particularly – who are impressionable throughout their teenage years – may try to copy the way they look and behave. To illustrate – only recently, TV personality Donna Air was horrified to learn that she is (unintentionally) a ‘pin up’ for young women suffering from anorexia, highlighting the ongoing debate surrounding celebrities and body image.
A positive reflection
On the flipside, many celebrities use their fame to highlight issues and support good causes. A positive role model can help young people to establish their sense of identity, define their sense of purpose and bolster their confidence.
Pop star Frankie Sandford from The Saturdays has, in the past 12 months, raised awareness of mental health issues through acting as ambassador for national charity Mind. Cricketer Andrew Flintoff has also spoke openly about living with depression, and last year Lady Gaga set up the Born This Way Foundation to remind youths that they are to believe they are perfect the way that they are.
By opening up about their own personal experiences, or by endorsing campaigns, celebrities can catapult these issues into the public domain via high-profile media coverage. This in turn can encourage young people to talk about their own experiences, and crucially, help to normalise and de-stigmatise these issues.
Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley recently released a video clip where he spoke of his relationship with another man and when reporting on this story, The Guardian referred to him as a ‘role model’. Edward Lord, chairman of the Amateur Swimming Association group board was quoted as saying: “To be one of the first British Olympic athletes to come out is very brave and will, I hope, be a signal not just to other sportspeople but to all young people that you can be open about your sexuality, even in a very public environment.”
Arguably, it could be deemed a travesty that even as we head towards 2014, a well-known sportsperson publicly discussing their sexuality can make headline news. But nonetheless it is a positive step forward, and similar to Frankie and Flintoff, it helps shine a spotlight on one of the many issues that face young people today and which continue to remain taboo in our society.
It appears that our thriving celebrity culture is here to stay. All that we can hope for is that these famous faces will consider using their fame responsibly to do good and spread positive messages which will help our younger generation to make informed choices about their self-image; the decisions they make on a day-to-day basis, and what path they choose to follow in the future.
Regional Youth Work Unit – North East