When I was a kid I wanted to be Britney Spears. You don’t understand. I really, really wanted to BE BRITNEY SPEARS. I was an impressionable young teen and she was a pop princess: wealthy, gorgeous and peaking her career at 17 years of age.
Fast forward 10 years later and I am sitting in a coffee shop a flutter from Oxford Street, where I was almost creamed by some teenagers in Topshop ravenously trying to bag a bargain in the sale. I am waiting for a friend. While I wait, I flick through one of my favourite high street magazines. In it is a feature about Hollywood teen stars; glistening, peachy lambs dressed as mutton. Among them Mad Men’s 13 year-old Kiernan Shipka and ‘rising star’ Morgan Lily. I’m suddenly hit by a potent whiff of nostalgia as my Britney obsession comes screaming back at me in all its red leather latex high-kick glory.
Now in my 20s, encountering these rich, glamourous, perfectly groomed teenage stars again suddenly makes me feel like a bit of an under-achiever if I’ll be honest. They have barely had time to grow pubes let alone climb the career ladder and yet they are living ‘the dream’. I, on the other hand, have just graduated, am struggling for cash, working about 3 different jobs and the only red carpet I have had the pleasure of walking is in my granny’s living room. I am ambitious, fired up and ready to seize my destiny by the balls. But why am I suddenly feeling insecure? I might be ‘young’ to my mum and dad, but looking at these glossy pubescent girls, I suddenly feel old. I flick to another page. O a cashmere scarf… a new coat… flower garlands are back in… I put the magazine into my bag: it’s making me feel poor.
What wider implications does this bombardment of saturated celebrity lifestyle content have on the average teenage girl? It says fame, youth, nice clothes, money, being a skinny-mini plastered in Benefit make-up equates to success and social acceptance.
It is suddenly so clear the lack of perspective the media propels towards its impressionable young audiences. I begin to realize how this has affected my own life perspective and conditioned my view of what it means to be ‘beautiful’ and ‘successful’.
These magazines are not targeting at the ‘elite’ consumer whose lifestyle they are so freely advertising, but the average school girl. With less than 10% of the UK’s population able to afford the platinum lifestyle I am taking an educated guess that the majority of this top selling national magazine’s readers are from the remaining 90% of the population that are about as likely to adorn a Cavalli dress down the red carpet as I am to grow fairy wings and fly to the moon with Chris Pine.
And let’s not forget youth. ‘You have such a short time to put your name in this world as a young female actress… I’ve been told 26…’ gushed Skin‘s star Kaya Scodelano in an interview. But if that’s true than most female actors emerging from drama school are almost past their expiration date before they’ve even begun.
In the wake of the Amanda Bynes’ meltdown, Bieber’s monkey and Cory Monteith’s tragic o.d. we have to beg the question: how many of these Kiernan’s and Morgan’s of tinsle town will suffer depression, struggle with substance abuse or end up in police custody by the time they are in their 20s? Sinaed O’Connor’s recent open letter to Miley Cyrus highlighted the desperate need for some perspective.
‘Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be very careful about what messages we send to other women.’ Sinead O’Connor
While most of us grimaced at the sight of Miley’s ass-slapping, foam-fingering, lizard-tongue-twizzling performance, there were young girls watching in awe and fascination. They don’t know about the industry. The sharks. They don’t know the ‘prostitution’ – as O’Connor puts it.
So I pose the question: How many young stars are already suffering under the limelight?
Google ‘Role Models’ – and the results are all celebrities. Popular culture is bating us and our kids to lead a lifestyle that is predominantly fictitious. Magazines are showing us only one side of the coin.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the clothes, I like the gloss. I am a consumer who enjoys the escapism of a glossy mag, but tell that to my insecure 13 year-old self who is looking for a role model in a bleak world. My parents tried to steer me towards Amelia Earhart and Jesus but I was too distracted by MTV, now in the wake of reality I am searching for my own role models: my family, my neighbors, strong leaders and figures who strive for more than what the what the media can offer me… self worth.