“You know what’s really ‘in’ right now? Sex tapes. Also getting arrested for driving without a license. And possession of cocaine.”
“Yeah, I know right! You know what else I’m looking forward to? When I can get married and get divorced again after 72 days!”
Despite having just finished high school, the location of extensive female conversation, I have never heard an exchange that resembles this. Yet, I have come to realise that many experts fear that the young ladies of tomorrow are all going to turn out thinking this way. Truckloads of articles and blog posts I have read bemoan the future of teenage girls, because of the bad behaviour of a select few celebrities.
When I was twelve, it was Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie who all the commentators dreaded would influence us negatively. Today, Kim Kardashian’s loose interpretation of ‘til death do us part’ strikes fear into their hearts, and Lindsay Lohan still lingers as a threat to our futures as well, most recently engulfed in scandal surrounding unpaid taxes of up to $100,000.
Some people seem to have no confidence in teenage girls to recognise bad behaviour when they see it and then know not to emulate it. However, I would like to remind those people that just because we are young, that doesn’t mean we are stupid! If a girl hears about a celebrity smoking marijuana, this doesn’t mean she will instantly go out and light up just because some actress did. I have seen that teenage girls, in general, look only at the positive characteristics of celebrities they admire.
I know no one who enjoyed Lindsay Lohan’s performance in Mean Girls who also appreciated her stints in jail and rehab. I can remember a conversation I had with my friends at age thirteen, discussing how disappointed we were that nude photos of Vanessa Hudgens, star of High School Musical, had appeared online. We didn’t want to copy; we were saddened.
And that’s just it – teenage girls don’t all copy the bad behaviour of celebrities. But more importantly, there is no ‘lack of positive role models’ in the lives of teenage girls. Some commentators believe that the dominance of wayward celebrities in popular culture means that young girls have no alternatives to admire. Yet all girls need to do is look a little further than the front pages of gossip magazines to find someone to look up to who isn’t constantly embroiled in gossip or scandal. And they do!
Over my teenage years, I have admired many people far more than Hollywood starlets. While Hudgens was nude online, young women in Year 12 at my school were gaining early entry to prestigious overseas universities, and walking into my French class and maintaining a fluent conversation with the teacher. I was awestruck at their intelligence and confidence, and sought to copy this as I grew older.
More recently, I have appreciated Leigh Sales’ assertive journalistic talent, as she wrangled uncomfortable truths out of Tony Abbott on ABC’s 7.30. As an aspiring journalist, I sat in awe, watching the interview on YouTube, and laughed gleefully at Abbott’s grudging ‘thank you’ at the end. Others girls my age have also shared my admiration of Sales in enthusiastic conversations.
Just yesterday, I read an article in Time Magazine about Malala Yousafzai, the fifteen-year-old Pakistani education activist shot in the face by the Taliban for her views. When discussing Malala with a younger girl, we both agreed that she was nothing short of heroic in her bravery and desire to keep campaigning for girls’ education, despite her horrific injuries.
The very concept of role models is complex. When you place someone on a pedestal in your mind, it can be very difficult to deal with her failures. Perhaps that is why Vanessa Hudgen’s indiscretions made thirteen-year-old me feel so uncomfortable. But the ability of young women to discern between admirable and unwise behaviour is also evidenced by the disappointment that I, and others, felt.
It is true that there will always be girls who make mistakes, just like there are much older people who make very foolish decisions. But most girls will never follow in the footsteps of badly behaved celebrities. Girls CAN separate talent from transgression, and they CAN find better people to look up to, and some commentators need to give them a little more credit.
Elisabeth Neale is a university student living in Sydney who has wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. She is studying a BA (Media and Communications) at the University of Sydney. She blogs at Elisabethan Era and can be followed on Twitter here.