Thoughts on Role Models in the Information Age

You can’t really be my role model unless I don’t know you.

If I know you, it’s possible I admire you and want to be like you in some ways.  But if I know you, I also know what I don’t like about you, and I don’t want to emulate those things.  If I know you well enough to discern what I like and dislike about you, you probably know me too, and what we have is a relationship, not the role model kind.

I never really had actual role models until I started using social media.  I look up to my mom and some of my friends, but like I said, those relationships are deeper than role model relationships.  I have something to offer in those relationships, while role models are more one-sided.  I look at and admire my role models, but they get nothing from me, because they don’t know I exist.

Social media is the reason I consider some celebrities role models.  When I started watching Jane the Virgin, I looked up Gina Rodriguez and started following her on Insta and Twitter.  I like the majority of what I see there — she’s smart, she’s supportive of minorities, and she’s a proponent of self-care as it pertains to mental health.  I don’t actually know her, obviously.  I’ve never met her, and though I have a somewhat-intimate look at her thoughts through social media, all that is still filtered to the public, and she doesn’t know I exist and admire her.  Therefore, she is a role model to me.  The same thing happened with Emma Watson — she loves books and learning and is a huge supporter of womens’ education, and I love that.  I know all of that from Twitter and Insta.  Both of these ladies are currently supporting the #Time’sUp movement against sexual harrassment in Hollywood — that’s one more thing I admire.

Social media is also the reason some people fall from role model status, too.  When you can tweet all your thoughts to the world immediately, you’re bound to make a mistake somewhere.  The beauty of social media is that it breaks down barriers between celebrities and their fans, but that’s also its downfall.  Social media allows us to know celebrities almost too well — we’re reminded that we’re people, and it’s a lot harder to put them on pedestals.  For example, Gina recently tweeted this:

In the thread that followed, tons of people called her out, saying that they try and want to take care of themselves but can’t due to depression or other mental issues.  In responses, Gina stated that the tweet was meant to be a statement to herself, and she left the tweet up rather than deleting it.  I like that she left it up, because even though it could be seen as a PR mistake, it was still a true thought she had, and she chose to accept the backlash rather than hiding it by deletion.  However, because she used a very public platform to tweet a personal thought, in many people’s eyes she fell from role model status.

Role models — celebrities — are expected to be perfect.  We have to know them just enough to admire them and aspire to be like them, but not well enough to see their flaws and be reminded that they are human.  Before social media, this balance wasn’t that hard to maintain, since news and statements were filtered through editors and publicists before they were published.  Now, we can think a thought and put it out there for feedback in less than a minute.  That definitely skews the way we choose our role models.

Because of this, though, I think finding role models through social media can make us more empathetic.  Since celebrities are more likely to trip up with social media, we see it more often, and we have to forgive some of this if we want them to stay at role model status.  If we can consider a celebrity a role model through their mistakes and slip-ups, it’s possible we’re more likely to do that with our friends and family.  Social media reminds us that everyone is human, and that everyone deserves a little forgiveness now and then.

Does any of this make sense to you?  Do you have any celebrity role models, or do you prefer to admire those closer to you?  Do you think social media can make us more empathetic?

13 comments

  1. I’ve never really followed a celebrity on social media, but I’ve friended a couple of magazine authors and one cartoonist. My feeling has been that they’re not much different from me, therefore not really worthy of looking up to any more than I am. I’d love to find someone who lives the example I’d like to follow. My wife comes closest.

    • That makes sense. You don’t have to worry about idolizing people too much then! :) I love that your wife is the one you want to be like. The more you talk about her, the more you see like relationship #goals.

  2. An interesting perspective.
    I never saw myself having role models because of what you said in the beginning – I know these people have flaws. Instead, I choose different qualities from different people and try to combine into myself.
    With that being said, I cannot have celebrities as role models, either. Because I feel like they are fake (they have to put on a mask for the camera), and because I know they are faulty. And that’s even worse than the people I know, because the people I know have negative sides which I am aware about. Celebrities hide awful things.

    • I might argue that trying to emulate certain qualities from people makes them role models, but I guess that all depends on how you define a role model. And I definitely get you on the celebrities thing — we’ll never really know whether their public persona is their real self or not. If I were famous, I feel like it would be exhausting to maintain a completely different public persona, but I’m not famous, and I know people deal with things differently. Also, I think most people hide some horrible things, but when celebrities are already kind of unknown and their scandals get thrown everywhere by media that for sure makes everything look worse. And like they say, with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s easy to misuse. You made a lot of interesting points here! Thank you for reading. :)

  3. I don’t know that I have any role models but I’d like to? I hadn’t seen that Gina Rodriguez tweet but I agree that she was right to leave it up because deleting it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I think we all know now that once on the internet means forever on the internet and it’s more valuable for her to apologise and explain than it is to delete and ignore.

    Hmmm… You’ve given me a lot of food for thought!

  4. I can’t really say I have any pop culture celebrity role models to be honest – most of my celebrity obsessions in my teens have been of the romantic sort (I still think Kirstie Maldonado from Pentatonix is pretty hot). I think my role models have mostly been literary figures, like Hunter S Thompson and Neil Gaiman. This is was still a very interesting post though – I’m currently mentoring two children and it’s made me think about the relationship I want to (and can) have with them.

    • Kirstie is beautiful and no one can deny it. I had a few celebrity crushes too, but for me the admirations that begin purely for looks don’t last very long. That’s cool that literary figures are your — now that you mention it, there are several authors/books that have somewhat influenced the way I live my life, so that probably counts. I’m glad this post made you think!! :)

  5. It makes sense. And my “celebrity” role models are @deray, @reignofapril, and @thebloggess. I like them because they stand for something, and yet they are so perfectly imperfect in their humanity.

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