So yesterday was the Oscars and Twitter was near-ruined for the day. So many tweets telling you no more than what you would be seeing happen on TV if you had chosen to watch it, perhaps with the addition of sparkling commentary such as “love her hair.” Urgh. So much vapidity. But what’s really caught my eye as been several tweets along these lines: “I’m watch the Oscars with my kids and the actresses are too skinny. I wish they could be good role-models for my daughters.”
Here’s the thing though: They don’t need to be role-models for your daughters at all.
To some extent that’s up to you. You already know the actresses are too thin. That’s unlikely to have suddenly changed since last year. You know that it’s a world (the world of Hollywood and the red carpet, not of all filmmaking of course) which is obsessed with a very specific definition of beauty, of which thinness is a central tenant. And you should surely realise that by making a big deal about it, getting excited, having a night in with your daughters and ooing and ahhing over the red carpet you are communicating to them that this is what really matters. That this red carpet celebrity is the highest order of achievement in our society. That being young and beautiful (and, yes, thin) is a critical component in making it in life.
I don’t mean to get all judgey here. We all have our vices and our distractions. I love sport and will no-doubt end up transferring a sense of disproportionate importance over it to my son, but at least sport has an active component of doing, of running around and being part of a team, even if the sportspeople you see on TV are not good role-models in other ways.
But celebrity culture is a cancer, distracting us from things that really matter by making us care about lives barely glimpsed or understood. Not the art produced by these stars, but the aura of stardom itself. The phenomenon of people being “famous for being famous”, of reality TV devoid of real skills (not competitions like Masterchef but voyeuristic exercises like Jersey Shore or Big Brother) and magazines devoted to the practice of harassment and embellishment, practices you implicitly endorse when you purchase Hello or OK! Or any other celebrity gossip magazines. And most concerningly it manifests in the increasing number of children who, growing up, aspire simply to be “famous.” Not to achieve anything in particular, not even to be rich, which might imply success in a specific industry such as music or films, but, simply, look-at-me, know-my-name fame as an end in itself. And because kids aren’t idiots they understand that there’s a strong correlation between fame and looks.
So if you don’t want your daughters to embrace red-carpet walking super-skinny female actresses as their role-mode then maybe skip the pre-Oscars show. Watch the ceremony, which is at least about artistic output, but skip the bit that is purely and simply about how people look and what they’re wearing. Because your daughters deserve to know that success is about what you produce and the meaning you create, not just your waistline and hair. Our fame-obsessed society will push their values at them no matter what you do, but it’s you inviting it into your living room and communicating to your children that this is what matters.
And if this all seems a bit over-the-top for a light-hearted bit of family evening entertainment, that’s fair enough. I know you work hard and you deserve to switch off a bit and enjoy a spectacle with your family. I totally get that. But accept that it’s not about role-models. Don’t blame the stars, they’re just doing what they’ve got to do to succeed in a system we all contribute to. Find great role-models for your daughters in other places, in changemakers, entrepreneurs, scientists or athletes.
Photo by ebbandflowphotography made available on a creative commons license on flickr.