Should celebrities influence you more than your parents?

Well they’re so much more in touch with the latest trends. But they don’t know me personally or care about me. They aren’t qualified to advise me. What makes my parents any better? Hmm… we need to explore this…

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The power of influence: match the celebrity to the action

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Parents vs celebs

Whether it’s your favourite pop star, athlete, or actor, famous folk can make a real difference to your life – even if you've never met them. Dr Ruth Scobie from the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, explains how stars can help you – in a way that even your parents can’t…


The red carpet

Which celebrities do you follow on social media? Have you ever had a poster of a singer or a footballer on your bedroom wall?

The way we think about famous people can have a real impact – for good and for bad. Maybe you spend your money on an outfit you saw your favourite actress in, or the boots your favourite footballer wears – even if your parents tell you not to. 

But then maybe you’ve been inspired to vote, or you’ve felt able to stand up against racism or sexism, because of something your favourite pop star has said. When you can quickly find out what celebrities think about every issue through social media and the Internet, it’s easy to feel a really strong connection with them.

And it’s not just about wanting to be like a famous person – it’s more complicated than that. Dr Ruth Scobie is an expert in celebrity throughout history, and says that thinking of famous people just as role models for young people to copy is too simple.

“Fans use celebrities as a way of exploring their feelings, how they relate to people, what kind of person they want to be, what kind of friends they want to have [and] their sexuality,” she says.

It takes a village

Dr Scobie points out that when people used to live in extended families and big communities, young people had lots of adults to watch and learn from. Now that people live in small family groups, celebrities in the media have gone some way to replacing those other grown-ups.

“It’s a new village of people that you can look at and go, ‘I’d like to be like that person’ or ‘That relationship isn’t working’ – you can talk about marriage, you can talk about how people relate to each other, all those kinds of issues through these imaginary relationships,” she says.

In fact, Dr Scobie thinks that learning from celebrities might be more useful in some ways than learning from people in everyday life.

“I can go back to any newspaper in the 18th century... and there will still be complaints that young people just want to be in the newspapers.”

“The advantage of celebrity is it’s people who are outside your personal experience,” she says. “For a child growing up in a rural community where everyone looks the same, celebrity offers people of different races, different sexualities, behaving in different ways… it offers some ideas about how they can be and opens up all these possibilities.”

Dr Scobie says it’s important for young people to see themselves represented in the media and in positions of power – and a broad range of celebrities can do this. Beyonce has led campaigns against racism and sexism, and has been a big supporter of education. Lady Gaga has been really vocal in discussing sex and sexuality. That means that just in the world of pop music alone, there are  some new, different, incredibly successful role models available to them.

The fame game

This might all sound a bit strange – after all, every time The X Factor or The Voice is on television, there are noisy complaints about young people just wanting to be famous, and celebrities being bad examples for them to follow.

Scobie is quick to add that none of this is new. 

“It's not new for there to be complaints about how young people just want to be famous and it’s all very shallow,” she reveals. “I can go back to any newspaper in the 18th century, particularly around the end of the 18th century, which is quite a long time ago, and there will still be complaints that young people just want to be in the newspapers.”

The media’s interest in famous people isn’t new either – and nor is the way they report about them, whether that’s positive or negative. In fact, Scobie says that actresses in the 17th and 18th century were talked about in a similar way to how the Kardashians are talked about today; she describes it as “exaggerated, over-the-top loathing”.

Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian backstage at The Heart Truths Red Dress Collection 2010.

And over the past centuries, celebrities’ high profile and their work have helped young people to deal with problems in their own lives. Dr Scobie mentions the poetry of Lord Byron, famous for his love affairs with men and women, as an example. 

“In the 19th century, there’s a diary by a woman who was a lesbian, who didn’t have any concept of that,” says Dr Scobie. “She’s really into Byron as this figure who can provide some kind of model of how to not be the same as everybody else.”

Portrait of Lord Byron by Henry Pierce Bone

Portrait of Lord Byron by Henry Pierce Bone

It’s clear that a lot of people look up to celebrities – but should you take their advice or copy their behaviour? Perhaps the people you know best and have your interests at heart – i.e. your friends and family – would be better role models for you. What do you think?

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Top 5 worries parents can have about celebrities

Celebrities can be seen as role models - people to look up to and who inspire you but many parents get worried that their influence can have a negative impact. Here's 5 common concerns:

  1. Celebrities are all about looks 
    1. Celebrity culture puts a lot of pressure on having the perfect body. In your teens, you’re particularly sensitive to what people –particularly, your friends- think of you. Being overly concerned about living up to this ideal of beauty can lead to unhealthy disappointment with your body image (the perception of the beauty and attractiveness of your body). And this is something that worries a lot of parents. For example, being obsessed with the idea that females have to be skinny and males have to be physically strong can trigger eating disorders such as anorexia (keeping your weight as low as possible by starving yourself or exercising excessively) or bulimia (eating a lot and then making yourself sick to control your weight). It doesn’t help that often the celebrity images you see are airbrushed – digitally edited to remove or add certain features. So not everything is what it seems.    
  2. Celebrity culture can make you want more things
    1. From having the latest smartphone to wearing clothes straight from the catwalk, ultimately this comes down to money and the things you own. Celebrities are paid by brands to push sales and young people are often the target for this type of advertising. In this way, celebrities carry the idea that to be happy you need to have lots of material things or to be materialistic. You might take pleasure in buying things you don’t necessary need because this becomes your model of happiness. This is a compensatory strategy- a way to reassure yourself and feel better when you feel insecure or sad. Materialism is also linked with the need for approval from friends and peers. Buying the latest object on trend can be a way to ‘fit in’ and be accepted within a friendship group. 
  3. Celebrities can make you go wild!
    1. Some celebrities (e.g. Lindsay Lohan, Wiz Khalifa, Miley Cyrus…) party a lot, drink heavily and take drugs openly. Because celebrities have a lifestyle that some teens look up to, some parents worry that they encourage children to adopt the same dangerous behaviours. This glamorous and reckless lifestyle can –of course- have a negative impact on your health (i.e. the risks associated with taking drugs, binge drinking and having unprotected sex). In general, teens have a greater potential for reckless behaviour compared to other developmental periods (such as young childhood and adulthood). They are usually more sensation seeking- trying to gain approval from their mates- and tend not to pay attention to the possible results of their actions. What do you think? Do you know anyone who is obsessed with celebrities? 
  4. Fame for fame's sake
    1. In 2013, former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron said that because of celebrities’ influence, too many young people in England wanted to become footballers or popstars. Of course, the idea that children might just want fame rather than achievement based on hard work is something that worries many parents. Indeed fame doesn’t ensure a stable future and can depend on luck rather than just pure talent. During your teens, some argue that you’re particularly sensitive to the appeal of fame. For some, it can be seen as a guarantee of life long social inclusion (the feeling of being valued within a group of people). Researchers have shown that the more concerned you are with feeling included in a group, the more likely you are to want to be famous. Likewise, the more narcissistic (self-obsessed/vain) you are, the more you might find fame appealing. 
  5. Fame can make you lose your identity 
    1. According to Erikson’s stages of development, your teens is a really important time to set your identity (who you think you are and who you want to be). Celebrities can be role models that inspire you (in good or bad ways) to become who you want to be. But celebrity culture can be very restrictive in its definition of success (having the so-called ‘perfect’ body, a glamorous life, having money). One of the dangers is that those criteria can prevent you from discovering your true self. You might feel pressured to adopt the same aspirations as celebrities because they seem to have succeeded in society. Of course this is also particularly worrying for parents because they see their children taking more and more influence from others in a shift away from gaining support from the family.
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Hello Dr. Celebrity

Should celebs stop giving medical advice when they're not technically experts? Or can they have a positive impact in creating awareness about certain health conditions?

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Whose celebrity team are you on?

Lots of us spend a huge amount of time talking about celebs with our friends. Is this just mindless chatter or can it serve some important psychological function to help us make new friends and strengthen of bonds with our mates? 


Some people worry that young people are just too influenced by celebrities. But lots of celebs use their status to promote causes or raise money for charity. For example every year celebs appear on Comic Relief and Red Nose Day to persuade people to donate millions of pounds to charity. 

It’s less clear whether celebrities like Kim Kardashain- famous for being famous- are positive role models. Or footballers caught cheating on their wives or girlfriends, or speeding in their latest super cars. But psychologists have shown that celebrity talk with our friends can sometimes serve an important social purpose. 

Celebrities spark useful debate

Some researchers think that celebrity talk is a way for young people to discuss big moral and ethical questions, like domestic violence, drugs, mental health and sex and relationship. Celeb talk is part of how we share our ideas and values on all sorts of topics. In the past, mythology and the bible served a similar function for many people. 

An example is Meghan Trainor’s song “All about the Bass”. It sparked off debates about body image, an important topic for lots of young people. Some people think the song celebrates curvy women. So often celebs are skinny, yet here is a song celebrating women who “ain’t no size two” and telling them not to worry about their weight, “yeah, my momma she told me don't worry about your size.” Other people interpret this song differently arguing that it shames skinny people. Whatever your opinion is, it’s clear that songs like this can become talking points about big issues in society. 

Meghan Trainor

Celebs can affirm your identity

People often look up to celebrity and sport heroes that affirm their identities, like their nationality, ethnicity or gender. For example, Nadiya Hussain who won Great British Bake Off, might help affirm the identities of some British Muslim women. The footballer Rio Ferdinand might also be a role model for people who have suffered from mental health problems. As part of a big mental health campaign in 2017 led by Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton, he spoke out about his experiences with mental health after his wife died. The rapper Professor Green has also spoken up about his experiences with anxiety and losing his Dad to suicide. Knowing celebs have had similar experiences to you can be really comforting.

Celebs and social groups

Liking the same celebs as other people can also be a way of making friends. Being part of a fan group can feel like you’re part of a community- whether the fan group is online or just you and some mates at school liking the same footballers or bands. Admiring the same celebs as someone else can be a way of making friends or forming closer ties with your existing friends. Hating the same celebs can also unite people! Maybe you and your mates all hate Justin Bieber, or maybe it’s One Direction or Simon Cowell! 

Whichever celebs you and your friends love, or love to hate, celebs can be an important way of showing social affiliations or social groups. Psychologists who study group behaviour have found that having the same values and ideals as others is one way that friendships and group identities form. Like or hating the same celebs can unite groups, bringing them closer together and providing a talking point to discuss wider issues like morals and world views. 

Within groups there can be pressure to conform. We often feel the need to fit in with those around us, and can find our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours become more similar to those of our friends over time. You might notice this happening or it might be unconscious. Over time you’re more likely to start liking or hating the same celebs as your friends- or maybe you’ll pretend to like/hate them when you’re with your friends but privately hold a different view! With celebs such an important part of teenage culture, it’s certainly hard to avoid the topic!

So is celeb talk just a waste of time or does it serve some important social functions? What do you think?

In a 2015 poll of 2,287 UK parents, 78% voted Miley Cyrus as the worst role model for children, followed by Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. Who would top the poll this year..?

In a 2015 poll of 2,287 UK parents, 78% voted Miley Cyrus as the worst role model for children, followed by Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. Who would top the poll this year..?

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Top 6 celeb advice tweets

  1. 'They will only call you weird until you are successful, then they call you eccentric.'
    1. This tweet by Hollywood actor, Ashton Kutcher sees him wonder about the fuzzy link between personal achievement and individuality. He reflects that people may view you as different if you are driven towards a particular goal, but if you are successful then people may be more likely to celebrate these differences. What do you think?  
  2. 'I know first-hand that talking changes lives... so let’s have as many conversations about mental health as we can'.
    1. Writer and actor, Stephen Fry has always been a passionate believer in the value of talking about mental health, and here he supports the 'Time to Talk' campaign that encourages conversation and aims to end the stigma (negative ideas) around mental health problems. Can you remember the last time you had a conversation about mental health?
  3. 'Humans are humans, it does not matter where we come from! What matters is what we stand for and what we can achieve.'
    1. Model, Cara Delevingne's inspirational tweet calls for human equality, urging people to unite and focus on what people can achieve rather than where they come from in the world.
  4. 'If you're waiting for universal popularity, you'll be on Twitter a VERY long time.'
    1. The Harry Potter creator, J.K Rowling sums up social media in one single tweet here; she understands that being a public platform, popularity is not always easy to come by. Do you think it matters to be popular on social media?   
  5. 'hey guys, if you want to give the best christmas present ever - sponsor a girl so she can get an education.'
    1. Actress, Emma Watson is a huge educational ambassador, particularly when it comes to opportunities available for girls. Famous for her work on feminism, she promotes and speaks publicly on gender equality and works to get men involved in issues affecting women. 
  6. 'I'm still asking you to believe - not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.'
    1. Former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, tweeted this powerful statement just as his term of office as president was coming to a close. He made a plea to the people of America to believe in their own ability to change, and showed them he’d support them, even when no longer the president.