Column: Idolizing celebrities negatively affects teenagers' self-images - Collegiate Times : Opinion

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Column: Idolizing celebrities negatively affects teenagers' self-images

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2008 12:00 am

At the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant, Miss Teen South Carolina was asked why one fifth of Americans couldn't locate the USA on a world map.

She replied, "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps, and I believe that our education like such as South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like, such as, and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., or should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for our children."

We all know that pageant girls may not collectively be the brightest crayons in the box, but in the most recent Miss America competition, the young ladies addressed some very relevant issues. Since the beginning of the human race, younger generations have idolized their elders.

When one is a young child, the mother and father are often revered as practically immortal, as if they could do no wrong. As young children turn into preteens, they switch gears and begin idolizing a younger and hotter crowd. This isn't a recent development in the stages of growing up; in fact, dating back to legends such as Frank Sinatra and Vivien Leigh, stars influenced the choices made by teens all over the world. Whether the younger generation was influenced to wear certain brands of clothing, get their haircut in a certain style, or pick up different hobbies, celebrities always did have a controlling influence on the younger generation.

One of the few legitimate points that multiple pageant women made in the most recent competition is that celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are being idolized and it is affecting the future of America in the worst ways. We criticize them, and at the same time we rush to hear about their latest disasters. We love to hate them but we seem to idolize them while other critical issues sit on the back burner.

The Hilton sisters (who should invest in eating more) have succeeded in wooing VH1 with how and where they like to spend every penny their daddy gives them. Don't get me wrong, I do not doubt their magnificent skills in the art of shopping, but there is a place where one must draw the line. Coming in and out of rehab like it is just another designer store is not the message that the younger generation should be witnessing. Just this week, there was a woman on "Dr. Phil" who said she would dump all of her friends if she could live the life of the Hilton sisters who she called her "idols." Pathetic.

In a study of 142 junior high school girls, researchers found that girls who strongly idolized a male celebrity were rated higher in materialism. Heath Ledger, who had amazing looks and who we all loved, but death via overdose? This is neither the first nor last instance that a talented individual will be proclaimed dead over drugs or alcohol overdose. Some of them are drugged up, some in rehab and some are having major meltdowns, yet we all want to be like them in one way or another. What is there to idolize?

The National Eating Disorder Association keeps statistics on the dieting habits of young women. Data shows 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls say they want to be thinner, and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

That statistic in itself should be a red flag to all celebrities, young and old. The image that they are sending to America's youngest generation is both unhealthy and unsafe. More than half of 9- and 10-year-old girls said they feel better about themselves if they are on a diet, according to NEDA. Personally, I think the only thing 8-year-olds should be concerned about is which Disney movie they want to see most on Friday night.

When we were younger, pogs were all the rage and the Backstreet Boys lyrics were better memorized then the Pledge of Allegiance. The stress of weight and health was the last thing on our minds. In this day and age, "The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds," according to the National Eating Disorder Association Web site. "Most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women."

Eating disorders have a higher mortality rate than any other mental health problem, including schizophrenia and manic depression. Weiner said 20 percent of people with eating disorders die from the disease. While an eating disorder is a mental illness, media images are a contributing factor to the disease. Obviously, it is impossible to change the standard of living to mandate healthy lifestyle, but I believe that there are other ways to encourage a more healthy way of life.

Promoting healthy weight loss at appropriate ages is one step worth taking to veer young adults away from the influences of some of the horrible role models in today's society. Celebrities themselves must take the initiative to educate young men and women about ridiculous dieting, drugs and alcohol. Coming from someone who is idolized by the younger generation will have a greater impact on children who are struggling with adolescence and are just trying to "fit in." There are so many steps that can prevent generations below us from becoming like many of the pop stars today; it is just up to the revered ones to make it known.

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