While at the gym yesterday, one of the Pussycat Dolls’ songs came on my iPod. My teenage daughter keeps me hip by adding songs I normally wouldn’t choose, and as I listened to “When I Grow Up”, I realized how becoming famous is replacing so many other goals for kids.
When I grow up
I wanna be famous
I wanna be a star
I wanna be in movies
When I grow up
I wanna see the world
Drive nice cars
I wanna have groupies
I recently attended an empowerment think tank meeting led by Jess Weiner. I am a part of her Actionist Network™ and Jess’ mission is clear… “to create a nation of confident women and girls”. Our purpose was to brainstorm and to construct strategies for companies and media to help support messages of self-esteem to young girls. As we discussed issues that are prevalent in our culture as well as the body image messages that are being reinforced to our young girls, a statistic popped up from Jess’ Power Point presentation. I’m completely misquoting her research in that I can’t remember if it was a study of 10 or 10,000 tween girls (8-12 years old), but the resulting information was clear. When the girls were asked what the top three career choices are for them, they unequivocally answered:
The "famous" career choice seemed odd to me because up until that moment, I didn’t realize “famous” was a career. But, for today’s young culture, I’m realizing that it is a noble goal. I can see one of these girls at a future job interview…yes, I graduated summa cum laude with a major in famous and a minor in reality TV.
Think of Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin, or the entire cast of The Hills. All of these people have turned themselves into celebrities by being famous and not by any other merit. They are famous for being famous.
I completely understand, though, why everyone would love to be a famous when they grow up. Having a level of fame gives you a voice, a platform from which you can address serious social issues. You can affect national policy and bring attention to the need of under-served kids in this country or address the need for sweeping educational reform. You can help non-profits raise funds and increase their visibility. You could go to the Gulf and demand answers about the oil spill. You and the paparazzi that would follow you around could make such a positive impact on the world. Or, you can do what most famous-for-being-famous people do and use your platform to make tons of money, wear expensive designer clothing, host gigs in Las Vegas, and appear on talk shows bemoaning how hard it is to be famous.
So what do we tell our girls who just want to be famous? I tell mine that being famous is fine if you understand that what you are really saying is that you want to be recognized and validated. You want people to notice you and to listen to what you have to say. You want to have your place in the world and to not be invisible. I get it. These same goals are on my career radar but in what I think is the right order. I have a career as a writer and I write for others to connect. I need to be visible so my writing is accessible, but what drives me is my need to communicate not my need to be famous.
More than ever, we need to start to advise our kids to become famous for their message. Tell them to be meaningful and to make an impact of sizeable proportion with their insights. Let’s steer them away from finding fame in a sex tape or reality show or by having multiple children because there is a key difference between being famous and being respectable.