The Power of Having Unconventional Role Models
In 2017, three of the most followed women on Instagram were Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande. It is pretty easy to see that all three of these stars are thin, gorgeous, and conventionally “feminine.” And there’s a reason these qualities stand out: the media values them the most.
Society paints a shallow and distorted picture of these women to millions of girls. Girls like us are basically told that in order to be successful, we need to be slim, conventionally beautiful and look like the celebrities all over our screens. Instead of embracing individuality, we’re pressured to mold ourselves in order to fit society’s warped stereotype of what a woman should be.
So how should we fix this problem? I believe that teenage girls will be more empowered if they found more successful female role models in real life, rather than on social media. I learned this lesson myself not long ago.
I spent much of middle and high school on social media, following celebrity culture religiously. When Vogue interviewed Taylor Swift in 2016, I watched the video so many times that I was almost able to recite her answers from memory. I spent my time thinning and straightening my naturally thick, curly hair to have Ariana Grande’s long straight hair.
I exercised constantly and starved myself in order to embody Taylor Swift’s slimness. I preferred to watch celebrities on social media instead of participating in school and in my community. No matter how hard I tried, I felt as though I could never be as beautiful or as perfect as the models on Instagram.
Things changed when I was fortunate enough to take part in a summer program that paired me with a female scientist and forced me to make conversation with her for an hour every week. Little by little, I formed a close relationship with my mentor and I was able to engage with her in a way that I never would with a celebrity. She helped me narrow down a career, decide which classes I wanted to take, and taught me about being a woman in the workforce. She showed me that successful women are diverse and that embracing my individuality is more important than fitting some stereotype.
This experience opened my eyes to the powerful women in my own world who have admirable traits that are not commonly found in society’s idea of a “model woman.” Instead of comparing myself to aspirational celebrities, I’ve accepted myself for who I am. I feel empowered, encouraged, and excited to take on life’s challenges.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Researchers found that female students were more likely to have positive feelings about STEM, a traditionally male dominated field, after being exposed to diverse and successful female professionals.
And, as I’ve learned, unconventional role models can truly change your life. Success comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important for us to know that.
By Dhanya Mahesh, 18