The Rise of the Social Media Influencer
In today’s technologically driven world, young people have access to a wealth of information. As a result of the flow of information this generation has also seen the rise of reality stars, such as the Kardashians, and Youtubers and Instagram-celebrities that have created a legion of followers through social media. A role model is defined by Merriam-Webster as someone whose ‘behaviour in a particular role is imitated by others. Unfortunately, these ‘celebrities’ have become role models for young people who look up to them for superficial reasons such as fashion and physical appearance.
Melania vs Michelle
I recently overheard a group of girls discussing how Melania Trump should become the First Lady because ‘it was about time that America had a gorgeous First Lady’. Not long after this incident, I came across a group, imaginatively named “Let’s Move Melania into the White House”. These young people having no affiliation to Donald Trump’s campaign, but justify their mission because Melania is “a fashion icon” and “incredibly beautiful.”
This led me to question the types of role models girls have today, and how beauty is prioritised over intelligence, hard work, and commitment. Girls should feel more inspired by Michelle Obama, a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer, who’s initiatives ‘Let’s Move’, ‘Joining Forces’, ‘Reach Higher’ and ‘Let Girls Learn’ have addressed several issues such as childhood obesity, further education and education for girls. They should aspire to be educated and self-sufficient.
Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel
At this year’s 2016 Rio Olympics, Simone Manuel, a Stanford University student, became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. Despite her athletic achievement, social media focused on the stigma that ‘black women refuse to get their hair wet’ and ‘blacks don’t swim’. But Manuel’s triumph was poignant considering the case of Dorothy Dandridge who in 1950s performed at a Las Vegas hotel despite a policy prohibiting black people from swimming in the hotel pool.
Through dedication, commitment, and perseverance, Simone Manuel has sought to rebel against stereotypes and the restrictions placed on her ancestors. Her win was an important event in the history of African Americans. Yet when you Google ‘current role models’ searches bring up pop stars and ‘Youtubers’. Why aren’t educated and accomplished people like Simone Manuel looked up to by the current generation and promoted in our media?
Fighter Pilot Mariam al Mansouri
Another example of a wonderful role model to young people today is Mariam al Mansouri, the first female fighter pilot of the UAE, who had to overcome gender stereotypes to achieve success and realise her dream at an early age. She dreamed about flying a fighter jet and remained committed to her goal until the role opened up for women. She has several awards under her belt; including the Pride of the Emirates medal and was honoured for ‘battling stereotypes, and terror, from the air’.
World’s Youngest Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai
And of course, how can we speak of role models without mentioning the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” Malala Yousafzai. She began her advocacy at the age of eleven when she wrote articles describing her life under the Taliban and her ideas promoting education for girls in her hometown. Since her shooting, she has become an international advocate for female rights and education for children.
There are concerns that in this social media age, young people can become disillusioned about issues in our world; that they will become increasingly naïve and materialistic because of the influence of social media influencers who have nothing to offer. We should all be aware of, and actively counteract, the negative effects of social media by promoting the lives and works of brave, intelligent and accomplished women who fight stereotypes, racism and sexism. We need to celebrate more role models like them.
By Siobhan Ali