As a new columnist for Villainesse, a digital magazine for young women, I have been thinking a lot about the power of influence and who our youth look up to as role models.
I remember my teenage years consisted of watching Judith Hann explain technology on Tomorrows world, and Katherine Janeway command the Starship USS Voyager.
These were smart women who were famous for using their intelligence to explain technical content, be effective communicators and show leadership skills. To me these women were role models that I aspired to be like (yes I know one of them is fictional).
I look at how television shows have changed since then, how we’ve lost science and tech education shows like tomorrows world and instead make people famous by following them with cameras catching their extroverted personalities in shows claiming to depict reality by creating a platform for highly emotional responses.
I think about whether losing shows that educate and inform and replacing them with ones that entertain and ridicule has a much broader effect on our youth and their perception of personal qualities that they aspire to have to be successful.
Being famous, or being a celebrity comes with great power, the power to influence, to guide, to inspire.
For my first column, I ask the question:
I recently visited a high school and asked 100 students to name a famous living woman in each category:
1 – TV
2 – Music
3 – Sport
4 – Science
They easily had answers to the first three, names like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Valerie Adams, and Kim Kardashian, but when it came to number four I was bombarded with blank faces. 100% of the students I asked could not name a famous living female scientist, not one! You may not think this is an issue, but how much influence do these celebrity role models have on our health decisions and beauty purchases?
Gwyneth Paltrow has a whole section of her website dedicated to the science of detoxing and why it’s good for you; so [allegedly] good that a multi-million dollar industry has been created from it. The problem is, actual scientists state that there are no medical or scientific bases supporting the value of detoxing with juice or soup, only fasts. Our liver and kidneys are already excellent at removing toxins, so simply having a healthy diet will allow your body to work efficiently, no juice and soup detox necessary.
Alicia Silverstone wrote a book called The Kind Mama, and in it she claimed that chemicals used in tampons might cause infertility. Again, there are zero scientific studies backing up that statement and research studies actually show that tampon use seems linked to protecting women from the disease endometriosis.
How about Kim Kardashian and her highly publicised use of vampire facials, where needles filled with her own blood are injected into her face to reduce the appearance of ageing? Yes, you guessed it, no real science showing it has any effect on facial wrinkles, yet the number of women choosing the treatment has skyrocketed since Mrs K-W posted an after-treatment photo of her bloodied face on Instagram.
So why do we believe celebrities over scientists? My guess is it’s mostly marketing. Celebrities have fancy blogs, Instagram feeds of perfectly photoshopped photographs; they tag on to popular Twitter hashtags and have millions of followers who watch their every move. In the meantime scientists are busy in their labs, they write complex jargon-filled research papers instead of picture-filled magazine articles, and our TV screens are hardly filled with reality science shows.
In a world where public status seems to correlate to how many designer outfits you have, how low your BMI is and whether or not you have a full-lipped pout for the cameras, scientists will always lose. But wouldn’t you want to take advice from an expert rather than from somebody with absolutely no qualifications in the field, who may be getting paid to endorse a certain product?
It’s time for a new breed of celebrity; one that values cold, hard logic over cold, hard cash. One that can tell the difference between a potentially harmful fad and a scientifically-proven solution. It’s time to make celebrities out of scientists, to create positive role models for careers young women may never have considered, and to promote the value of brains over beauty.
Celebrities are created by us, the public; we decide who we watch, who we follow and who we blog about. So next time you see a celebrity endorsement, take a moment to think about whether that celeb actually has a clue what they’re talking about. Let’s think about who we’re listening to.