Why Celebrities Make Me Not Want to Be a Feminist
Celebrities today are more than a talent. It takes more to remain on the forefront of pop culture than the ability to simply sing or act. Today, even models must be more than just a pretty face and size two figure. Everyone must have their own brand. They have to sell themselves and their lives to keep up with their fame. They must make themselves into role models and superheroes. They have to be beautiful, but modest; inspiring, but relatable; perfect, but authentic. They have to showcase their exciting lives on Instagram, and their witty humor on Twitter. They must be smart, informed, and motivated to make a difference.
Celebrities have also long been known to take on political movements and in many cases, have even become the face most associated with these movements. For example, Elizabeth Taylor fought for increased funding for AIDS research, Michael J. Fox continues to advocate for stem cell research, and Ronald Reagan even made the leap from actor to President of the United States after spending years supporting the anti-Communism movement.
Feminism in particular has also been a popular cause among celebrities. Female celebrities such as Jodie Foster, Candice Bergen, and Meryl Streep have been advocating for women’s rights for many decades now, but the trend has recently picked up in Hollywood as an increasing number of female celebrities brand themselves “feminists” and champions of the cause. Celebrities such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Lena Dunham have taken a stand on what it means to be a feminist, and while it’s true that some do it better than others, this decades-old tradition of celebrity feminism is more detrimental than beneficial. As celebrities use feminism to promote their own brand, they cause many young girls to believe in a warped version of feminism, others to want to dissociate themselves completely, and are standing in the way of real progression for women.
One of the biggest issues with many celebrities’ support of feminism is that they do not backup their claims of feminist views with feminist actions. They often stress female empowerment and positive body image, while acting in a way that suggests that a woman’s body is the source of her worth.
Unfortunately, for many Celebrity Feminists, their actions contradict their platitudes
For example, Gigi Hadid, one of the highest paid supermodels in the US, told Daily Mail Australia that “You don't have to go with the cookie-cutter version of what people tell you you're supposed to be.”
And if one were to only listen to what she had to say, one would applaud her inspirational words. Unfortunately, however, like most other celebrities, her actions contradict her platitudes. Only a few months after Hadid’s interview, she starred in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in which ten tall, skinny models are chosen to prance around a runway wearing jewel-encrusted lingerie. Even Taylor Swift, who identifies as a feminist, has performed at the show and has publicly praised her friends for modeling in the show.
It would be one thing if everyone, models included, viewed this show to be purely about money—if the models accepted that they were selling themselves in order to sell clothes for Victoria’s Secret. Strangely enough, this is not the case as the models in this show, known as angels, are actually proud of this lofty accomplishment of being chosen to walk, scantily clad, down the runway for the world to see.
When Hadid’s sister was chosen to also appear as an “Angel” in the show, she told reporters that she had watched the show every year as a kid and was so proud of her sister and excited that she would be joining her at the show. Even their mother thanked her daughters on social media for letting her witness “this special moment in time.” After the show, Gigi Hadid’s sister, Bella, exclaimed on social media that she was honored to have walked “next to some of the most inspiring and incredible women in the world!”
It’s hard to ignore the glaring contradictions that make up this infamous spectacle. Not only is this show not the feminist, empowering performance that it is made out to be; it is, in fact, quite the opposite: it promotes the objectification of women. This show perpetuates the trending belief that a healthy body image is synonymous with a woman feeling comfortable exposing her body on a daily basis. Lena Dunham, one of the most outspoken “feminist” celebrities, often posts half-naked pictures of herself online to promote a “healthy body image” since she believes that to feel comfortable with your body, you must also feel comfortable sharing pictures of your body with the world.
Another current “feminist” icon, Beyonce, has famously said that “the most alluring thing a women can have is confidence.” If confidence truly is the most alluring thing, though, then why does Beyonce insist on only wearing short, skin-tight, revealing clothing? One could argue that Beyonce’s way of expressing her confidence is through her dress, or even that her confidence is the motivating factor in choosing to dress as she does. But if equality is the goal, then society should be moving in a direction where confidence is no longer associated with physical appearance. Confidence alone should be used as a way to gain respect. And while feminism has made significant strides in the past few decades, women are not nearly done fighting the battle to gain the respect of their male counterparts. Female celebrities should certainly be allowed to dress as they wish while performing; however, their promiscuous outfits promote the very objectification of women that they claim to reject.
Just a few months ago, Ariana Grande, pop superstar, wrote a letter about an incident in which she felt objectified. Grande wrote that she “is not a piece of meat that a man gets to utilize for his pleasure.” She is absolutely right. A culture in which objectification of women is prevalent is abhorrent and unacceptable; however, Grande’s history makes it hard to take her seriously. She often performs in glorified lingerie, sings about sex (her last song implied she could not walk straight after all the sex she had), and acts seductively in her music videos. She seems perfectly fine promoting her sex symbol image, which is understandable for a performer, but it makes her the wrong spokesperson for anti-objectification of women.
If women want to earn respect and show the world how powerful and intelligent they can be, then it starts with ensuring that they are viewed as smart, competent individuals--not as objects. It is a harsh reality, and women certainly should not be held responsible for men’s thoughts, but if women want to be respected in this day and age then they should not dress in a way that encourages objectification. While it may be empowering to defy conventional rules of society and show off more skin, it only hurts women in the long run as women are objectified and not taken seriously.
It has been scientifically proven that men view skimpily dressed women as tools, and furthermore, that this type of objectification has detrimental physical and mental effects on women. If celebrities want to speak up for women’s rights, then they should be doing all they can to support women. Their decisions to dress provocatively only hurts women, especially young girls, as they feel encouraged to follow the lead of their celebrity role models and “exude confidence” in similar clothing, or lack thereof, and end up being objectified for it.
Beyond the superficial feminism that many celebrities promote, there lies a deeper problem: those whom are not encouraged and turned off by it. Many young girls find celebrity feminism inspiring, but those who do not are being turned off to feminism completely. They do not trust the authenticity, or identify with the actions, of these celebrities and are instead running the other way. After the presidential election that saw Hillary Clinton lose to Donald Trump, research was conducted that found that the endorsements of many female celebrities did not help Clinton clinch the “feminist” victory, but rather may have hurt both her cause and the movement as a whole.
According to the results, only about 20% of the women surveyed care more about gender equality as a result of celebrities’ endorsements of feminism and 30% of the women actually care less about women’s rights as a result of Taylor Swift’s involvement in the movement. As people begin to see celebrity feminism for what it really is, a marketing tool that celebrities use to further their brands, maintain their status, and increase their earnings, the less they view legitimate feminism as a significant movement whose goal is to work toward equality in all sectors of life. Many women look at the media and see celebrities who they have little respect for as ambassadors of the feminist movement and because of this, disassociate themselves from the movement entirely, saying they are not feminists at all.
Celebrity Feminism has also been condemned for giving rise to "choice feminism." This is the phenomenon that ascribes significance to the ability to make the choice, but not to the choice itself. This explains why the Hadids and Dunham can promote wearing little clothing and then posting half-naked selfies online. While they may not be good choices that are beneficial to anyone, that is not the point. The point is that they have the power to make the choice, even if it is completely counter-productive. Feminists should be empowering women to make smart, informed choices, not just choose for the sake of choosing.
There is a way to take back feminism from the celebrities who are abusing the cause for their own selfish needs. While we cannot stop celebrities from using movements like feminism to build their brands, we can work to ensure that the more authentic role models, the ones who are making concrete progress on women’s rights are the ones in the limelight. Women like former CEO and Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Indian-born Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi are proving women can rise to power in business no matter where they come from or where they intend to go. Fiorina might have been intimidated by the largely male Republican party and Nooyi could have shied away from making something of herself in a new country, but both succeeded regardless. There are women leading countries like Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and women representing their country as Ambassador to the UN like Nikki Haley. There is no shortage of female role models, so why settle for Taylor Swift?