Why Won’t You Stay on the Damn Pedestal?

Jennifer Lawrence has become my hero. I’ve fallen in love with her as an actress who chooses strong, fantastic, and meaningful roles. I’ve fallen in love with her as a celebrity who criticizes and rejects the ridiculous beauty standards and expectations of the media.

85th Annual Academy Awards - Press Room

It’s the most adorable middle finger I’ve ever seen! *swoons*

And I’ve just plain fallen in love with her because she’s adorable and beautiful and the type of girl I would totally date if she’d go out with me.

Have you spotted the problem yet?

I didn’t initially, but there’s another celebrity who has opened my eyes: Miley Cyrus.

How could Miley have anything to do with my admiration for Jennifer Lawrence?

Just that the whole reason why Miley is facing so much criticism for her current choices is because she used to be a kind of Jennifer Lawrence to a lot of people.

Found over on Perez Hilton. The caption really says it all about the expectations she faces.

Would Hannah Montana act like this? I don’t know. Is it fair to expect a person to remain true to a FICTIONAL personality for the rest of her life? Hannah Montana was created by screen writers. It never has been who Miley is, just who she played.

I’m talking about pedestaled celebrities. Our role models, our activists, our political compasses, our surrogate dates, our media representatives that verify our own disgust of whatever else is happening in the media—we deify them, stalk them, and hang onto their every word.

And when we discover that they’re human, that they make mistakes, that they don’t always know what they’re doing, that they change their minds, that they cave to pressure, or that they don’t agree with all of our own political or moral stances, we’re inevitably disappointed.

Devastated really.

And then we take it out on them, because it’s obviously their fault that they fell off of the pedestal we so generously bestowed upon them.

How could they? How could they do something so disagreeable when they have such a heavy influence with their position and popularity? How could they pass those messages onto children who look up to them the way we’ve trained children to look up to them?

But the question that we really should be asking ourselves is, “How could they not?”

I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with a camera in my face all of the time. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through my day knowing that thousands of other people were scrutinizing my every move in order to emulate or criticize.

That kind of pressure is insane.

Admiration is one thing, but I think we are doing a huge disservice to both celebrities and ourselves when we expect them to be the perfect example of how we should live our lives.

Miley got me thinking about how I would feel if Jennifer Lawrence was exposed by a tabloid as anorexic after all the things she’s said about rejecting the impossible weight standards others have tried to force on her.

Part of me felt that it would be tragic but understandable. Part of me felt outraged and devastated at the possibility.

I took that as a good sign—my sanity hadn’t entirely fallen asleep yet, despite the way I’d been mooning over her the last few months. I want the understanding part of me to win out. I don’t want Jennifer to have so much power over my views of the world that her own personal, human struggles and choices can devastate me.

Nor do I want her to live her life in fear of ever making mistakes because of what others (strangers) might think. That’s no way to live. Without the freedom to make mistakes, what is the value in making good choices? She deserves to have the right to make mistakes and make bad decisions—just like me.

It’s not Jennifer’s job to convince me that my body is worth taking care of. It’s not Miley’s job to show me what a healthy sexuality looks like. It’s not their job to make sure all of their personal decisions meet my approval. It’s not their job to make sure they’re only sending out the messages to the world that I want them to send out.

I hope Jennifer continues to fight the pressure in Hollywood, but not for my sake. I hope she fights the pressure for her own sake. I hope she stays true to herself, regardless of whether her fans approve or not. I hope when she speaks out in interviews about the unfair weight expectations actresses face that she does so because that’s the person she wants to be, not because she’s trying to live up to some role that someone else she’s never met has placed on her.

It’s my job to make sure that my admiration for celebrities doesn’t turn into a foisting of my own responsibility to think and make choices for myself onto them. It’s my job to make sure that I’m promoting the principles and ideas that are important to me.

To build on the famous Gandhi quote: I have to be the person I want to see in the world. And I don’t want to be the type of person that can’t handle someone I admire being a human being who makes mistakes. I don’t want to be the type of person who can’t tolerate a stranger making a personal choice that I might disagree with.

As a note, I’d like to make it clear that I’m referring to the sexual aspects of Miley’s VMA performance and the nudity in her music video for which she has been so heavily criticized. I am not diminishing or dismissing the racial issues of her performance. I think there is a huge difference between her sexual expression and her treatment of racialized people. 

We need to have a conversation about how celebrities treat other people and other groups, but it would be downright hypocritical if we didn’t also talk about how we treat female celebrities as a society and racialized performers as a society (hint: Robin Thicke isn’t being criticized for his performance with Miley. No one is mourning Beyonce’s fall from ‘role model’ status after the Super Bowl; although she certainly faced her fair share of ridiculous slut-shaming).

For more on the racial problems of the VMAs, Gradient Lair does some good pieces here and here. In her analysis of privilege in human rights campaigns, Dani Kelley links to a good article on the problematic meaning of Black bodies to highlight a White performer. And check out this post on the hypocrisy of slut-shaming and how the feminist defense has a tendency to differ based on race. All of these posts are good reads to spark some thought about privilege and race that don’t fall into the trap of slut-shaming at the same time.