You walk into her room and it looks like the room of a typical teenage girl: posters of favorite celebrities on the wall, glossy magazines litter the floor, hip hop music with suggestive lyrics playing in the background, and tiny pieces of clothing spread across her bed. However, this is not the room of a high school teenager, this is Tiffany Brennan's room and she just turned 12 two weeks ago. She proudly points out her favorite celebrities on her wall, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins, and shows me the scrapbook that she has made from them using magazine cutouts.
I love Lindsay Lohan because I think she is really pretty and does make-up really well. I like her clothes, but when I wear things like that I don't look as good,she says wistfully, glancing at her own reflection in the mirror, most likely lamenting her still pre-pubescent figure without the curves.
I still like to copy her clothes though, Tiffany adds quickly, pointing to the clothes on her bed, which includes an array of tiny, glittery tees and short shorts.
At age twelve, Tiffany seems to already have matured to the status of a high school teenage girl, whether it is the clothes she wears, or the older celebrities that she worships. Mrs. Brennan expresses her concern saying,
Tiffany is still so young, but she wants to seem so much older. The other day at Target, she wanted me to buy her thongs!! Tiffany is not the only young girl that is like this, but many other girls in the country are also following this trend, and mothers are worried.
This phenomenon of young girls maturing earlier can be attributed to the fact that the celebrities that they worship are also getting younger. In the last five years, hot Hollywood celebrities have been decreasing rapidly in age. Tiffany's favorite celebrities, Lindsay and the Olsens, are no more than 19 years old. As the age of the Hollywood starlets get younger and younger, their fan base also follows that trend. Thus before, you might have had high school girls emulating starlets in their mid-late 20s, you now have elementary girls idolizing starlets in their late teens. According to Forbes annual listing of the top 100 most powerful celebrities, 11 of them are under 25; 6 of them are under 20. Together, these 11 young celebrities made over $127 million in the year of 2005 alone. This goes to demonstrate the financial power and celebrity influence that these young celebrities have over their fans.
How is this a problem? Well, as the fans get younger and younger, their minds become more and more impressionable. Thus, when they form a bond with a celebrity, they tend to be very easily influenced by the actions of these teen celebrities, who are essentially no more than 5 years older than them. Renowned child psychologist Eric Erickson emphasizes that the stages of childhood and adolescence are crucial years in which one forms a personal identity.
During a process of self-definition, adolescents begin to widen their horizons beyond the family and the immediate social environment towards the mass media and entertainment series, which can become important sources of role models and can significantly enhance people's emerging sense of self.
According to a study by Boon and Lomore (2001) conducted with 79 young adults addressing the issue of celebrity influence, they found that
Adolescents often form secondary attachments to figures they encounter in the popular media. . . Relationships with media figures are likely to play an increasingly important role in people's lives in coming decades as changing social and demographic patterns continue to weaken and fragment social networks. 60% of the participants in the study also admitted that an idol had influenced their attitudes and personal values, including their work ethic and views on morality.
Just how much influence does the media and the young celebrities have over the social environment of there young children? A study by John Maltby published in the New Scientist Magazine found that
for about 30% of the children, gossiping about favorite celebrities with their peer group took up much of their social time. Maltby discusses how as children enter into their teens,
they start to transfer their attachment from parents to their peers. Celebrities start to take on the hero status role that their parents formerly fulfilled when the children were younger. This can be detrimental for the maturation process of the child if she/he is worshipping a celebrity that does not have good morals or values.
Pink, a Grammy winning pop rock singer also noticed this phenomenon and made a music video called
Stupid Girlsparodying it. The video shows a young girl, no older than 10, watching TV and seeing Paris Hilton's provocative Carl's Junior commercial, Jessica Simpson's sultry
These Boots were made for Walking music video, Mary-Kate's eating disorder,
I Want a Famous Face spoof, etc. The lyrics of the song drive the point across that she is disappointed by the image that these young starlets have set for the even younger girls. Stupid Girls Video
Andrea Levy, author of
Girls Gone Raunch, a book dedicated to discussing how girls are increasingly becoming more scandalous at a young age tells the infamous story of an eighth-grade student at one of New York City's prestigious private schools who made a digital recording of herself
masturbating and simulating fellatio on a Swiffer mop. After the entire clip of this girl's amateur porn was posted on the website Friendster, the girl experienced a major increase in her level of popularity and celebrity. When asked what gave her the idea to make such a video, she answered, the Paris Hilton sex tape.
All these examples and studies suggests that perhaps this phenomenon is one that is becoming increasingly widespread and that parents should be wary of this occurring and carefully guide their daughter's maturation process to prevent them from becoming the next Paris Hilton.