Bono, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Rob Thomas, Angelina Jolie … celebrity names roll off our tongues with ease. We are up to speed on their lives, habits, likes, dislikes and trends. With the boom in media channels and sources of information, celebrities have become an integral part of our daily lives influencing our behaviour and our tastes.
The impact celebrities have on the young has become a matter of growing concern for parents and educators. In their formative years, youngsters are strongly influenced by the lives of A-listers. As with life in general, both the good and the bad are out there in equal measure, so who decides which is the ideal to follow?
"Jennifer Lopez is my favourite celebrity," said Rolla Shakeep, a Lebanese student at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). " I want to copy her in every possible way. Look at her skin, hair and body — she's not like the rest of us. It feels sometimes like she is from some other planet. Her life is full of glamourous things."
Salma Khalifa, also an AUS student, is a huge fan of the designer and celebrity daughter of Sir Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney.
"My perfume and my outfit are all Stella McCartney. I am a huge fan of her personality and completely agree with her views on animal rights. I like to imitate the way she walks, especially when she comes to take her bow at the end of a fashion show."
While it is good to emulate the positive points of stars, youngsters must consciously realise that celebrities too are people — as susceptible to flaws as the next person. Young adults must also take into account the fact that the media adds more glamour to their lives than what is real.
Cambridge University students, Lebanese Yasser Assaf and Iranian Farzad Hamidi, believe that the media plays a dirty role in selling celebrity lifestyles.
"We live in a lost world where everything seems upside-down. Cultural norms and values are replaced with a globalised 'pop' version of life trying to homogenise youngsters. Arab kids are using ghetto speak among peers because Puff Daddy, or someone like him, makes it look cool," said Assaf. "Thirty years ago people judged each other by their manners, level of education, respect and credibility."
Hamidi adds that nowadays people are viewed as objects, judged by their outfits and their vehicles.
"These are material things behind which the younger generation tries to hide so that they don't have to talk about what concerns them."
Hessa Ahareb from the Ajman University of Science and Technology believes that imitation doesn't allow a person to evolve naturally.
"I'm totally against imitating someone. I think each one of us is born unique. No one can embody someone else's life. So instead of copying the wrong things celebrities do, why don't teens learn from the determination and ambition of famous people to accomplish their own aims?"
A familiar feeling
Feryal S. Feghali, mother of a teenager, says that there is nothing wrong in youngsters imitating stars.
"We've all been through it," she said. "My daughter and my niece, who are the same age, go to the same high school and are huge fans of the American singer and actress Jessica Simpson. They copy the way she talks and walks."
However, Feghali adds that right now she doesn't bother with this infatuation as it is a very important stage in their lives.
"When I was young I too was a fan of many celebrities and my room was covered with posters. When I meet old friends who shared that stage with me, we laugh and recall how naïve we were. My daughter and niece too will grow up, become mature and laugh about these good memories."
According to father Akram Al Maghdisi, adolescence is a chapter that ends with graduation.
"This stage of being enamoured with the lives of celebrities is transitional. As soon as youngsters are done with their college degrees these childish thoughts leave them and they prepare to follow the busy schedules of work and responsibilities. We have all been through it."
However, not all parents agree that a fascination with the lives of the rich and famous is just to pass time idle time.
"Kids nowadays need an urgent wake-up call," said mother of teenagers Mona Nabeel. "Peer pressure is the only motive behind this obsession with celebrities. Schools, universities and clubs have become breeding grounds for irresponsible behaviour. It's not just about designer labels or the latest cars — that would still be something comforting — but now the problem goes deeper with young kids smoking or experimenting with harmful substances."
Nabeel adds that youngsters must realise that they are not celebrities and that they live in a totally different part of the world.
"Youngsters need to keep in mind their culture and values. They need to consciously think about their future, family and society."
She feels that parents should spend more time with their children and discuss their lives, peer problems and pressures, like a friend.
"Parents need to get their children to open their hearts and talk to them," she added. "Only then will they develop a strong independent personality."
Mouza Elmas, mother of a 14-year old daughter, feels that it's not just youngsters who are enamoured with celebrity lives — it's everybody.
"I ask my daughter why she dresses and talks vulgarly in imitation of her favourite celebrity Paris Hilton and she replies because she wants to be more like her friends. This peer pressure is driving kids to be what they are not."
Elmas also feels that if parents fail to give their children confidence in themselves a generation of youngsters with low self-esteem will grow into confused adults who won't know who they are.
Cambridge student Hamidi adds that the current generation is driven by consumerism because they feel that by buying expensive things and driving flashy cars like celebrities they will appear more suave or cool in front of others.
"The media plays a dirty role in cheapening human values, defacing individuality and personality. Nobody can be seen as more than what they appear on the surface."
Elmas adds that an obsession with the lives of celebrities — their huge houses, private jets, jewellery and endless parties brainwashes youngsters into thinking that products can buy happiness.
"Kids are growing up watching celebrities and thinking that materialism can compensate things like love, sincerity and friendship."
"The life of celebrities is full of entertainment. Today somebody is having a luxurious holiday in the south of France and tomorrow they are shopping in Beverly Hills," said Hanadi Radhwan, a student at the Ajman University of Science and Technology. "Sometimes you wish you could just be like them. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you get their lifestyle."
Radhwan also feels that when celebrities market something, it's not a product they are selling but a lifestyle. "The message is 'you buy this thing and your life will be like mine'. That's why we buy the many designer things in the market. At one level we are all trying to buy ourselves an A-list life."
Students' fascination with celebrities doesn't sound bizarre or abnormal. All of us at that age were affected by a famous football player or a cosmopolitan celebrity. On the contrary, I find it a healthy phenomenon. It's good to find an ideal in our lives, guiding us to improve ourselves by being productive and shaping future dreams.
However, youngsters should also be encouraged to look towards renowned figures in art, music and literature to give them more fruitful direction.
Basema Younes, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development Head of Programmes and Prizes Section
Who is your favourite celebrity?
"George Clooney. He's an amazing actor."
— Heba Noor Al Deen, computer science, University of Wollongong in Dubai
"Anthony Hopkins. His acting is exceptional, especially in Silence of the Lambs."
—Mohammad Al Gareeb, business, University of Wollongong in Dubai
"Angelina Jolie. Not only is she a versatile actress she is also involved in humanitarian projects. She is a compassionate mother in addition to being very beautiful woman."
— Afzal Hussain, B-COM, University of Wollongong in Dubai
"I don't have a favourite celebrity simply because I don't think they're worth the attention."
— Pawan Kumar, B-COM, University of Wollongong in Dubai
"Johnny Depp. I love his performance in Pirates of the Caribbean."
— Roshna Ram, BBA, University of Wollongong in Dubai
"Russell Peters. He's a good comedian and he's Indian."
— Manish Sha, BBA, University of Wollongong in Dubai
Do celebrity lifestyles have a bad influence on youngsters?
"Yes. Celebrities spend huge amounts of money on brand names. People overspend in trying to imitate these styles."
— Stephanie Somu, mass communication, Middlesex University
"It depends on the celebrity and on his or her lifestyle."
— Maysoon Ali, accounts, London School of Economics
"If someone is seriously a fanatic it may affect them. The individual may try to dress and live the same way."
— Stency Somu, accounts, London School of Economics
"To some extent. Some things they do and are publicised for are particularly negative. Kids can think that's 'cool' and try to do the same."
— Abdullah Gazi, foundation, Middlesex University
"It depends on the celebrity. People think celebrities are role models and try to imitate whatever they do, which in most cases are bad things."
— Namra Mir, foundation, Middlesex University
"Definitely, because celebrities are taken as role models and icons and the things most of them engage in are considered taboo. Youngsters are often mislead onto the wrong paths."
— Enam Raul, BBA, Middlesex University
— Compiled by Manal Ismail/Staff Reporter
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