For my 9th birthday, my aunt Francesca gifted me with a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. At the time, I was more interested in reading the Chronicles of Narnia and the like, but I felt compelled to finish it, since it was a gift. I read it cover-to-cover in one day at my kitchen table. I sat down at breakfast, and got up between lunch and dinner feeling significantly closer to the former first lady. Later, I would read certain chapters over and over again. Her strength, her grace, and her intelligence were a source of inspiration for me. She became the first of many women I have come to look up to, and as I’ve matured, my role models have changed in conjunction with my personal growth and development.
A closer examination of a person’s role models can say a lot about who they are. Qualities exemplified by an admired person indicate the ideals of the admirer, of course. When I was younger, I was more apt to look up to celebrities or entertainers, who exhibited the characteristics I, in retrospect, was lacking. During those compromising years I spent in middle school, I had no confidence to get me from one day to the next without being troubled by adolescent insecurities. So, I chose to look up to people who exuded utter conviction. I associated that confidence with the unadulterated physical beauty that celebrities seemed to radiate. The effect of this brand of veneration was, for me, an appreciation for the composure and poise of the rich and famous.
Of course, this passed. More or less recently, the media has promoted a new kind of character, a more down-to-earth persona that a person like me could relate to. When Jennifer Lawrence became a household name, she was lauded not for being the kind of unattainable perfection we know some famous people to be, but for projecting the image of a normal person, who loved pizza, and wasn’t afraid to admit her flaws. The public’s reaction seemed to be adoration. We finally had someone we could relate to. The media elevated her irregularities and highlighted her imperfections; meanwhile the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief. Women like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham, among others, emerged as people who didn’t subscribe to established ideals for people of their popularity. In a culture where faultlessness is expected, it was refreshing to be able to welcome a new sort of star that was unapologetic about their weaknesses.
The general acceptance of such people lead me on a personal journey that displaced many of the people I once looked up to. No longer did I turn to those with celebrity status for guidance, because I was able to recognize the admirable qualities in people closer to me, in friends, in classmates. The standards I held myself up against weren’t necessarily lowered, only recalibrated to accommodate more of the shortcomings that are so natural for us to have.
Of course, as I continue to grow, my idea of a role model is subject to transformation. My relationship with the people I respect and idolize has changed in a way that allows me to identify the commendable aspects of regular people, without the veil of celebrity or fame that is attached to those we consider worthy of admiration. It has resulted in a tendency of mine to praise my classmates’ achievements and traits, keeping in mind the knowledge that they, too, make mistakes. Having someone to look up to makes the confusion of young adulthood seem more navigable, and the more accessible role models of mine have demonstrated clearly to me the importance of being able to admire someone in a realistic way.