This article is part 2 of the Power of Celebrity series and a follow on from Part 1, Musicians Influence on Youth Culture. Last time I talked about the power of the music industry to influence adolescents and emphasised the need for musicians to take responsibility as good role models and project a healthy image to our youth. Similarly, the fashion industry has the power to influence adolescents who are still in the process of establishing a sense of who they are and who they want to be and should therefore also take their responsibility toward our youth seriously.
Clothing and fashion throughout history have always been the most obvious way that individuals express who they are and identify other similar or like minded individuals. We are naturally attracted to those who are like us. The way we dress visually tells others a great deal about our characteristics such as gender, sexuality, education, economic status, race and interests to name a few. This ability to recognise like minded individuals is most evident in sub cultures such as different ethnic and religious groups, the punk rock movement and more recently the hip hop movement. But the idea of youth fashion is something that has only really developed since World War 11 finished, when the fashion industry realised that adolescents were obtaining more disposable income. The fashion industry quickly cashed in on this new direction and began targeting a teenage audience.
US teenage rehabilitation center Newport Academy have said that “Body image can have a huge impact on teens. Teenagers might be the most fashion-conscious people on the planet.” They also say that along with their peers, media such as teen magazines, online publications, television and films has a powerful influence on them and that “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, four out of every five advertisements in teen magazines includes clothing or beauty items that are “fashionable.””
Young girls are particularly vulnerable to the stereotypes portrayed in the fashion industry. According to a 2003 article in the Eating and Weight Disorders journal “frequency of reading fashion magazines influences the idea of a perfect body shape in 69% of adolescent girls. This effect is so strong that even 60% of infrequent readers of fashion magazines feel that the media influence their idea of a perfect size (5). Likewise, adolescent girls named media images as exerting the strongest pressure on their desire to be thin (4)” In addition to influencing self esteem and body image fashion also affects adolescents beliefs, social status and their interactions and bonding with peers. Many teenagers see their own and their peers worth based more on external appearances, not on who they are inwardly.
According to Teen Health and the Media “One in every three (37%) articles in leading teen girl magazines also included a focus on appearance, and most of the advertisements (50%) used an appeal to beauty to sell their products. The commercials aimed at female viewers that ran during the television shows most often watched by teen girls also frequently used beauty as a product appeal (56% of commercials). By comparison, this is true of just 3 percent of television commercials aimed at men.”
The general trend in the fashion industry towards teenage fashion has been to make teenagers look more like an adult, sexier and more provocative. They are bombarded with fashion advertisements using celebrities that they know teenagers look up to such as Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Justin Bieber to name a few,. I am not suggesting for one minute that the fashion industry should not use celebrities to endorse their products, just that they should use more discretion and choose more age appropriate celebrities projecting a positive teenage image.
There has recently been positive moves from some sections of the fashion industry in this direction with the introduction of former Disney and Nickelodeon television stars to endorse products for adolescents. Former Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice is a wonderful ambassador for adolescents with her charity and humanitarian work and has appeared in advertisements for fashion retailers such as Ralph Lauren, Gap, Guess and Mervyn’s. Another example that springs to mind is former Disney Channel star and activist Zoey Deutsch having appeared in numerous fashion magazines including Marie Claire, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan.
But wait, I can hear the critics of this line of thought protesting already. What about former Disney star Miley Cyrus, how are we to guarantee that new age appropriate positive role models will not evolve as she did? It is true that Cyrus evolved from the wholesome image of Hannah Montana to a sexually explicit and controversial singer after 2009. This controversy surrounded the fears her new image would have in influencing her young followers. At the time Cyrus did not take her responsibility to her young fans seriously, but in a case like this I believe the music and fashion industry’s need to walk with their cheque books. They certainly have no control over individual celebrities but they do have control over which celebrities endorse their products.
Advances in technology and the advent of social media means that teenagers are being bombarded as never before with advertisements. The fashion industry targets adolescents not only because they have more disposable income than ever before but also because they will be a large source of their future market. Call me old fashioned (excuse the pun), but I believe celebrities and those in the fashion, music and entertainment industries have a moral responsibility to have a positive influence on teenagers and youth. It also appears to me that from an economic viewpoint it is a contradiction in terms to generate a negative influence and expect those teenagers will be a future source of revenue for their industry. Unless adolescents become healthy functioning adults they will find it difficult in the future to contribute at any level to their own future let alone to future economies.
Danielsson, S. (2007-08). The Impact of Celebrities on Adolescents’ Clothing Choices, Retrieved from http://www.kon.org/urc/v8/danielsson.html
Newport Academy. (2017). The Impact of Fashion on Teen Body Image and Mental Health, Retrieved from https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/fashion-teen-body-image/
Park, J. (2017). Fashion Advertising, Consumerism & Social Media Influencers-A Lethal Combo Targeting Teens, Retrieved from http://girltalkhq.com/fashion-advertising-consumerism-social-media-influencers-a-lethal-combo-targeting-teens/
Thompson, S.H. & Hammond, K. Eat Weight Disord (2003) 8: 231. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03325019
Raising Children Network. (2017). Media influence on teenagers
Teen Health and the Media. (2017). Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts