Power of #Celebrity Part 2. #Fashion Industry Influence on #Youth Culture



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


Power of #Celebrity Part 1. #Musicians Influence on #Youth Culture


Quite often the best ideas for a blog just seem to pop up out of nowhere when you least expect it, and that was certainly the case in this instance. I had commented to my 14 year old granddaughter that I was struggling to come up with an idea for my next blog and she asked me what I had already written about. I proceeded to tell her and explained what my blog ‘Trump Trumps Weinstein’ was about. To my amazement she came out with, “well why don’t you write about the influence music has on young people because musicians are leaders with a lot of power to influence other people”! Then she followed up with the statement that much of the music these days is about sex, drugs and violence and degrades women. She was even able to give me numerous examples of musicians and songs to support her statement. According to her all the other kids she knows only listen to that music because everyone else is listening to it.

Dave Miranda, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa specializes in music psychology and adolescent psychology and has written numerous papers on the effects of music on adolescents. His paper ‘The role of music in adolescent development: much more than the same old song’ supports my granddaughter’s previous statement in saying that “Adolescents understand how to listen to music to please their friends (North et al.,2000), which may foster their reciprocal liking. Music tastes thus involve impression management among peers (Finna¨s, 1989)”.

My granddaughter said that her peers don’t seem to care that the lyrics of certain songs are violent and degrading or that they have the power to create a negative influence. She told me of one female singer an artist known as Cupcakke who released overt sexual songs titled “Deepthroat” and “Vagina”, that she believed were very degrading to women. I decided to listen to these songs myself in the interest of good research and I have to say, I was disappointed and disgusted for young girls everywhere. Don’t take my word for it, have a listen yourself and draw your own conclusions. I have to say, this granddaughter of mine never ceases to amaze me with her resilience, strength and wisdom because she has been through more in her young 14 years than most adults. The more I talked to her about the subject the more I realized that if she feels so strongly about the effects the music is having on her generation, then I owe it to her and her generation to speak up about it.

Musicians, whether they are aware of it or not have the ability to influence their listeners and fans in a very powerful way especially where youths and youth culture are concerned. They can do this in either a positive or negative way. I believe they have a huge responsibility to be good role models and have a positive effect on their young fans. There is an increasing body of research suggesting the effects music can have on young minds. Dave Miranda, says in ‘The role of music in adolescent development: much more than the same old song’ that adolescents’ “exposure to music occurs during a life period of plasticity in which they experience (and need to resolve) numerous developmental tasks, transitions, and issues”. and that during this period of their development “the transaction between music and adolescence – opens a critical window in which music can influence at least seven major areas of development: aesthetics; identity; socialization; emotion regulation and coping; personality and motivation; gender roles; and positive youth development.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics in their journal Pediatrics, Volume 124, Number 5, November 2009, p. 1489 state that “Lyrics of some music genres, such as rock, heavy metal, rap, and new emerging genres such as reggae ton, have been found to revolve around topics such as sexual promiscuity, death, homicide, suicide, and substance abuse….. Most recently, some rap music has been characterized by the presence of explicit sexual language in its lyrics as well as messages of violence, racism, homophobia, and hatred toward women.” Volume 98, Number 6, December, 1996, p.1219-1221 has stated that “Numerous studies indicate that a preference for heavy metal music may be a significant marker for alienation, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, suicide risk, sex-role stereotyping, or risk-taking behaviours during adolescence”.

There are many examples of musicians sending negative messages to our youth. Other than the artist Cupcakke who I have mentioned earlier there are a number of female singers providing lyrics that are degrading to women and send a message that women are objects of sexual gratification. Examples include the lyrics in Lady Gaga’s song Poker Face, “When it’s love, if it’s not rough, it isn’t fun.” Her Bad Romance video contains metaphors of forced sexual encounters where two women are seen holding her down and pouring white fluid into her mouth. Another artist, 14 year old Danielle Bregoli promoted her These Heaux (Ho’s) video on Instagram by saying “Watch the These Heaux video or I’ll beat ya duck ass,”. So sad to see a 14 year old girl acting much older and using explicitly sexual and violent references in her lyrics and video.

Controversial lyrics and musicians with the power to influence adolescents are not new to the present generation. Even Elvis Presley was controversial in the 1950’s. But honestly, Elvis’s gyrating hips make him seem like a saint compared to some of our present musicians and lyrics. Since the 1960’s with the success of bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones the boundaries have been pushed more and more as to what is acceptable. Nine Inch Nails released Big Man with a Gun in 1994 with the lyrics “I am a big man yes I am and I have a big gun, got me a big ole dick and I like to have fun, held against your forehead, I’ll make you suck it, maybe I’ll put a hole in your head”. Another example is Big Pun’s 2001 lyrics from Brave in the Heart. Present examples of male singers producing songs with the power to influence their fans negatively are Yo Gotti’s Rake it Up video which portrays women as second class and objects for men’s sexual gratification. Another example is Tyga’s Rack City video with its themes of gang warfare, violence and sexism towards women.

Adolescents are easily influenced because they are still in the process of developing their own identity and are not really sure who they are yet. I remember having conversations with my own children 20-30 years ago about the negative effects certain music could have on them. At the time my eldest son laughed it off and said it’s just music mum we’re not going to do things like that, we know right from wrong. My son’s response highlights the biggest issue around negative lyrics, images and role models in the music industry. What about those young people who are at risk because they haven’t had a stabile, loving upbringing or suitable role models to teach them the difference. These at risk youth are naturally going to look up to their musical heroes and role models and take on their life style choices, look, actions and belief systems.

Many artists, whether they be visual artists, performance artists, musicians or actors have used the power to shock to develop a following and to influence. Many adolescents take up their role models persona as a means to rebel against things they are not happy with. When their role models advocate behaviors such as violence, sexism, hatred, drug use and racism, society as a whole is in deep trouble. The music of our times has always reflected the culture of that era. What I find deeply disturbing, is that the reflection I am seeing now in the music world of our adolescents seems to contain more shocking and negative lyrics and images than ever before in history.

I understand there are many musicians out there who are trying to have a positive influence on our adolescents with their music and take this responsibility seriously. What we need is for every musician to seriously think about what messages they are selling to young people and the potential influence their lyrics, videos and image can have on those young peoples lives and society as a whole.

Dave Miranda (2013) The role of music in adolescent development: much
more than the same old song, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18:1, 5-22, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2011.650182