Guest post by Erin Taylor.
Jeanette McCurdy has been making a lot of headlines recently. McCurdy is a familiar name to some; she played Sam Puckett, a member of the main ensemble of the children’s show iCarly. I watched iCarly as a middle schooler, and I loved Sam. She was never traditionally “girly”; she rarely, if ever, wore pink, she was loud and messy, she loved motorcycles and fried chicken. And yet, this wasn’t played for laughs, and she wasn’t a bit character. Sam was clearly female, and no one ever questioned it (unlike on many children’s shows that feature less stereotypically female girl characters). There are many ways to be a girl, and Sam wasn’t afraid of being who she was. Definitely a cool and rare character to see on what was one of the most popular children’s shows at the time.
Recently, McCurdy has been under fire for some photos of her in lingerie that were released by her boyfriend. The controversy behind these photos makes little sense; she is 22 years old, and the photos were sent to her boyfriend (both people were over 18 years of age), yet parents are in an outrage. Many feel that she sets a poor example for the girls who watch her on television (whether on iCarly, or on her current show, Sam and Cat). Some have even speculated that the release of these photos, and the controversy that they generated, has caused the recent cancellation of her current show. In reality, the cancellation likely has much more to do with the booming music career of her co-star Ariana Grande, who is choosing to devote time to her music, but it’s interesting to note how quickly our society jumps to slut-shaming. With all that has occurred, there has been a lot of pressure for McCurdy to step up and apologize for making a mistake, for setting a poor example.
She stepped up. She spoke. But she didn’t apologize.
Instead of releasing a phony apology to save face, Jeanette wrote a Reddit post discussing the pressure she feels to be perfect, and the fact that she refuses to step up to the plate and pretend to be something that she isn’t. She encouraged fans of her show to look for role models in real life, as celebrities are like strangers, and what the camera produces is, so often, not true to life.
” I…love a cute dress, a good pop song, and a vanilla-scented candle,” she wrote, “But these things don’t define me or determine that I am any kind of a role model. What defines a person as a role model is the way they live their life. And no offense, but none of you know how I live my life…I am proud of the way I live my life. I am proud of my choices. I am proud that no one can call me fake or say I don’t stand up for myself. I am proud that my friends and family would say that I’m a good person. But in order to be thought of as a real, true role model, I believe you have to know a person and their actions, inside and out. Calling a celebrity a role model is like calling a stranger a role model. The knowledge you have of a celebrity is no more than a caricature drawn by media tastemakers specializing in selling you an image you’re dying to buy.”
As Melissa has said in the past, “sometimes your mind [will] try to fool you with [the way celebrities look] as you think to yourself, ‘I don’t look like that.’ The secret to remember is, ‘Neither does she.'” Jeanette’s answer discourages slut-shaming in the media, and encourages people to use real-life references as their role models. And I think it’s awesome that she never apologizes for what she did. She isn’t necessarily defending her actions, or claiming that she is perfect; she’s not. But that doesn’t mean that she isn’t a good person.
Ironically, her actions show a lot of traits that would be fabulous for young girls to model; self respect, responsibility, honesty. The vitriol leveled at her was absolutely ridiculous, but she handled it with grace and a calm head. It’s so refreshing to see truthfulness like this, especially in such a difficult situation. Jeanette’s words have made me rethink, in many ways, the concept of celebrity role models. I often look up to celebrities, or, at the least, people whom I have never met, whether bloggers, actors, or authors.
For example, I really respect Mayim Bialik, and aspire to be like her in many ways. However, I have never met Mayim. All I know of her, I have received through the veils that the internet and television provide. I see a tweaked and distorted image, created using only the information that she (together with her PR team) chooses to release. As media-savvy as I might be, I’ll admit that this isn’t something that I usually consider while I am reading her latest post or checking out a photo she shared on her facebook page. Mayim is a pretty tame example (it seems fairly clear from her blog that she isn’t trying to generate a perfect media image or create unrealistic expectations), but idolizing anyone that one hasn’t met can be dangerous.
As Jeanette says, the images we see on screens, whether television or computer, are perfected and held to an unrealistic standard. The media creates “role models” that people can never truly become, and this can leave girls feeling disappointed and flawed. And, just as Jeanette points out, this false “perfection” is just as damaging for celebrities to attempt to meet; after all, they are real people, too. And, and unlike people whom one knows personally, they cannot discuss their choices with you, explain their imperfections, or talk about why they did what they did. The same distance that seems ideal while creating a perfect image becomes detrimental while trying to maintain it in the face of inevitable imperfection.
As “messy” people, doesn’t it make sense to look to “messy” role models? The fact is, no one can be a perfect role model, and the perfection that the media is trying to sell to us is detrimental, not only to young girls, but also to young actors. I applaud Jeanette for encouraging people to show their whole self, no matter how messy it is, and I hope that we all can learn to follow her example.
Erin Taylor is a student and caregiver who spends a lot of time thinking about how gender stereotyping and media messages affect kids. As a caregiver and a human being, she is committed to working along with others toward a world free of these kinds of biases; for herself and her generation, for the kids with whom she works currently, and for those whom she hopes to raise in the future. Erin blogs from anfsdc.blogspot.com, or you can find her on Facebook at facebook.com/violettheyukasaurus.