All Articles Tagged "role models"

Pop Mom: Is Serena Williams Doing Too Much?

December 28th, 2015 - By Erickka Sy Savane
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New York Magazine

New York Magazine

Let me start out by saying that I LOVE Serena Williams. It was Venus and Serena that brought me to the sport of tennis and it’s Serena who has kept me there. When she wins my day is better, and when she loses I’m as crushed as if I’d been on the court myself. She reminds me time and time again that winning takes heart. She’s an icon.

But lately, I’ve been confused by some of her choices. Starting with the provocative Sports Illustrated cover, to the negligee she wore to pick up her Sportsperson of the Year Award, to this photo on instagram that almost broke the internet.

I half expect to see her in a Drake video for “Hotline Bling 2.” And don’t get me wrong, Serena has always been fashionable, but why is she selling sex now?

Have a good day

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

I can’t help wondering if it has something to do with Drake. Is she trying to prove that her ass is better than any woman he can put in his music video? Come on, Serena. Or perhaps she’s addressing the idiots who say that she’s not feminine enough. Nothing says ‘I am woman’ like walking around in your lingerie. Is she trying to keep up with pal Kim Kardashian? How far is she willing to go? It’s like watching Michelle Obama join one of those Real Housewives shows — somebody do something!

Maybe I can write her an open letter, to just ask her to calm down. I reach out to my editor and though she tells me to go ahead and write it, she kinda sounds like she’s defending her, “Sometimes people just feel the need to flaunt it,” she says. I’m kinda taken aback.

I get started on the letter right away, reaching out to a few people to get a second and third opinion, asking each one how they feel about the new, more exposed Serena. “Her body is a sculpture to display. She should display it proudly and in taste,” says the first person I reach out to. Okay… but he’s a guy so maybe that’s expected. What I didn’t expect was the reaction of the women. “She should be able to flaunt it. Black women, generally, are built differently and we shouldn’t be ashamed because we don’t fall into European ideology,” and “I see a confident, sexy woman who is still young and strong!” My best friend found her Instagram photo elegant and couldn’t say enough about the structure of her legs.

I step away from the computer because I’m having one of those moments where I realize that I’m in the middle of the ocean all by myself. Where did everybody go? I still feel strongly about my view, but what might I be missing?

I keep digging.

Okay, I have to acknowledge that I may not be the best person to speak about ass culture. In a world where women are being idolized for their voluptuous backsides, I’m the woman with the flat booty, on the outside looking in. It may be one of the reasons I’ve rejected the culture, but still, it does objectify women, so I’m not crazy.

When it comes to Serena, one of the reasons I admire her so is because she became one of the best tennis players in the world, in history, and it was always about the talent, the fitness, the sport. Even when she wore the infamous cat suit to the US Open, and we saw every magnificent curve, it was just her body, I never felt like she was selling sex. And she could have easily gone the Anna Kournakova route. I guess I feel let down.  

The more I think about it, I’ve been here before. It reminds me of when I got mad at Prince when he stopped writing explicit lyrics and refused to sing his old songs, and when the Beastie Boys shifted from hip hop to rock after Licensed To Ill, and I’m still upset that Heidi Klum and Seal didn’t make it. I guess I don’t deal well with change. But I can’t hold Serena hostage. A sister has to live.

Do I really know what’s best for her anyway? What if she’s doing this because stirring up controversy leads to more endorsements? Even if this is her answer to the body shamers, who am I do judge how she chooses to fight? Or maybe she’s just feeling good about herself. At the end of the day, it’s her life, her body, her choice. I may not understand or agree with all of her choices, but she’s still a helluva role model for me and my two girls. That said, I’m going to continue rooting for her on, and off, the court.

Check out Erickka Sy Savané’s column, Pop Mom, right here on Madamenoire. Before Erickka became a writer/editor, she was a model, actress, and MTV VJ. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Jersey City. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


First Look: The Zendaya Barbie Doll

September 27th, 2015 - By Kweli Wright
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What an inspiration!

Disney starlet Zendaya has her own Barbie modeled after her stunning (and controversial) look at the 2015 Oscars. News broke last week that the 19-year-old would be joining the Barbie family, and here’s the first look. The doll, created in her likeness, commemorates her iconic Vivienne Westwood look from the 2015 Oscars Red Carpet where she inspired people of all ages to stand up for themselves.

Last night, Zendaya hit the carpet at the Barbie Rock ‘n Royals concert experience benefiting VH1 Save The Music Foundation held at the Hollywood Palladium in L.A.

“I’m excited to be a part of the new direction the Barbie brand is headed, specifically how they are celebrating  diversity in the line and encouraging kids to raise their voices,” said Zendaya. “It’s a positive message to send to my fans, including my nieces who are coming with me to the concert.”

The teen star made her way down the carpet, in a white strapless MSGM mini decorated with red lips and red pumps, and held up her iconic Zendaya Barbie doll rocking the Vivienne Westwood dress she rocked at the Academy Awards.

Z also posted a photo to Instagram:

“When I was little I couldn’t find a Barbie that looked like me, my…how times have changed. Thank you @barbie for this honor and for allowing me to be apart of your diversification and expansion of the definition of beauty. Can’t wait to keep doing amazing things with you😘😘😘 #besuper @luxurylaw @theshelbyswain”


A photo posted by Zendaya (@zendaya) on

Earlier this year, Barbie introduced  more diversity into their Fashionistas®  line including twenty-three new dolls, featuring eight skin tones, fourteen different sculpts, eighteen eye colors and twenty-three different hair colors.

The Barbie Rock ‘N Royals event, hosted by Zendaya, will encourage kids to “Raise Their Voices” in a first of its kind experience including up-and-coming musical and dance acts, meet and greet with Zendaya and a rock star zone where kids can jam out on guitars, drums, trumpets and more instructed by music teachers and high school music students from Duarte Unified School District, a VH1 Save The Music partner school district. Allan Mucerino, the Duarte Unified School District Superintendent, is also expected to attend, along with 50 students from Duarte USD.

According to Barbie, her one-of-a-kind doll on was display at the Rock ‘N Royals event, but there’s no word on if the Zendaya Barbie doll will be available to the masses.

Would you buy the Zendaya doll?

Why We Need More Role Models, And Better Ones At That, For Our Young Girls

September 16th, 2014 - By Alexandra Olivier
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Young girl and parent


girl on computer PF

I worry for my 1-year-old niece. She is very young now, but when she navigates the schoolyard years from now, I wonder what the music she hears will sound like. I wonder what images will be on her TV screen. Who will be her generation’s Beyoncé? Will her generation be overcome with more women like Joseline Hernandez and ratch reality TV, or will a phenomenal woman attempt to fill the void left behind by the legendary Maya Angelou?

Who will be the champion for women?

Watching reality television, it is easy to think that women – no matter their wealth, education or race – are vessels that feed off greed, violence and foolishness. Whether you are watching “Real Housewives of Orange County” or “Bad Girls Club” one thing remains the same: the women behave badly, and as time goes on, I’m sure things will get worse.

It’s not to say that there are no women in this present day who serve as role models. Unfortunately, their work and influence doesn’t garner the same amount of attention and ratings as bottles and fists being thrown at a “Love and Hip Hop” reunion seems to.

Indeed, we have amazing women who are blazing trails of inspiration. Lupita Nyong’o stuns with humble grace. Kerry Washington paves the way for other young black actresses to become successful. First Lady Michelle Obama remains an inspiration to girls to aim higher and be proud. Mo’Ne Davis showed girls her age (13) and younger that baseball isn’t only a boy’s sport. Gabby Douglas and Misty Copeland overcame adversity to win gold and make history. Then there’s Helen Gayle, Ursula Burnes, and don’t get me started on Oprah. But for every powerful woman of color making waves, people seem to have more of an interest in following foolery.

Popular culture, and those who take it in and, need to stop glorifying this same old scene and begin celebrating something different. People need to stop focusing on selling sex and bigger backsides in their music and try selling substance. We need more diverse images of black women and people on TV (and that’s slowly but surely happening) and on the big screen. And overall, whether through shows like “Blackish” or more events like Black Girls Rock, there needs to be a balance that provides girls with images that are positive and let them know that they can do and be more than they imagined.

The change we seek and role models we desire starts with the call to our current ladies in power to create the difference. Let their platforms and our support give girls of the present and future a louder voice and something better than what’s currently flooding popular culture right now.


More than Beyonce: Finding Role Models for Daughters of Color

April 8th, 2013 - By Rich
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My 3-year caught only glances of Beyonce’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl. But with the little she did see, she thought she had gone to heaven. While performing some of Beyonce’s dance moves and gestures, she would tell me, “Mommy! She’s amazing!” “What’s her name?” And, “Mommy, look at me!”

Beyonce is an impressive woman, even if her outfits are a little risque for my tastes. But, in the seeming absence of others, the power she yields as the most attractive role model for my daughters is a bit scary. And my sentiments are shared by many moms of color I know, moms who cringe at what seems to be the most readily available “role models” in the media for their daughters.

The power of the media as a source for role models for young girls has been well documented.  And it’s generally acknowledged that while parents can aim to shield their children from the parts that they dislike about the media, total denial of its relevance and power is not possible. So, where does this leave parents?

I asked myself this question and was left with only one alternative: If I can’t reject all of what my daughters see and interpret as being role model material in the media, I can ensure that I provide an alternative voice for them to see the kinds of role models that I would hope they aspire to become someday. I can’t control everything, but I can:

1. Limit screen time. As a parent, I can be sure to monitor and, in some cases, limit what my daughters see on TV. In place of the screen, I can be sure that we spend more time doing other things in our local community that will enable my daughters to see women of color doing fabulous things like being florists, doctors, congresswomen, business owners, scientists, or dance teachers.

2. Use some innocent propaganda. Propaganda isn’t always a bad thing, right? That’s what I thought and that’s why I’ve been spending time online and in my community finding great videos, shows, songs, and children’s books showing women and girls of color in a variety of roles. We love Doc McStuffins and Lil’ Bill on Nick Jr. and use YouTube to find clips of singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie spending time with Elmo. My daughters and I read Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Cole for bedtime.

3. Be sure to seek out and verbally recognize more “unconventional” beautiful women of color  who are doing amazing things. Women like  Michelle Obama, Melissa Harris-Perry, Regina Cater, Esperanza Spalding, Susan Rice, and Bibi McGill, are what I’ll call my “counter” role models. These are women (most of whom are accessible through the media) who appear and are just as fabulous as the Beyonces of the world. But they are different because their work speaks of more of the kinds the possibilities that are available to girls of color.

The day before yesterday, my oldest toddler told me she wanted to be a princess when she grew up, but today she said she’d like to instead be a princess violin player. Is this evidence that my “master plan” is working? Only time can tell. But that she knows that she could, if she wanted, play the violin and be fabulous, now that’s what I’m celebrating today.

Rihanna Is a Bad Role Model–But Who Cares?

February 8th, 2013 - By Rich
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Tina Brown, the editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast was not please yesterday. She tweeted, “@rihanna, you are a big fat zero as a role model for girls” after the singer supported on-again boyfriend Chris Brown in a court hearing regarding faked community service records. The court asked Brown to repeat his community service, the community service he had to complete for brutally beating Rihanna in 2009.

Before appearing in court to support her man, Rihanna announced in a Rolling Stone interview that she is back with Chris Brown and that not even her best friend is allowed to discuss it with her. And, not for the first time, she said she doesn’t see herself as a role model. “I could never tell a 10-year-old to look at me, because I know I’m not perfect. That’s not what I signed up for.” So why should Tina Brown, or anyone else, try to pin the role model label on Rihanna?

She’s certainly done just about everything a parent wouldn’t want his daughter to do, like nude photographs, smoking Mary Jane all over her Instagram, and performing risque songs. But even with all that, many still feel she should is being held up as an example of behavior. And if she’s going to be an example, then she better clean up her act and be a good one. But some say  just by virtue of being a very public figure whose fans including young girls, she’s a role model, whether she likes it or not.

Some time ago, she posted a photo on her Instagram account saying, “Don’t say I’m a bad role model and then be surprised when I do bad role model type s***.” That actually is fairly logical; she’s owned what she is and says she won’t change. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to ask her to change.

So does she have the right to refuse her role as role model? If she says she’s not a role model does she stop being one? If Rihanna isn’t a role model, then who is?

Why I Really Don’t Need Michelle Obama To Run For Office

January 29th, 2013 - By Veronica Wells
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Michelle Obama

Michelle told ya’ll long ago, in very explicit terms, that she was not going to run for office. Just last year, in an interview with the women of “The View” she said:

“Absolutely not — I am not interested in politics, never have been. I mean, one of the things you learn after 48 years of life, you know what your passions and your gifts are… No I have no interest in politics. Never have. Never will.”

Initially, when I heard this admission, I was kind of discouraged.  I knew that this meant that after the president’s eight years are over, we wouldn’t see a black woman like her in such a position of leadership for a long time. We would see less and less of our girl.

Yes, “our girl.” Of course I’m very aware and very proud of the fact that Michelle Obama is the First Lady of the United States of America. Yet, over the past five years or so, she has become a relatable, role model. A friend in my head as Wendy Williams would say. Michelle is extremely intelligent, polished and accomplished, yet she’s simultaneously down to earth, approachable and warm. She comes from a place not unlike the places that many black women in this country come from. She says the things black women have said or have wanted to say, in very public spaces. She, despite her position and title, has always managed to come off as someone who’s real and authentic. So it’s not hard to consider her an [imaginary] friend.

And though I originally perceived my friend’s distaste for politics as a negative thing; now, I can see how it’s actually quite wonderful. I don’t really need or want her in politics at all, actually. But now, even after she’s said that and I’ve accepted it, there are still folksa lot of folks, who are starting to strongly encourage that she do just what she said she wouldn’t.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Michelle would make a good politician. Like her husband, she’s smart, she seems to genuinely care about people and she represents a stark contrast to the money-driven, sleazy, corrupt style of politics this country has known for a long time. But running for office, when she told us that she wouldn’t would be the first in a string of lies to come.

But I guess people aren’t looking at it that way. They’re looking at numbers. Things like her approval ratings and mock polls, which suggest that people would gladly vote for her. What they’re not considering is the fact that both she and President Obama have said that she doesn’t have the patience or temperament for it. She told Gayle not only does she not meddle in her husband’s affairs, she generally stays away from he and his staff’s offices. Judging from Michelle’s time in the White House, it’s clear that she prefers to keep things light and easy, choosing causes that most everyone can support, like assisting military families, the White House garden and her “Let’s Move” campaign. Despite causes that are seemingly universally positive, she’s still had to face scrutiny. And it certainly wouldn’t stop if she were running or even elected to office.

But the greatest loss we’d experience with Michelle as a politician would be the loss of realness we’ve seen her exhibit thus far. Remember back in 2008, when she said “For the first time in my adult life, I’m really proud of my country,”? Millions of Americans, particularly black Americans, knew exactly what she meant. And it was probably exactly how she felt; but that didn’t stop right-wing media from questioning her patriotism and dedication to the United States. The Obama campaign eventually had to go back and explain what she meant and why it wasn’t a jab at America. You could be sure, as an elected official that moments of unfiltered honesty, would be few and far between, if not completely extinct.

There would be no more calling folks out for attempting to characterize her as an “angry black woman,” because then she’d be playing the “race card.” There would be no more dougie-ing on the White House lawn because that would mean she wasn’t taking her job seriously. There would be fewer shouts out to the Southside of Chicago because she has to be concerned about everybody now. And there would certainly be no more suspected eye rolls to Speaker of the House, John Boehner, no matter how warranted they may have been. As a politician, all of that would be completely unacceptable and cause for constant berating, further stereotyping and even demonization.

Michelle doesn’t need all of that and neither do I.

Furthermore, let’s not pretend that as a politician, Michelle wouldn’t have to get a little dirty. “Scandal” has at least taught us that much. It’s highly unlikely that any politician reaches measures of significant success without having to compromise his or her core beliefs. She’d enter into a game where deals would be made and promises would be broken in exchange for whatever her campaign managers and eventual cabinet deem as “the greater good.” We’ve seen it happen with her husband and Guantanamo, the drones and even, some would argue, the black community. While you can’t convince me that President Obama isn’t the best candidate for the job; from 2008 until now, we’ve experienced a couple of disappointments. I’m really not ready to endure the same with Michelle.

So, for her sake, mine and the rest of the black girls and women who admire the woman we’ve grown to “know” over the past few years, let’s dead the talk of her running for office and keep her and her image real, authentic and honest.

It’s A Love-Hate Relationship: My Problem With “GIRLS”

January 28th, 2013 - By Charing Ball
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Girls is a perfect example of how complicated television viewing can be for black folks.

I will admit to liking the show. In fact, I have watched it faithfully since giving in to my curiosity, somewhere through the first season. It’s a good show, one I almost missed by feeding in exclusively to all the criticism. This is not to suggest that the critics aren’t right: calling itself the voice of a new generation is basically challenge-accepted from the blogosphere to find out ways in which it is not. And anyone with a Netflix account and a modest knowledge of Sex and the City, Golden Girls, Designing Women, Girlfriends and a whole host of shows largely centered on the intimate lives of four women, will already cite that this “voice” has long been inter-generational. But at least it is set in Brooklyn – Oh wait, so was Living Single

Although Girls’ overworked concept is as fresh as day-old orange juice and bagels, the show is not without its charming originality. First and foremost, Hannah, the title character played by the show’s own writer/producer Lena Dunham, is short, frumpy, has a double chin and has more gut than butt. These television anomalies not only challenge how we define Hollywood beauty, but also make Hannah in some ways, a pioneering figure. In addition to being the atypical protagonist of a show centered around the dating and sex lives of women, Dunham takes it to another magnitude by filming her uncharacteristic television body in the buff, appearing, at the very least, topless in just about every episode I’ve seen. When asked in an interview why she filmed so often without any clothing on, Dunham poignantly said that she wanted the world to, “Look at us until you see us.”

But despite Dunham’s aim to expand the range of women on television, one troupe which she, and the other members of the creative team behind Girls perpetuate, is this whitewashed and insular world where race doesn’t exist – even in Brooklyn. This is not in the sense of the common criticism about the lack of characters of color, which has been levied upon the show. While I understand how frustrating it is to have countless television shows centered around the lives of white folks’ ratchetness be labeled as revolutionary, and more specifically voices of a new generation, a story doesn’t necessarily have to have a central character of color to have some value. And while not the epitome-voice of the new generation, like it has been marketed, I think the clever writing and story lines does, in my opinion, warrant it being listed as one of many interesting and atypical contemporary voices.

Despite not being the sole onus of either the contemporary voice or television’s diversity problem, I still find it quite interesting how cued in the show’s creators are in wanting to challenging one-ism while being totally tone-deaf to the desire to see equal representation on the screen.  For me, those two concepts go hand and hand. However I am a black woman. And Dunham is not.

In the second season opener, we see Hannah straddling Sandy, her new black Republican lover, topless and having at it. Sandy, who is played by Donald Glover. This is what you wanted, this is what you get? While clearly a middle-finger to her critics, it is not all that daring a nod to the race discussion she might have been hoping for. At this point in television history, what’s so shocking about a white girl having sex with a black dude? Miranda did it for an entire season on Sex and the City. One could mistakenly interpret this scene as an attempt, albeit lame, to be both dismissive and antagonistic to the critics. However, in the second episode, we are treated to more interactions with Sandy, some of which occurs outside of the bedroom. During one such occasion, Sandy and Hannah are discussing an essay of hers she had asked him to read. Sandy didn’t like it; Hannah is upset, but instead of coming at him for his dislike of her essay, she goes in on him about how irresponsible it is for him to be a black Republican, especially considering that “two out of three people on death row are black men.” The end of the scene involves the two breaking up and Hannah walking away from Sandy. This is the last time we see Sandy, and I suspect, the “race” issue.

Through this exchange, we see Dunham take a much more poetic response to critics, presenting to us the difficulties and awkwardness, which some folks, particularly white folks, might feel when race is interjected into the conversation. On one hand we have Sandy, whom outside of knowing his name and that he is black and republican, we really don’t know much about. However, that might be the point. Perhaps Hannah is so clueless and self-absorbed that she honestly doesn’t know that using statistics about the incarceration rate of black men as a weapon in an argument is just a tad bit racist. In a sense, Hannah could be one of those white girls who just doesn’t “get it.” And despite how irksome the real life Hannahs are, there is something very honest about seeing her (their) portrayals on television.

Or as Judy Berman, editor of FlavorPill, who penned this piece for the Atlantic, writes:

What Dunham’s latest well-intentioned disappointment makes clear is that it will never be enough for white writers to simply try harder in their depictions of non-white characters. Some may produce keenly observed, authentic-feeling portrayals, but even those who have spent their whole lives surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds will never know first-hand what it’s like to be a person of color in America. They will never respond to Django Unchained in quite the same way as Haitian-American writer Roxane Gay. Those who don’t get it will, for the most part, continue to not get it. The truth, distasteful as it may be to those who imagine that we live in a “post-racial” era or believe it’s small-minded to apply identity politics to art, is that we still haven’t reached a point in our history at which the discrepancies between the way people of different races (or genders or religions or sexual orientations) experience life are negligible.”

But while Hannah may not “get it,” I’m not sure that I can say the same for Dunham. Sometimes some folks are keenly aware of what they do and say and are just really sophistic in caring about the effect that it has on people. Some folks, in fact, are very comfortable in their privilege, which doesn’t require them to answer or even be responsive specifically to race, gender or where they might intersect. For instance, in an interview with Alec Baldwin on his podcast, Dunham criticized Rihanna for her relationship with Chris Brown and smoking weed, and then said that she is not a good role model for young women. According to US Weekly, Dunham also says that she “had to become more conscious about what I say and what I promote, not in a way that stifles me, but just in a way where I realize now that there are 17-year-old girls who come up to me and tell me that the show means a lot to them.”

In the matter of a season and half of Girls, I have seen a character accidentally smoke crack; intentionally sleep with a gay dude; almost have a threesome; do coke for the sheer experience of writing about it; and affectionately be peed on in the shower by a boyfriend. It’s hard to play the role model card when your entire representation of a new generation hinges on women, who are one bad decision away from being crack w***es. Likewise, I find it highly unlikely that Dunham cannot recognize, or even find some commonality with, Rihanna’s own growing pains, and that experienced by characters of her hit television series, which is said to be based upon her life and the lives of friends in her social circle.  On television, fictional Hannah deserves our empathy or at least understanding. In real life, Rihanna does not. That’s why it is almost laughable when Dunham speaks of looking, “…at us until you see us.” Like, what version of “us” does she truly believe the television viewing audience has yet to accept and acknowledge?

I’m a Little Uncomfortable With Michelle O’s Love For Beyoncé, Are You?

May 28th, 2012 - By Marissa Ellis
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I know, I know; you’re already assuming by this headline that I’m hating on Bey. Well, although there’s a lot to be envious about, my issue with Beyonce and the First Lady’s romance has less to do with Bey and more to do with Michelle Obama.

As reviews start rolling in of Beyoncé’s concert at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, it’s become apparent that Michelle’s attendance, along with her two daughters Sasha and Malia, added an umph factor to the already-highly-publicized festivities. Just days before, the First Lady had told People that if she could be anyone else, she’d be Beyoncé. Huh?

But my confusion with Michelle Obama’s infatuation with the pop star didn’t start there – it started when she commented about how good of a role model Beyonce is to young women. I don’t know about you but although I do think Bey is the greatest performer out there today (as her hubby Jay tweeted over the weekend), I wouldn’t hold her up as the gold standard for young girls.

Sasha and Malia are both under 13. To uphold this woman, who has partially gotten to the top by dressing scantily and gyrating in music videos and engaging in a competition of whose the hottest amongst the pop princesses, as their role model just seems kind of funny to me.

To be honest, I’d be more comfortable with my kids watching Kelly Clarkson videos any day. But again, that’s about understanding what it means to be an appropriate role model for young girls. Michelle Obama is an example of a wholesome role model. Beyonce definitely deserves respect but her career is not something I’d be comfortable for my kids to admire.

While I’m sure Michelle appreciates the Carter’s support of her husband’s election campaign, I do think she needs to draw the line when it comes to her fandom of Queen Bee. President Obama has been accused of being too Hollywood and the gushing of the Carters, a family who is better known for their musical achievements rather than their philanthropic efforts, doesn’t really help to keep them connected with the average American. I admire the Obamas, and I admire the Carters on a very different level, but I do want them to stay in their lanes to an extent. I admit it!

What do you think? Should FLOTUS keep her love affair for the Queen on the low or continue to espouse her as a great role model?


More on Madame Noire!

Are We Looking to Celebrities for Guidance?

April 10th, 2012 - By Veronica Wells
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In a recent interview with JuJu Chang for ABC’s “Nightline,” Nicki Minaj sat down to chat about everything from witnessing abuse during her childhood to being compared to Lady Gaga. Naturally, during the conversation the actual content of her music came into question. Late last year, after a video of Sophia Grace passionately singing Minaj’s song “Superbass” went viral, the artist said she and her crew developed a running joke: “Can Sophia sing this?” While she said she never wants to offend mothers with her music, she didn’t come into the industry to appeal to children.

Ok that’s… understandable. Even though you wear bright Barbie colors and speak/rap like cartoon characters, aka elements which are appealing to children, we’ll give you a pass on that one. I’d argue it’s the parents’ job to keep their children away from things they don’t want them to see or hear for as long as possible. But we’ll get to that.

The interview went on to address whether or not Minaj’s lyrics, and really her career at large, contain a “girl power” message. Watching the interview, I’m under the impression that, for whatever reason, ABC wanted to portray her in a very positive light. They highlighted Minaj’s song “Moment for Life” and aired clips of her explaining what it meant to be “bossed-up” as a woman in the industry.

True, those two examples would definitely paint her in the pro-girl power light; however the segment didn’t highlight one of Minaj’s most recent singles, “Stupid H*e” or the fact that she relies on one asset in particular during her music videos.(See her booty clapping in a cage during “Stupid H*e” or winding up in Big Sean’s “A*s.” ) Or even the fact that while she encourages women to be independent and successful, she often refers to herself and her competition as bytchs, though she didn’t seem too fond of the term in the interview. Contradictions.

On the other hand, we can’t deny that Minaj is achieving success based on her talent and business acumen. Her album, which has been criticized as being sub-par at best, is selling slowly but she’s going on a world tour to promote it, so even if she loses on album sales, she’ll make much more money touring. She’s signing endorsement deal after endorsement deal and she’s said time and time again that she refuses to rely on a man to provide success for her.

So what are we to make of all this?

If you were to ask me, I’d say nothing much.

We shouldn’t be looking toward any artist or entertainer to be a complete role model for us. Really, most people can’t be complete role models for us. If you examine any one person long enough, you’ll find something you definitely don’t want to emulate. This is as true for ordinary people as it is artists. The only difference is that with non-famous people you may have more insight into why they do the foolish things they do, whereas a celebrity may or may not feel the need to constantly explain him or herself, knowing that they’ll never have the approval of everyone.

While I  won’t deny that I have a general interest in what celebrities may or may not do, when they act a fool, with the exception of a few, I can’t say that I’m truly surprised. 1. Because we’ve all been known to act a fool on occasion and 2. Because I don’t know, and therefore, have relatively low expectations for them. Jezebel reported that Minaj embraces being a feminist role model. I can see why she might think she fits that mold but  I won’t look to her for that, simply because I have better examples.

Some people see a problem in the fact that impressionable people, children and adults alike, can start to internalize the images Minaj and other artists portray as some type of guidebook to life. It is a problem and people surely will take on celebrity role models. But children, in the care of their parents, shouldn’t only have those images to teach them what life’s about. And grown folks who willingly subscribe to Nicki’s antics as the best way to live life are…probably beyond help.

But more people than you might suspect are looking toward celebrities and Minaj isn’t the only one. There are people doubting the plausibility of successful marriages because so many Hollywood unions end in divorce.  There are people personally offended because they feel Beyoncé lied to them about her pregnancy. And there are people who refuse to accept or acknowledge that Whitney Houston used drugs because they want to remember her fondly.

The best we can hope for from some celebrities is that they just might use their platform to do some good. And honestly, though not always consistently, I’ve seen Minaj do that.

I say all of that to say this, people, celebrities and common-folk alike, are complex. And being in the limelight doesn’t change that. People are never all good or all bad. The trick is learning what elements you may want to take from them and what elements you want to leave alone. Keeping that in mind, there’s no need to be surprised when Nicki Minaj is doing something positive like making it out of an abusive home and establishing a successful career as a woman in a male dominated industry.  Just like there’s no need to be surprised when she releases a video that looks like it could have been shot at the now defunct Freaknik and aired on the similarly terminated, “Uncut.” She’s a human being. By nature, she’s full of contradictions and if we can expect anything from her, we can expect that we’ll agree with some of her choices and disagree with others.

By the way, you can watch the interview in its entirety below:

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I Didn’t Sign Up For This: Why Celebrities Are Not Role Models By Default

February 22nd, 2012 - By Brande Victorian
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There are two things that bother me most about the response to Chris Brown and Rihanna’s assumed reunion. One is the fact that people who looked at Rihanna like a trashy R&B wild child days before are now pretending to suddenly be so concerned about her emotional and physical wellbeing that they have penned open letters to her about her love life. The other is the idea that Rihanna owes it to young girls everywhere not to go back to the man who physically assaulted her because she’s a role model.

Let’s be real about something. Rihanna hasn’t had the potential to be a role model since she ponned de replay, and even then I’m not sure that’s what she wanted to be. But since the assumed good girl has obviously gone bad she has repeatedly shouted from the roof tops that she is not a role model, she does not wish to be a role model, and she will not adjust her life to be a role model. Why aren’t we letting her talk that talk?

I understand the logic that once you become a performer your private life and a lot of the personal decisions you make are put on display for millions of fans and the public at large to critique, but that doesn’t make you a role model, that makes you visible. I feel the same way when it comes to the backlash against rappers. Of course they could all stand to make the content of their music a little less misogynistic and a lot more purposeful, but can we really expect men who literally just stepped out of the hood and got $10 million dollars put in their pocket to talk about their life experiences to suddenly encourage behavior they know nothing about? I mean is there some sort of remedial thug program aspiring rappers go through once they get a deal? Of course not.

Do I think there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes along with being a person that influential? Yes, but only to the extent that if you are engaging in questionable behavior you should never encourage anyone else to do so, or suggest ridiculous things to minors (Too Short). Do I think it’s fair to put pressure on celebrities to lead straight and narrow lives to appease the images we want them to hold of them? Not at all.

Being a role model is an awesome responsibility that many are not cut out for and few have the ability to live up to. Do you consider every leader in your community a role model? What about executives on your job? Sure, tons of people take direction from these figures and look to them for guidance but when you think about the positive context in which the term role model is used, it’s a title we don’t bestow upon ordinary, everyday people hastily. They have to earn it. So why should celebrities be any different?

At some point we all have to take responsibility for ourselves and the influences we succumb to. And when it comes to adolescents and teenagers, it’s up to their parents to set appropriate examples of who to emulate and who to excuse. As someone who never got into celebrity worship, I’ve never expected anything more from the actors and musical artists I am a fan of to do anything more than entertain me. Sometimes they do it with their personal lives, but I only expect it from their professional ones. Sure, sometimes the things they do off-camera or off-screen disappoint me, but that’s likely because I created an image in my head of who they were in lieu of the ability to really get to know who they actually are. And that’s why a celebrity could never be a role model to me. I don’t know enough about them.

If you want to model your career off of a famous person who’s made it big in an industry with a talent you share or wear a design some singer rocked, go for it. But when it comes to romance, relationships, and the things that matter when the paparazzi are gone, it’s not up to an entertainer to lead you in the way that you should go unless they’ve demonstrated they want to because they have their fans best interest at heart and they have a lifestyle that’s worth modeling. Otherwise you’re on your own—as you should be.

Do you think fame automatically makes celebrities role models?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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