Celeb culture: inspiration or obsession?

by Jenny Kriensky and Grace Sousa, opinions writers
graphic by Julie Wang

I have to admit — I will forever buy into celebrity culture. I obsess over the Met Gala, rating everyone’s outfits with my sister. I own almost every shade of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty lip gloss and watch interviews of celebrities, even the ones I despise. While Zendaya and Tom Holland were in Boston, I was freaking out, hoping I might catch a glimpse of them. 

I can testify that through social media, fans feel closer to celebrities than ever before. While most of the celebrity craze is harmless fun, it’s important to take into account the increase in celebrity stalking and hypersexualization of famous people, many of whom are underage, that results from unfettered social media.

If you fall into the same celebrity craze category as I do, then you should be aware of falling victim to parasocial (one-sided) relationships. A parasocial relationship can come from anywhere, not just celebrities. 

When you begin to fantasize about or immensely care about someone who isn’t aware of your existence, a parasocial relationship begins.

Think of your latest hallway crush: their perfect hair, beautiful eyes and cool style. You two would be the perfect couple — if only they would notice you. Next semester, you walk into your new elective and notice they’re in your class. 

You get butterflies, and your face turns bright red; however, the butterflies and blushing don’t last long once you get to know them and realize they don’t live up to your idealized image of them. As time passes, you see your ex-hallway crush in class and you don’t even bat an eye — the infatuation leaves as fast as it came.

More often than not, having a hallway crush is exciting: it gives you something to look forward to, a reason to get out of your sweats and wear those new jeans. But while putting celebrities and crushes on a pedestal sounds innocuous, it can be detrimental to your mental health.

I idolize Kim Kardashian, a successful beauty icon and businesswoman. In a recent Met Gala interview, Kardashian was asked about her dress, a coveted historical piece previously worn by Marilyn Monroe. Kardashian told the reporter that she had to lose 16 pounds in three weeks to fit into the dress, which she accomplished by going on a strict no-carb diet.

Not only has she publicly discussed her unhealthy weight loss, promoting it to an audience of millions, but she has also been subject to many drastic visual changes, most of which can only be achieved through various cosmetic surgeries. 

What is most likely plastic surgery is seen as a “jaw-dropping beauty transformation” and a “body evolution” due to her vehement claims that she has never gone under the knife. With her massive follower base, Kardashian has undoubtedly shaped societal beauty standards around the world.

Most dangerously, many people (particularly young girls) believe her claims because of the false trust they have placed in her solely based on the highly curated image she presents on her TV shows and social media. This is an example of “stan culture” in the media. Although people haven’t actually met these celebrities, they are in love with them and think of them almost as if they were a higher being. 

Stan culture and parasocial relationships are deeply intertwined: once you start to “stan” a celebrity, it can turn into an unhealthy obsession. It sounds like it’s no big deal, but it’s more serious than people think.  It’s harmful to idolize celebrities, especially at a young age — it can cause you to attempt to morph your personality into theirs and make you believe that you need to be just like them.

As social media progresses and hundreds of micro-influencers arise, falling victim to a parasocial relationship through the media is more common than ever before. It’s not easy to avoid, and you may even experience one without noticing. The good thing is that once you realize you’ve been affected, you can take action to remedy yourself. 

The first step to ending your parasocial relationship is to acknowledge it without resorting to self-judgment. What has helped me is deciding to delete social media platforms for weeks or months on end when I get too obsessive (my relationship with TikTok is ever-changing), reconnecting with a distant friend or family member and focusing on self compassion. 

Find the root of your celebrity fascination — do you imagine yourself as part of the gang at Central Perk Cafe because you have a hard time finding friends you can truly count on? Do you consider yourself a Kardashian because you crave the family’s success and fame? 

Self care, self discovery and distancing yourself from social media are challenging, but the benefits are definitely worth it. It’s time to end your parasocial relationships and feel happier. You deserve it. 

Now go! Go outside, grab a picnic blanket, a journal and some sage and leave your phone behind.