The Issue with Role Models

We are frequently asked this question during group ice breaker activities, job interviews, and similar scenarios: Who is your role model? 

Upon reading the aforementioned question a few people may have already popped into your mind, I know it does for me. When I think of a role model, I think of someone (or certain characteristics of that said someone) that I aspire to be like. Many of my role models are women in leadership positions championing for change; all while do so with style and elegance.

Hmm.. Think Olivia Pope, minus the whole affair thing with the President of the United States. I am inspired by women who are go-getters, unafraid in being heard or the only one, and women who are still able to be nurturing (among the many other adjectives that so describe “womanhood” by society) while not placing her own goals in the backseat of the hypothetical-mini-van that calls her solely to be a wife and mother. But that’s a whole other post, folks..

Anyways, there’s an issue with having role models or even people you just look up to. We strip away their humanity. Once we proclaim someone as our role model, the characteristics that we desire about them are now the standard we hold them to 24/7, 365, even on Federal holidays. Role models get no days off, they aren’t allowed to deviate from that “perfect” image you have in your head of them, because, well they are your role model.

I remember the first time I was told I was a role model by someone, interestingly enough it wasn’t a little girl or someone significantly younger than myself, it was one of my peers. Their kind compliments of how I carried myself and congratulating me on my accomplishments made me beam from the inside out; I was so honored and humbled that someone looked to me (little ol’ me)  as a point of reference for something in their life. Yet, the more frequently I was declared a role model for someone, the heavier this silent burden of being without flaw, always “on”, and the best version of myself became. I mean, I had people looking up to me, I couldn’t let them down. 

And ya’ll really, I ain’t nobody special. I couldn’t begin imagine being a celebrity or someone that is in the public eye, they catch no breaks. Yet, from my little bit of experience with being a “role model”, think of it like a job you love, but you can’t can’t call in when you’re tired or busy, you can’t be sick, or request vacation time. You’re always working, no matter if you are in the comfort of your own home, engaging with friends on social media, at the bar, or at a public appearance. Everything you do is now a reflection of this “brand” that makes you, you.

Please, don’t take this the wrong way, it is a blessing/honor/etc. to have someone look up to you. Shoot, being told that I am a role model has inspired me to be better for not only others, but myself. Yet, I think it is fair to mention, that it does become burdensome in those moments you just want to crash and burn.

I don’t want to be a role model. I just want to be someone who says, this is who I am, this is what I do, I say what’s on my mind. – Tupac Shakur 

There are times when I am not at my best; I want to cry because I am hurt, shout out swear words in frustration, express how I really feel on a particular subject matter, and tell that jerk in the comment section that, “no you’re a damn fool and there is no such thing as reverse-racism.”


But, I can’t. I feel almost imprisoned to this idea of what people think I am. Before pressing send during a heated text conversation or delivering a speech about race relations in the United States to a group of high schoolers, I think of the possible implications that it may have on who I am or how others perceive me. Now, is this just being accountable? Maybe so. Let’s consider someone a little more well known that me.

Ah, how about Miss USA. Yeah, for little girls around the world, Miss USA is like the real life princess that you can aspire to be. In my dealings with pageantry, so often I hear, “Miss USA is my role model.” Fine and dandy, but let’s recall when our current Miss USA, Kara McCullough, answered a question on the Miss USA stage that started an “oh no she didn’t” heard around the country.

Not familiar? Click here.

McCullough shared that she believed healthcare is a privilege, not a right. And while she did add clarification to her answer…she was too late. Think of how a statement no longer than 30 seconds has literally put a bad taste in the mouths of so many regarding McCullough, and how still to this day don’t like Miss USA.

That is what I mean, being a role model, there is no space for messing up. Your flaws, shortcomings, and “oopsie” moments will be held up for display. Now, are her 5-year old fans up in arms about her views on healthcare in the United States? I think not, but I do offer this bit of advice when considering role models:

Role models, are people too. Allow them to make mistakes, evolve, and find themselves. The more we distances ourselves from role models, celebrities, and Miss USA’s alike, the more we feed into the creation false images of who these people really are. Even your fav, Beyonce, has a bad day.

Give them that luxury of taking a day off every once in awhile.

As always,

Devin J.

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