When kids have imaginary friends, they’re rarely normal people—they’re friends who have that mohawk mom wouldn’t let them get, they don’t have to go to bed on time, can jump off the roof, and are always funnier, cooler, and somehow better than real people. They’re the people you want to be but don’t know how to become, and most importantly they’re yours. As a redhead, my imaginary friend was Pippi Longstocking and she could ride a horse backwards and sail the seven seas. Top that boring, average classmates.
Fast forward a few years and eventually the imaginary friends fall by the wayside, but the desire to be what we’re not, and tendency to idolize those who are remains. What do we replace that fantasy friend with? Celebrities. Think about it—they’re people we don’t know but are fascinated by, they lead lives we could only dream about, and if you have a best friend you’ve probably had a very heated debate at some point in time about why your favorite celebrity is better than theirs (for the record Adele > Miley forever). Thanks to gossip rags and the Internet you’ve seen pictures from their latest photoshoots, watched clips of their appearances, and read countless interviews. You have opinions on whether they look better with long or short hair, as a blonde or ginger, and if that last movie was really a good decision for their career. Friends leave articles on your Facebook wall or tweet at you that “your man” or “your girl” is hosting something in the same way they would if it was your significant other doing it. And that flutter of excitement that runs through you as you frantically tune in to see them is similar to what you feel when you show up to support your own (real life) friends.
It’s a bizarre phenomenon to become deeply possessive and obsessive over people you don’t know. You think of them often, reference them idly, and have a lot of opinions about their lives, decisions, and relationships. But they’re also objectified and resorted to nothing but an amalgamation of body parts—a great ass, damn fine cheekbones, a flashy smile, and big green eyes. Any fluctuation of their own body is dissected to an absurd level, as if anyone but them has any right to dictate how their body looks. Society doesn’t hesitate to obliterate any sense of privacy celebrities have, every moment of their lives is splashed across blogs and rags in a manner that the average person would never tolerate. People treat celebrities as if they owe them, for seeing their movies, buying their albums, and only a pound of flesh will suffice—do the projects I want you to do, be available for the fans, show us your wedding/child/private moment photos, how dare you not be happy about having no privacy?
We treat celebrities as if they are not real people with no more humanity than our old imaginary friends. They’re too successful, too cool, too everything we aren’t to be able to see their humanity. We may all want Jennifer Lawrence to be our best friend—she’s real, funny, snarky, a hot mess and all put together at the same time. She’s relatable and just like us, eats cheese fries in bed with no pants, falls down in heels, and yet she’s glamorous, successful, rich, and talented. She’s like us but better and the perfect imaginary celebrity friend, but would we ever treat her that way if we knew her? Do we actually know who she is when the mics are off, when she’s had a terrible day of shooting and is frustrated? Is she always so perfectly imperfect, and would we like her if she was? She may be more upfront and honest than others, but the fact is that no matter how many deep questions she answers in interviews, she is still just a human being that exists entirely outside of our imaginations, who shits, has sex, curses, grocery shops, fights with her mother, worries about her body, has bouts of insecurities—and everything else that we do too.
Unlike our imaginary friends who existed entirely out of our whims, to be there when we wanted to slip into the fantasy of a world we didn’t live in, and to say or do only what made us happy, celebrities are not ours to control. Treating celebrities as figments in our imagination is not only a dangerous act of dehumanization that has lead to complete invasions of privacy and stalking, but it idealizes people who just happen to be a bit richer and more famous, and makes them superior to “normal” people. It creates unrealistic expectations of success, disdains those who lack it, and not only puts the celebrity on a pedestal they do not deserve and holds them to standards they cannot meet, but means most people will never be able to live up to the “perfection” of this imaginary person. No friend or significant other will ever be the photoshopped, professionally styled, edited, and staged persona of your celebrity—not even said celebrity.
Maybe then, instead of squealing Beatle-mania over celebrities, of invading their privacy and feeling personally slighted when our celebrity-crush marries someone they actually know and love, we should focus on what does matter: their talent. Admire the hell out Adele for being a power-house singer, Benedict Cumberbatch for being brilliant and one of the most talented actors of our time, Jennifer Lawrence for being hilarious and taking male-dominated Hollywood by storm. Think they’re hot and get style inspiration from them, but if you meet them, maybe tone down the screaming, crying, or paparazzi style sneaky photos. Remember that they’re just people who have hopes and dreams, and admire them for living them out, support their projects the same way you would your own friends. But just as the people you see day in and day out have autonomy over their own lives and make decisions you disagree with, grant celebrities that same respect. You wouldn’t dictate how your friends look, dress, date, eat, or live their lives, why would you think you have the right to do so to a stranger?
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