Were I able to convert the amount of times I've heard the phrase "He/she is such a good role model..." into dollars, Bill Gates and Lakshmi Mittal would be intimidated by my cash reserves, shutter at my financial statements and beg me for money management tips.
The term role model is grossly, grossly overused these days. It feels as though the definition has recently loosened and widened to mean "anyone in the public eye." It's a shame, because a role model serves such an important function within society -- role models help everyone see beyond what is thought possible; their efforts forge us forward and inspire.
Life is fraught with confusion and obstacles to success and contentment. When there's a role model out there who has met life's challenges with dignity and grace, boy do we like to hear from them. We wish to know how they "got through" and "stayed focused." We wish to apply some of the insight to our own lives. The wisdom of their journey can be such an incalculable gift.
So I ask myself, when and why did the enviable state of being a role model and "being in the public eye" become fused? Now, a rapper in heavy radio rotation, responsible for such inspired lyrics as, "b*tch named Crystal ... I let her s*ck my pistol ..." and a hotel heiress whose ambition reaches no farther than displaying on camera, in detail, just how inconsequential a person can be when they set their mind to it, are being posed the question, "how does it feel to be a role model?"
The first few times I heard the question posed to one of these "celebrities" I waited for the punch line. Imagine my shock when the interviewee responded with a straight face.
For the record, I don't believe that the severely compromised state of role model-hood has gone unnoticed. It is highly likely that many of us turned around one day and were shocked to realize that our popular culture was all of a sudden saturated with a particular group of famous people who had no craft, no insight, no value proposition and (this part is the most disturbing) no problem proclaiming it to the world over a keyboard generated beat or in a "look at me" reality show.
If this author may reveal her vulnerability for a moment, it should be noted that more than anything, I'm grieving what feels like the loss of a long-protected fantasy, which role model-hood sustains by inherently suggesting: that good things mainly happen for good people.
I think what I (and anyone dealing with this brand of disillusionment) must do is to remember that the ability to define social constructs rest in our hands, as we are the foundation of trends, pop culture or otherwise.
The good news is that the true definition of a role model has not been lost, only obscured. Every day there are grounded people doing extraordinary things in and out of the public eye. We have the ability to confer as much praise and attention upon them as we wish.
Finally, while we are in here examining all this, there may also be some value in switching up one more thing. For those experiencing a dearth of role model-able candidates in their private and public spheres, might I suggest you look in your bathroom. Yes, indeed, the bathroom. Step into your bathroom, stand in front of your sink and look at yourself in the mirror above the sink. Allow yourself, for just a moment, to be as welcoming and enthusiastic about your giftings as you are of all of the people you've previously defined as role models.
Model your passion. Model your courage. Model your capacity to love and be loved. Model your roles as friends, parents, children, caregivers, justice-minded cool people, civic and socially-engaged citizens, etc.
Model it all hard and strong. Who knows? One day when you're in the city taking the children in your life on a little outing to show them the sights and broaden their horizons, some hotel heiress standing on the corner pretending to hide from paparazzi will catch a glimpse of you in action and think to herself, "Wow, that's hot."