Media Studies Research Apprenticeship
Analyzing Girls’ Celebrity Attachment
Does the level of parental interaction with girls contribute to their celebrity attachment?
What characteristics predetermine which adolescents will be more attached to celebrities than others?
What enables Youtubers to create such a strong attachment among girls?
What language is used by celebrities to encourage attachment among girls?
What are the negative effects that celebrity attachment has on body image?
The relationship between celebrity attachment and young girls is important to examine as it can often lead girls to develop unhealthy self-images, potentially causing them psychological and physical harm. This topic is especially relevant to study today as the rise of Web 2.0 has allowed celebrity culture to become increasingly prevalent in American society. These days, it is impossible to avoid the influence of celebrity on the average person; the lives of all kinds of celebrities (YouTubers,movie stars, tv stars, athletes, etc.) are constantly discussed on various social forums and reported by news outlets, etc. Young girls are often the audiences of which celebrities can increase their fame by targeting. They are prone to being influenced as they lack the necessary critical thinking skills and social tools to fully combat the ways in which celebrity actions may shape their own thoughts and attitudes towards the world and themselves. Therefore, this research question will help towards creating an understanding of girls’ attachment to celebrities and the impacts of this attachment.
Analyzing Girls’ Secondary Attachment to Celebrities
Even prior to the rise of technology, the emergence of Web 2.0, and the resulting influence of social media, adolescents have historically displayed a tendency for celebrity attachment. Greene and Adams-Price examined various influences on development and the effect of age, gender, and pubertal development on levels of attachment to celebrities (Adams-Price, et. al 1990).
Adolescent development is traditionally marked by their “gradual disengagement from parental authority toward greater autonomy and self-definition” (p. 336). As children grow older, they become more independent and self-sufficient and thus are less reliant on their parents. This can be a confusing process for teenagers to engage in, so they often turn to other figures for guidance. Peers facilitate adolescent development by allowing one another to “explore new social and sex role behaviors, obtain sexual gratification precluded in family relationships, and develop decision-making skills necessary for autonomous functioning in adulthood” (p. 336). Popular celebrities have often served as guideposts for adolescents on how to behave and develop a unique identity. This adoration of celebrities and transition to viewing them as authorities often causes adolescents to enhance or idealize specific qualities of a particular celebrity. This attachment indicates a transition from parental authority to a perceived celebrity authority. “Secondary attachment can be best understood as a means of affective transition from the nurturant, parental attachments of childhood to the more intimate, romantic attachments of adolescence and young adulthood. Adams-Price and Greene (1990) characterized secondary attachment further. There are two dimensions of this type of attachment: romantic attachments and identificatory attachments. Romantic attachments refer to a desire to be in a romantic relationship with a given celebrity, while identificatory attachments signify a desire to be similar to the celebrity.
The levels of such a type of secondary attachment range for the individual due to a variety of factors. Adams-Price and Greene surveyed sixty male and female 5th, 8th and 11th graders on their views on and perceptions of their favorite celebrities, finding evidence for the influence of gender and age on celebrity attachment:
Whereas males described identificatory attachments to a favorite male celebrity whom they perceived to be high in instrumentality (e.g., strength, aggressiveness), females described romantic attachments to a favorite male celebrity whom they perceived to be high in instrumentality (e.g., warmth, nurturance). Regardless of the type of attachment described, however, 5th graders attributed greater expressivity to their favorite celebrities than did 8th and 11th graders. (p. 336).
According to this specific data, males and females will have different types of attachment to male celebrities. Female adolescents develop attachments that indicate developing concerns regarding sexuality and personal identity. The scholars also concluded that an adolescents’ view of his or her favorite celebrity will largely influence perceptions of and preferences for celebrities in general. Additionally, they concluded that adolescents display a preference for opposite-sex celebrities, indicating that celebrity attachment allows adolescents to engage in psychological experimentation and fantasy that provides an opportunity for sexuality and identity exploration. The findings in this study ultimately support the notion that adolescents develop and negotiate identity through an affective transition experience that is influenced by their secondary attachments, including those to celebrity figures.
Girls’ Attachment to YouTube Stars
When examining girls’ emotional attachments to celebrities in today’s society, it is imperative to direct the attention first to the YouTubers. According to Cnet.com’s article Generation YouTube (2015), YouTubers are individuals who make a career through the platform Youtube. Unlike previous generations who were quite taken with movie stars, television actors and lead singers, Generation Z (or millennials) has grown increasingly attached to YouTubers. According to a 2014 Verizon survey, tweens and teens watch more than a third of their “TV” online--triple the percentage viewed by Generation X (Cnet.com, 2015). Therefore, Cnet.com refers to this cohort of individuals as Generation YouTube.
According to a survey done by Variety.com in 2015, YouTubers have a stronger influence and connection with girls than mainstream celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Johnny Depp, Bruno Mars and more. The survey compared 10 YouTubers against 10 traditional stars with the highest Q score among 1,500 teens aged 13-17 (a Q score is a measure of influence used by advertisers). The teens were asked how the 20 options ranked in approachability, authenticity, etc. and the answers were translated to a 100-point scale (Variety, 2015).
The YouTubers ranked high in all categories and consumed over eight spots in the top 10 list. In fact, most traditional celebrities fell toward the bottom on the top 20 list. In other surveys referenced in Variety’s 2015 article on these digital stars, teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars showed to be seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity. Furthermore, “YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars” among teens (Variety.com, 2015, p.1).
So, what enables YouTubers to create fan-crazed people out of your sisters, daughters, nieces? What makes these individuals profoundly more popular than the movie stars we grew up idolizing? One answer lies in relatability. “Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR Pros” (Variety, 2014, p.1). The Guardian.com (2016) states that teens appreciate YouTubers’ humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit which is often unseen or hidden by mainstream celebrities. In other words, YouTubers’ relatability is what makes them an easy attachment figure among tweens and teens.
Another reason YouTubers are so popular among girls is because they offer a sense of connection. Not only are they talking into the camera in a one-on-one style, but they are often taping in intimate settings such as their bedroom or home. It is easy for a teen to feel as if they are getting to know the YouTuber under these conditions. According to TheGuardian.com (2016), YouTubers also establish a connection with fans by participating in self-disclosure. “From the coming-out announcements of stars such as Connor Franta, Ingrid Nelson and Shane Dawson to Zoella vlogging about her experience of anxiety attacks” (TheGuardian.com, 2016, p.1), connection and a sense of closeness are easily established.
Mentioned in TheGuardian.com, The Atlantic investigated another angle that aids YouTubers in reaching fame: the “YouTube Voice”, which is the linguistic characteristics shared by many of the most successful YouTube Stars that generate attention and interest. Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, teamed up with The Atlantic’s writer Julie Beck in 2015 to analyze the shared linguistic tactics employed by YouTubers. Some of the following were found to be essential in creating the YouTube Voice: overstressed vowels, extra vowels between consonants, long vowels and consonants and aspiration. These tactis--also used by popular and informal TV hosts such as Jon Stewart, grab the listener's attention and keep it. The two researchers also noticed strong, exaggerated gestures and facial expressions (TheAtlantic.com, 2015).
Another idea theorized on why YouTubers have gained so much fame is from Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst. In TheGuardian.com (2016), the writer references his 2015 blogpost where he described that teens prefer YouTubers over musicians because this content is “their own”. It is not considered mainstream and in turn, it’s different and unique to them. “With no music subculture to cling to, Generation Edge has instead gravitated to YouTube stars” (TheGuardian.com, 2016, p.1). The CEO of news curation site Redef, Jason Hirschhorn, says “the star-making machine is outside big corporations for the first time” in Cnet.com (2015). Kids and teens don’t care about how much something cost to make--they want something that entertains them and makes them feel special. The fact that these YouTube videos that teens are subscribing to are not something their parents like/know about and are something that may annoy non-fans is part of the appeal, says Mulligan (2015).
Overall, this part of the literature review on YouTubers and their influence on girls was helpful because it described the qualities that make a YouTuber so attractive to a younger audience and also described the tactics that YouTubers actively engage in to attract the audience. I agree with what this research has explained, but I would like to add to it. One implication of this research is that it does not specify gender/sex of the tweens and teens. Therefore, it enlightens more about the general age group than the male/female variable. I am left wondering how a focus on girls would affect findings. Future research could aim to investigate YouTubers’ influence on specifically young girls and see if there are different or gender-specific findings on this topic.
Negative Psychological and Physical Effects of Secondary Celebrity Attachment
Growing up is difficult and with the advancement of technology and the rise of social media, one’s image has become almost everything. With this rise in social media, the instant celebrity has grown, making those in the spotlight more prominent than ever. From advertisements, to movies, to “selfies”, and everything in between, adolescent girls are, now more than ever, exposed to the ideals of what the perfect woman should look like. In turn, these images have affected adolescent girls body image, negatively more than positively. The research done by Maltby, Giles, Barber, and McCutcheon examines the relationship between body image and celebrity worship and its effects on adolescents.
Much research has been done on the association of mass media and eating disorders in adolescence (Maltby 2005). There is a fear, though, that this association has given girls the idea that the ideal is to be thin, while models and advertising agents continually use models who are deemed as “scary skinny.”
The relationship between celebrity worship and female adolescent body image is quite large. The more a female adolescent reports celebrity worship to a specific person, the greater the chance the adolescent experiences poor body image (2005). Even more so, those adolescents with higher negative body image thoughts feel a more intense-personal connection to the celebrity. The individual feels such a parasocial relationship that they strive to be more like that particular celebrity. All of these findings concluded that these feelings of intense-personal connection and celebrity worship are particularly found in female adolescence and not within any other group (including males, female young adult, female adult).
The most interesting evidence found in this research is the disappearance of this celebrity worship and body image connection as one grows up. These findings are sparked some questions that have the potential to be very useful while studying this topic in the future. The samples used in this research were relatively small, so it would be extremely interesting to see results on a larger scale. It needs to be noted that the research should include mental health attitudes as well. There is the possibility that the intense-personal connection to a celebrity that an adolescent female desires could be due to poor mental health. More research must be done regarding that connection.
The literature reviewed reveals a particularly alarming ideology. In order to be happy, or to feel a connection to a specific person (in this case a celebrity) one must completely change the way they look. There seems to be no positive outcome from the evidence provided in the literature. One good outcome is that because the research has found negative outcomes to celebrity worship and body image, this allows clinicians and social psychologists to do more research and help those suffering from poor body image (2005).
Overall, the literature reviewed is helpful in understanding the relationship between celebrity worship and body image specifically in adolescent girls. By understanding this relationship early on in a girl’s life, there might be a way to prevent the feelings of a para-social and intense-personal relationship, allowing young girls to be comfortable in their bodies without comparing them to those in the spotlight. Understanding this connection is the first part in making sure that young girls feel beautiful in their own skin, and recognize their importance and influence to other girls who will one day look up to them. The research also allows celebrities to be the role models they strive to be. By loving, taking care of, and encouraging young girls to be the best they can be, they will be able to change the mindset and stigma around the “perfect” body.
The data collected by Renee Hobbs in her Celebrity and Girls Research shows that almost half of girls aged 7 - 15 have a television in their bedroom for media consumption under little parental observation, rule or guidance. The girls show levels of moderate to high desire to be famous like their celebrity attachment figure. The data exposes several other factors among girls in today’s media-saturated society. If continued, our Research Apprenticeship would correlate this data to the studies of our literature review and make strong connections.. We hypothesize that the articles of our literature review and our own research would reflect the completed data. We specifically hypothesize that low levels of parental interaction among girls would influence higher levels of attachment to celebrities.
Adams-Price, C. & Greene, A. L. (1990). Adolescents’ secondary attachments to celebrity
figures. Sex Roles, 23, 335-347.
Dredge, S. (2016). Why are YouTube stars so popular? The Guardian. Retrieved from:
Maltby, J., Giles, D. C., Barber, L., & Mccutcheon, L. E. (2005). Intense-personal celebrity worship and body image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology,10(1), 17-32. doi:10.1348/135910704x15257
Solsman, J. (2015). Generation YouTube: Today’s fastest rising stars aren’t coming out
of Hollywood. Retrieved from: https://www.cnet.com/news/generation-youtube/.