Growing up, most of us had one or probably multiple celebrities that we looked up to someone we wanted to be like, or look like or someone whose lifestyle we found appealing. Celebrities have held a special place in our hearts because more often than not we grew up looking at their famous faces on the big and small screens, acting out in our favourite movies and advertising our favourite products while we admired and idiolised them from afar. This becomes a problem however, when this idolisation takes a sinister turn.
We look up to celebrities because we like the life they live and want a life like that for ourselves as well. The glamour, attention, success, and money they earn pull the common crowd towards wanting to be more like them. This admiration of our interpersonal connections relies on empathy, or in our ability to empathise with how other people are experiencing things based on our own experiences. As a result, a higher level of infatuation with fictitious characters and celebrities can develop.
It does not help that we have access to so much of our favourite celebrities' lives through social media and other platforms it is easy to assume that we know them a lot more than we actually do. When you see your favourite celebrity post about their favourite drink, at their favourite place, where they frequent for a Sunday brunch, it becomes a lot easier to assume that they are a part of our everyday life even though the reality is far from it.
With the shift of social media, celebrities are seen as influencers for our everyday lives, it is a part of their job to promote the life they are living to their admiring population. To share their hair care routine, the protein shake they intake post workout, the clothes they wear when hanging out with their other celebrity friends. To the people who want to live that life but are in a different social strata, it becomes a lot easier for them to assume that they are a part of their everyday life even though the reality is far from it. This obsession might stem from the fact that they have achieved something that we want to have or would like to have and maybe believe that we cannot attain our own reality.
The obsession with the celebrity and their lifestyle might come from a desire to compensate for some discrepancy in the real versus ideal self where we might find ourselves lacking in certain aspects such as a symmetrical face, flawless soprano voice or a lot of money which would lead us to look up to a celebrity’s extravagant life.
Before we talk about this topic any further, let us define a phenomenon that is pretty recent, i.e. the Celebrity worship syndrome. Celebrity worship syndrome (CWS) is an obsessive addictive disorder in which an individual becomes excessively involved with the particulars of a celebrity's intimate and professional life. Though many people obsess over film, television, sport and pop stars, the only common aspect between them is that they are all figures in the public eye.
There can be two aspects to explore when trying to understand why a person would feel the need to emulate a celebrity's life or be so deeply involved in their life to the point where it becomes an unhealthy obsession- the empty self and the social concept. Celebrity worship syndrome on the self-level can be associated with poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety and lower life satisfaction.
The carefully curated life of the celebrity which seems like such a fantasy, a dream that many dream but only a few get to experience provides them with the perfect escape from what might be a gruelling reality. On the social front- we are social beings that have a desire to belong and form positive relations with others that surround us. When these social needs are not met in real life, people might look to the fictional world to form these connections as a coping mechanism. This concept is called Social Surrogacy. This can involve turning to favourite fictional characters when feeling lonely which becomes comforting leading to extreme dependence on that character which then becomes an unhealthy pattern of behaviour leading them to live their lives in a distorted reality.
When talking about the celebrity worship culture, the obsession and adoration that surrounds celebrities, I think one thing that is often overlooked in these discussions is the impact that this love, adoration from millions of people can have on the celebrities. It is no secret that celebrities and other well-known personalities are unable to live ordinary lives. What we see on the social media is the edited shiny version of the life that they promote but the reality behind the scenes can be quite jarring.
They may be compelled to live in their own private world, unable to do things that the average Joe can. Being prominent has the downside of preventing celebrities from partaking in the simple pleasures of life, which may be quite frustrating. This might lead to social isolation or a compulsion to mix only with people of same status and class. Celebrities are often put on a pedestal living the ideal life living in a shiny castle with not much to complain about. That is however not the truth, they are real people with real problems but because they are put on this high pedestal, they are often shamed for sharing any problems that they might be dealing with. This leads to a lot of mental health distress for these particular individuals.
Being the ideal for so many puts a lot of pressure on a celebrity especially the extreme focus on their looks. This can lead to severe body image issues and eating disorders and then having no room for error because the whole world idolises you and looks upon your every action might be a lot of pressure to handle for many. One wrong move can destroy their whole career because they are worshipped one small mistake could cost them their reputation and career. This creates a lot of pressure which makes them stressed and paranoid just with the thought of not being able to keep up the good name. This often leads to depression and severe anxiety.
We've all heard about celebrity stalking situations that have spiralled out of control. Famous persons are frequently followed or harassed by admirers on followers who cross the line and become obsessed via phone, email, or mail. Threats and even physical damage can arise from obsession. This gives rise to fear and anxiety to keep themselves as well as their family members safe from derogatory actions and false information that would spread like a wildfire keeping in mind the huge fan following and media coverage. Not only this, but they are constantly judged and kept record of, they cannot be themselves and are always expected to maintain certain standards.
When you look up to a person you often ignore a lot of their flaws, or more appropriately you do not want to acknowledge their flaws because for you that person has become the ideal. When you put a person in this position of power-not just you as an individual, but as a society- you take away their ability to be consequential and in turn their ability to be human. The paradox of this situation however is that because you understand that you put them in power, that this is your doing. When you form that unhealthy attachment to the celebrity you might feel like you are entitled to their time, to their life because in some twisted way, they are where they are because of you.
You see someone as an ideal that you want to achieve, the ideal that you have set might be quite unattainable, the person that is your ideal-has the pressure of staying your ideal no matter what. This creates a very toxic narrative for everyone involved-the celebrity and the general public.