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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Role Models and Celeb Idols

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Special Q&A on Role Models and Celeb Idols

Can having a role model / idol say something about your personality or qualities that you find important?

Yes, it definitely can reveal much about your personality and priorities. We tend to be drawn to mentors who we find personally successful, and definitions of “success” vary across people. Some people see success in social terms, while others see it in financial or ego terms. Nevertheless, we gravitate and attempt to copy people that seem to have what we find missing in ourselves and in our lives.

What are some common celebs that are idolized? Why?

Modern celebrities are often mass marketed “products” that reflect artificial trends. Celebs who are physical attractive and have the greatest exposure tend to be the most idolized at any given time by younger people. This is because there is a positive bias in our society to physical attractiveness as well as to those things or those people with whom we are most familiar. However, generally speaking people name celebrities as their mentors who have genuine talents and abilities and have a wide impact on society and culture through those talents – people that transcend fleeting trends or fads. “Celebrities with substance,” as I call them, seem to be the most revered. Some examples include Bill Gates (philanthropy), Oprah Winfrey (raising social awareness), Nelson Mandela (political issues), Brad Pitt (charities), Bono (environmental and health/political issues) and Meryl Streep (ability to act and entertainment).

How do you develop a role model / idol?

People develop role models at a very early age – they are a normal part of identity development in childhood and adolescence. Initially, our choice of role models is made for us – first it is our parents and other higher authorities that we focus on (teachers, police officers, fire fighters, etc.). Then, we naturally adopt the model roles “sold” or “marketed” to us via the media – from sources like TV, radio, magazines and the Internet. Younger people are extremely impressionable, so our choices seem natural rather than forced. However, as we develop independence and a sense of self and identity, it seems as though we star making more conscious decisions for role models. We are attracted to those who have skills, attitudes, views and behaviors that we wish we personally had. Maybe that attribute or quality is physical beauty, social popularity, immense wealth, social or business success, physical grace or athletic ability or simply peace of mind and self-acceptance.

Do you and your idol / role model have a lot in common?

It’s certainly possible individuals and their role models have actual commonalities such as similar circumstances or situations growing up, a particular worldview, common aspirations or even the same fears and anxieties. However, often times we manufacture or create similarities in our minds – or exaggerate the similarities. For example, a young girl may idolize a certain male singer/songwriter because the lyrics to one of his songs strikes a familiar cord in her, and this makes her assume that she and he share similar values or feelings. On the other hand, a young boy may see his “himself” or “future self” in a successful basketball star, given that the star was able to rise above poverty or social and economic pitfalls which the young boy is similarly having to face. I think the greatest similarities between people and their mentors are the dreams and aspirations they seem to share; people are drawn to others who seem to have reach success as defined by the admirer.

Does your role model / idol clue you in to what characteristics you find most important?

Yes, often times this is the case. Again we are drawn to people who have what we want out of life. And we try to copy them in an attempt (literally or psychologically) to copy the success they have achieved. It’s actually an adaptive behavior, which evolutionary psychologists have long noted. The person you most admire reveals what qualities you most want; those personal characteristics you find ideal.

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