I know, it’s a pretty negative subject matter but hear me out. Think about all the famous people you’ve looked up to over the years. How many have done or said something that’s annoyed you?
It’s more than you expected, right? You only need to look at the news every single day to see someone you look up to being slated in the headlines for something they posted online or said in an interview. It only takes one tweet or comment to make someone go from hero to zero.
Remember in RuPaul’s Drag Race season six when Joslyn Fox idolised Courtney Act, but was left devastated when Courtney said her runway look wasn’t as “polished” as the other girls’?
We expect our heroes to be perfect, nice people, understanding the things we do and saying everything that we would. So when they don’t, we react badly.
Let’s look at Caitlin Moran as an example. There are so many feminists I know that absolutely love her, and I obsessed over her book How to Build a Girl when it first came out. But, she also brought intersectional feminism to my attention – and not in a good way.
After promoting her interview with Lena Dunham, a fan asked if she had addressed the lack of people of colour in Girls with Lena. Her response? “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.” Within minutes, fans were calling her out on her disregard of intersectionality.
I was disappointed because I thought Caitlin stood up for all feminists, regardless of race, gender or background. It turned out not so, and she wasn’t apologetic about it either. I had put Caitlin on a pedestal, called her a feminist icon and ignored anyone who said they weren’t sure about her book. After her tweet, I felt she totally let her fans down with her attitude and never picked up her books again.
Similarly, a lot of my Labour Party political heroes disappointed me with their vote for Syrian air strikes. That’s not an opinion I personally felt was right, and it was such an important vote that I felt let down as a Party member. It made me take a lot more notice of my favourite MPs’ voting histories before championing them.
Looking up to people puts them on a level above you. You think they’re untouchable, and wish you could be more like them. Because you see them as a version, an iteration, a translation. They inspire you, until the moment they let you down.
Then, your hero becomes human.
Humans are flawed. We make mistakes, we say things in ignorance and we do things with inexperience. So when our heroes disappoint us, we find it hard to see that human side of them. We’re so used to agreeing with them and retweeting every perfect quote with a ‘Yes!’, ‘This!’ and a 100 emoji, when they suddenly feel like a different person it’s a difficult pill to swallow.
Learning from their mistakes
I think these people we call our heroes are part of our lives and adored in this way to help us grow and learn more than anything. The people I’ve looked up to over the years helped me discover values, understand cultures I would never have experienced, become more inclusive of those different to me.
And those that we’ve felt have let us down have actually done us a favour – they’ve shown us the attitudes and ideals that we don’t prescribe to. In a way, they’ve shaped our paths by showing us their mistakes.
I used to adore a very popular lifestyle blogger with a brilliant, positive self-love brand until they did something that I personally felt was a total U-turn on their unique message. All I needed to do was step away and re-think what I had learnt from them. And when an old boss reacted to a problem in a way that I thought was totally out of character, actually showed me they weren’t as brilliant as I thought they were.
They say you should never meet your idols, but I think we should. Just to see they’re like us after all.
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