How My Celebrity Obsession Ruined The Way I See Real Men
Why I haven’t had the foot-popping kiss moment ‘Princess Diaries’ promised me.
I was in fifth grade at a sleepover with girls from my new school, and it was that part of the night when everyone had to say who they had a crush on. The other girls named boys in our class. When my turn came, I enthusiastically blurted out that my crush was Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic.”
I expected my friends to give me nods of approval. Instead, they looked at each other, confused, before hysterically laughing. “No, but really, who do you like?” one girl asked. I was speechless. In my eyes, my crush on Leo was just as real as Katie liking Jimmy Clemons, the most popular guy in our grade.
Now, at 25, after a depressing night of avoiding thirsty men on dark, beer-soaked dance floors, I come back to my studio apartment and turn on the One Direction “Night Changes” music video. Any true 1D fan knows it’s their best video. It places the viewer in the role of a young woman going on romantic dates with each band member (including Zayn!).
Each date ends in a dramatic but funny catastrophe (Harry breaks his arm!), but for two minutes, the video allows me to escape into an alternate reality—one in which I’m with my perfect man, instead of some disappointing Tinder fuckboy.
My post-college dating life has consisted mostly of going on horrible dates, ghosting or being ghosting and sloppy, drunk make-out sessions. Sure, I’ve dated normal human beings. I’ve even been in a few short-term relationships! But I’ve never been in love. I haven’t had the foot-popping kiss moment “Princess Diaries” promised me. I never had the “aha” moment when the fountain lights up, like it did for Cher after she realized Josh was The One. Instead, I cling to the hope of one day finding someone with the body of Justin Bieber, the facial structure of Zayn Malik and the humor, hair and heart of Harry Styles.
But as my hope dwindles, I hear the self-aware voice of Carrie Bradshaw in my head. I imagine her narrating my deepest fear when I ask myself, “Has my obsession with celebrities prevented me from finding true happiness?”
To understand why I idolize celebrities, I talked to doctor of psychology Leila Ellis-Nelson from Chicago’s Changing Perspectives. She said the reason for my obsession has to do with how society teaches us who we should and shouldn’t be.
She notes traditional gender roles play a huge role in how we develop our image of who we are and what we want in a mate. Boys are raised to be strong and masculine while girls are held to unrealistic standards of beauty. Ellis-Nelson says:
Celebrities tend to embody those stereotypical, traditional gender roles …If you’re taught that strong, intelligent, capable men are going to literally sweep you off your feet and adore you and only you for all time, then you start to look for men who fit that perspective. Celebrities tend to have “perfect” bodies, or a certain build/look, and they play roles that show them to be capable. Hollywood places heavy emphasis on “looking the part” and the “part” doesn’t always recognize the beautiful diversity that makes up the human race.
I grew up watching Disney movies, in which the “happily ever after” was always the same: A woman found happiness with a man. It saddens me to think this idea was subconsciously ingrained in my brain from childhood. My image of my perfect man (that Bieber/Zayn/Harry hybrid) has been formed by the men I saw in the movies I grew up watching.
Perhaps more troublingly, I find myself gravitating toward the brooding and mysterious guy who’s looking for me to complete him. After my talk with Dr. Ellis-Nelson, I came to the shocking realization that I don’t want a man to save me—I want to save him.
Throughout my teen years, I was always a fan of the sexy, dark antihero. I had a massive crush on Chuck Bass (played by Ed Westwick) in “Gossip Girl”—he’s mysterious, rich, devilishly handsome and loved Blair even though he had trouble uttering those three words and eight letters. When he finally told Blair he loved her, part of me felt complete, as if I achieved a goal with her.
There’s just one problem: Bad boys IRL usually don’t have a hidden heart of gold. The bad boys I’ve dated have emotionally abused me and led me on. Yet I still hold out hope that behind their rejection, they secretly want me. And it’s characters like Chuck who encourage that delusion.
I haven’t been able to find my Chuck Bass because he doesn’t exist. Neither does the Harry Styles the media portrays—because perfection isn’t a real thing. Ellis-Nelson suggests it’s the media’s fault for creating these images of men who don’t exist. She says:
We’re human and we fuck up, and part of what helps us move past it is our ability to recognize our errors, make amends, and move forward?—?working actively to ensure we don’t purposefully hurt others again. But we often don’t see that on TV/movies.
After years of being force-fed unrealistic media depictions of romantic love, I have to accept that nobody is perfect. And that’s a painful realization.
The media romanticizes the flaws in characters—like Chuck’s emotional immaturity. But when it comes to the flaws of actual humans, the media magnifies and exploits them.
Tabloids and gossip sites are especially guilty of making flaws into weaknesses. Zayn’s revelation of his struggles with anxiety is a perfect example of this. He was initially reluctant to discuss his mental health because he was afraid of how it would be perceived. “Anxiety is something people don’t necessarily want to advertise because it’s seen, in a way, like a weakness,” Zayn Malik told ES magazine. Perhaps if we weren’t force-fed images of the “ideal man,” people like me would see men for who they really are: human.
Ellis-Nelson tells me:
You have to recognize that sometimes those things are unrealistic and it’s OK if your real life partner isn’t perfect, because neither are you (which is also OK). You two just have to find what works for your relationship, compromise when necessary, and appreciate the connection you have, realizing that celebrities offer something for the imagination.
It’s imperfection that needs to be celebrated. We must have goals and standards, yes, but we need to embrace what it means to be human. Young women especially need to grow up thinking finding a man does not equate to true happiness. Perhaps if I grew up thinking men had flaws just like me, I wouldn’t be so set on finding someone who checks every box on my long list of requirements.