By Karen Espig

Kim Kardashian’s fast-tracked diet to fit into the Marilyn Monroe dress (worn in 1962 for JFKs 45th birthday event) has hit some nerves, fuelled debate, and rattled cages, but mostly, it has fed her personal social media machine. Wearing this particular dress was a no-brainer in terms of Insta-appeal.

Advocates for eating disorders, health specialists, and women’s groups, have been particularly critical and upset with Kim’s cavalier attitude to crash dieting and body transformation. They feel it adds to the toxic focus of weight obsession and once again places beauty in a narrow framework

Historians are up in arms too, but that is another issue. This makes me wonder…why are we so fascinated with the rich and famous? Even Kim has a celebrity crush, having paid Ripleys—an undisclosed amount—to wear a dress worn by arguably the most iconic celebrity

There Have Always Been Influencers

This fascination with fame is not new. In ancient Rome, the best gladiators (mainly enslaved people or those of low social status) were bestowed high regard and fanfare. People followed the battles of their favourite competitors, and the wealthy patrons even bought the blood, sweat, and dirt scraped off the winning athlete’s body to use as a moisturiser, aphrodisiac, healing balm, or a plain old good-luck potion. Gross, but there it is.

The advent of the printing press in 1440, and later, the mass publication of newspapers, and magazines such as the Tattler in 1709, allowed any literate person insight into worlds outside their own. This meant the proliferation of readily available social and intellectual information and, predictably, misleading and propagandised content.

Why Do We Do It?

There are many reasons why we are fascinated by celebrities, and we seem to be hard-wired to do so. Sheila Kohler’s Psychology Today article suggests that our inherent curiosity is a “way of learning what makes the great great in our own search for knowledge, fame and fortune”. We observe and emulate those of higher status, fame, or talent to try to improve ourselves.

Sometimes, it is merely an escape; we peruse the latest gossip and goings-on for entertainment. It may provide a tool for social interaction as we chat about it with our friends and colleagues. 

These are the best-case scenarios of celebrity obsession. 

While this accounts for most fandom, it does not explain the more extreme cases. Celebrity Worship Syndrome affects approximately 1% of the population, according to a John Maltby led study entitled A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship

Their research found that these individuals have intense and uncontrollable impulses regarding a particular celebrity and can experience increased anxiety, depression, stress, and physical ailments. People with the most extreme levels of the disorder have unreasonable fantasies about their “relationship” with a particular celebrity, sometimes leading to harm

Beauty And Fashion Influence

Since the advent of mass media, we have emulated the social, beauty, and fashion trends set by celebrities of the day—Royalty, supermodels, Hollywood icons and rock stars. 

After Queen Victoria’s much-publicised wedding in 1840, the popularity of the white wedding gown took hold and is now a much-entrenched tradition. The magazines of the 60s showed us the mod style of Twiggy and the Chanel chic of Jackie O

The 80s were all about rock stars, thanks to the new media of music videos playing 24/7 on dedicated television channels. 

And let’s not forget about hair! Depending on when you were born, you may have patterned your look after Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett, Jennifer Aniston, or Beyonce. And it wasn’t just us women; the fellas similarly followed their celebrity icons.

The Exponential Growth Of Social Media

So here we are in the 21st Century, where multiple social media platforms feed our celebrity fascination 24/7. The sheer volume of content makes it almost impossible to discern truth from fiction about our favourite celebs and the world at large. 

To illustrate the point: in August 2021, there were 575,000 Tweets by users and 167,000,000 TikTok views recorded every minute!

Where we once had occasional access via daily or weekly entertainment news and publications, we now have direct and constant access to our favourite celebrities via their personal Twitter and Instagram feeds. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is pretty clear that some of what we take in from celebrity watching influences how we look, present ourselves, and even some of our social and lifestyle choices. For healthy outcomes, we need to pay attention to who we follow and how those influencers make us feel

So maybe instead of following celebs like Kim, opt for those promoting body or life-positive trends or someone that makes you laugh out loud—literally. At the very least, add them into the mix and balance out some of the drama.