The Style Icon

Illustration by Johnathan Hayden, view more on instagram @johnny_doodleme
Illustration by Johnathan Hayden, view his work on instagram @johnny_doodleme

Celebrities as Icons
By Molly Cohen

So what is a fashion icon? A fashion icon is a person who is known for their style. Typically a style icon is someone whose style has been documented in photographs, and serves as a style muse. But using the word person and icon in the same sentence seems odd, because the concepts don’t seem to go together. An icon is something that has been so repeatedly used, seen, and popularized, that it is an idealization. As such, saying that a person is, in fact, an icon, or an idealization, is giving a person almost too much power.

Regardless, seeing celebrities as icons is a trend that has been growing for years. Just look back at the fashion magazine industry. Originally, only models were shown as the cover stars, and it was a big deal when American Vogue (with Anna Wintour as editor-in-chief) put the first celebrity on the cover of a magazine. Today, however, celebrities are tracked by paparazzi for their style (as well as their lifestyle) and star on the cover of magazines. As fun as it may be for us to follow our favorite celebs on their style journeys, the question is: what effect is society’s obsession having on celebrities?

When we hear the word celebrity, we generally picture movie stars or TV personalities. And though these people may produce an amazing film or a funny show, why do we value them as celebrities? Is it all in their ability to stay in the limelight? If this is the case, then all we are doing is surely helping them. By labeling certain celebrities as style icons, we are reinforcing their status, and by doing so, separating them further from the rest of the population. As a celebrity, this must be alienating.

So with the negative mentioned, it’s only right to also name the positives of being a style icon. One of the perks is the chance to work with fashion retailers and designers. Just think of Jessica Simpson x Kohls, or Selena Gomez x Kmart, or the Olsen twins, Olsenboye x JCPenney. Another positive is the chance to become a designer’s muse. In 2011, Elle Fanning became part of Rodarte’s ad campaign at 13, and Steinfeld joined the MiuMiu brand at age 14. Which ironically, brings us back to the negative: just how good is it for a 13-14 year old girl to be all dolled up and packaged for an ad campaign? Granted, they are both actresses, so they have chosen to be in the spotlight at a young age, the press will promote their careers, and dressing up is typically all fun and games…but isn’t it odd having a child posing as the muse for the rest of society? Or does the age just point out the societal standard that we want to be “forever young”?

Debates about the effect of icon status on celebrities aside, what is the affect of having celebs serve as icons on the rest of society? Though people too, many celebrities come with their own entourage of makeup artists and stylists for those fancy events where they are most easily documented by paparazzi. As such, it can be easy to form as idealized body image standard. If we are putting these celebrities who have been Photoshop-ed and styled to perfection at the forefront of our minds, we are developing an impossible standard to live up to. The second effect that comes to mind is the “complex” that comes when you find yourself knowing more about a celebrity than you do about your neighbor or classmate. That can’t be healthy. Also tied to connectedness and media, is when you realize your social media accounts become more dedicated to tracking celebs than friends. –We spend our time on lottery relationships: impossible relationships that have a small percent chance of happening, rather than on real life relationships where we’d be way more likely to get a response. For example, repeatedly tweeting at our favorite musician and hoping for a response, rather than tweeting a friend which will more likely start a real life conversation.

Now that we’ve talked about the effects of icon status on celebrities and on society (and we didn’t even talk about the topic from the retailer’s point of view), let’s bring the discussion full circle. Think back to the image at the top of this article that reads: “Be Your Own Style Icon.”

Whether you choose to follow celebs or even believe they are “icons” doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are happy with who you are and are at least conscious of the effects celebrity status has. At some point, some part of yourself should be part of who you aspire to be. It’s great to have others to look up to, but you should value yourself as well.

•What do you think about celebrities as icons?
•Do you think we should even call them icons? Is using the name “icon” hurting society?

1. Huffington Post 2. 3. 4. NY Times
5. 6. The Telegraph UK 7. The Daily Beast