Catherine Scott: Beware role models who want to shift records

Growing up, I remember my role models being my mum, followed by a variety of squeaky clean – or so we thought – Blue Peter presenters, and then all the Charlie’s Angels.

More recently the role models for today’s girls have been reality TV stars, Katie Price and an array of scantily-clad, gyrating pop stars.

However, with the phenomenal British success at the London 2012 Olympics many of us hoped that there might be a sea-change.

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Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington and Hannah Cockroft, with their clear hard work, commitment, determination to succeed and team spirit, were the kind of women we all hoped our daughters would aspire to become.

But a year down the road, I fear the posters of Olympic pin-up Ennis will have been removed from teenagers’ walls – well of the girls anyway – and, consigned to the dustbin.

And I am not alone in my fear. Jo Heywood, head of Heathfield School in Ascot, says young girls are getting mixed messages from some celebrities.

She singled out Miley Cyrus, who began her career playing Disney’s Hannah Montana, but has recently attracted criticism for a series of provocative performances including one at MTV’s Video Music Awards in the United States last month.

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Writing on the Independent School Parent website she said many girls will have grown up fans of the Disney character.

“Hannah, played by petite and pretty Miley Cyrus, was the archetypal all-American teenager: a girl to look up to and for parents to probably not be too concerned about,” writes Heywood.

“A few years later and we find Cyrus giving a headline-grabbing and controversial performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Worryingly, Miley has apparently said she does not know what all the fuss is about. However, I think there is plenty to be concerned about, especially when these once clean-cut role models steer another course so publicly.”

Although Miley Cyrus-bashing does seem the rage at the moment with Irish singer Sinead O’Connor joining the fray, it does appear that she is courting the controversy.

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It sends the message that if your career starts to flop and people forget who you are then take off your clothes, or behave outrageously and you will once again make the headlines and people will buy your records.

Heywood says she is looking at how to help teenage girls make sense of these confusing messages and I agree with her. We cannot protect our children from seeing these so-called role models but we can encourage them to see them for what they are.