June 7th, 2005
A new PR survey in some of the newspapers this week suggests teenage girls would prefer to be glamour models than nurses, doctors or teachers.
The ‘study’ (to promote a mobile entertainment company), asked girls aged 15-19 if they’d like to be someone like Abi Titmuss, Germaine Greer or Anita Roddick.
Perhaps not surprisingly 63% stated they’d like to be a glamour model.
A closer look at the ‘data’ tells a slightly different story. The girls didn’t really opt for the glamour model choice. After all, only 7% said they wanted to be like Jordan. However, teenage girls currently know Abi Titmuss as the star of ‘Celebrity Love Island’. So it’s likely respondents were stating they wanted to be a celebrity, rather than a glamour model.
This is also probably why they didn’t identify with Germaine Greer or Anita Roddick, older women teenage girls may not have heard of, or certainly don’t see as ‘famous’. The creators of this ‘survey’ obviously didn’t know their sex role models though, since Germaine Greer was a sexual trailblazer for many women (and not averse to posing nude in magazines), whilst Roddick’s daughter runs the upmarket sex store Coco de Mer.
Had the survey asked teenage girls to pick between glamour models and other young celebrities – film stars, sportswomen or television presenters, then perhaps a different result again might have emerged – with non-glamour celebrities favoured. This survey implies glamour modelling is the must have career for teenage girls, but the reality is this ‘survey’ forced them to answer in such a way.
And whilst we’re on that subject, did any newspaper reporting this ‘study’ question the ethics of a survey company asking underage girls if they’d like to be glamour models or lap dancers?
Although it’s a poor (and highly unethical) piece of ‘research’, this story does allow debate on career choices for girls.
In an era when Abi Titmuss can command for one magazine column, the equivalent of four to six times a nurse or teachers annual salary, it’s hardly surprising girls would aim for a career that pays well and seems glamorous.
And this trend also has an impact on those within the education or health professions. Apart from our abysmal salaries, there’s the issue of glamour models moving into the areas of journalism, sex education, and relationship advice. Jodie Marsh and Abi Titmuss have both hosted advice columns in lad’s magazines, and more glamour models are following suit. None are qualified to offer advice, and the information provided either by the model or staffer who writes the column, is frequently misleading or dangerous.
So all those sex educators, nurses, or academics out there that could offer quality information (at the fraction of the cost) are overlooked because they’re not famous.
And being famous is the key.
As this ‘survey’ found – 89% of respondents wanted a job where they’d be recognised and a celebrity, whilst only 11% thought they might like to achieve with little recognition.
Who could blame them? If you word a survey question like that what other answer could you expect? And yet there’s a point here. I, like most academics, can vouch for the draining effect that achievement without recognition (or pay) has.
I don’t for one minute believe the results of this survey, but other research suggests increasingly teenagers list ‘being famous’ as a career option. They don’t list a specific profession, nor mention being talented, happy, or qualified. They just want to be famous. What are the implications for their emotional well being when it dawns on them this is unlikely to happen?
I’d like to believe if more coverage were given to other women in different careers, alongside glamour models and other celebrities, that they too could become role models. I’ve no objection to women wanting to be glamour models, but it’s a shame if that’s all we’re permitted to aspire to. If other professions were given half as much attention or endorsement, people would be keen to pick them. That said any discussions on this issue have to be carefully handled as it becomes very easy to start blaming and shaming women who are glamour models and ignore wider issues about media, PR and youth aspirations.
And if your choice was a job where you’d be given recognition, decent pay, and satisfaction, people would be more likely to pick that career. I know I would.
Update September 2012
This study has become what Sarah Ditum refers to as a Zombie Statistic (as in it won’t die). It was cited as evidence of sexualisation of young women in the 2012 Home Office Report and continues to appear in other reports and media coverage in debates on sexualisation (usually with a slut shaming subtext). When BBC Panorama investigated sexualisation in 2010 they were unable to find evidence of this survey even being completed. So it seems it wasn’t a case of a duff study being misrepresented, but actually a situation where a survey was NEVER EVEN UNDERTAKEN. This is therefore not a ‘statistic’ from a dodgy survey, but a completely fabricated piece of data. And clearly one that should be challenged at all costs.