Confessional Celebrities

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Words: Isla Mathison (She/Her)

In the last decade, a new era of celebrity has been ushered in by Instagram apologies, the ‘For You page’ and confessional style documentaries. We are a generation who have experienced an overexposure to celebrities’ personal information, experiencing more parasocial relationships than any generation before. Think confessional social media stars such as Madeline Argy, Drew and Enya, and Emma Chamberlain; I can recite these strangers’ life experiences simply from interacting with their content on the internet. As the first generation to experience this style of celebrity, we must explore the impact of this connection with our real-life relationships and experiences of intimacy. We have 24/7 access to almost any information about confessional celebrities: stories of them growing up, family situations, “how to get over a breakup” and their friendships. Has this created a generation who feel unfulfilled and disconnected in relationships? 

The level of transparency we are given by such celebrities has a negative effect on our relationships and has implemented unrealistic standards, butchering the intimacy we experience. The fact that we know more about strangers on the internet than our friends is detrimental to our connections in real life, increasing feelings of loneliness. When we don’t receive the same level of interaction and “connection” in relationships, they quickly feel insufficient in comparison to parasocial relationships. Have insane ‘story times’ and an overexposure to strangers’ life experiences desensitised us to human intimacy? Expectations of celebrity transparency are coherent with patriarchal expectations and boundaries for women, particularly for female influencers to maintain a relatable, accessible and intimate front. For example, this can be seen in the obsession with women admitting to having plastic surgery done, the constant speculation of the “realness” of every female celebrity and the threat of labelling them as “fake”. The intimate and transparent expectations of women in the public eye can also be seen on a smaller scope: the expectation to spill the breakup story or the friendship fallouts. This degree of transparency and vulnerability is not expected at the same level from male celebrities, who are permitted the privacy and self-autonomy that isn’t given to women. 

When looking at the reality of these parasocial relationships created on social media with confessional celebrities documenting their lifestyles, the feeling of abandonment is relevant. One example of this is Youtubers like Emma Chamberlain and Olivia Neill who have received criticism for becoming unrelatable to their fanbases, receiving comments like ‘bring back the old Emma’. Both Emma Chamberlain and Olivia Neill’s content was relatable to young women, documenting their life experiences of growing up: breakups, friendships, careers, moving cities. However, as they have gained popularity, they have navigated friendship groups and ultimately grown up. Thousands of people express feelings of abandonment, and criticise them for becoming less relatable. This is central to the fact that we genuinely see people online as close friends, thus when they become more successful (and less relatable), we feel left behind and taken advantage of. Parasocial relationships are a hive for anxious attachment and the expectations of celebrities to stay relatable creates an eventual feeling of letdown. 

Our infatuation with the private lives of celebrities is also seen in the newfound obsession with the celebrity documentary. The record-breaking successes of Netflix original documentaries Beckham and Harry and Meghan show just how popular this genre is. The era of an “untouchable” celebrity has been replaced with popularity relying on relatability and “realness”, however biased their account is. The fact that celebrities can release self-authored documentaries without any outside sources grants them greater control over their public  image and how they want to be interpreted,      which was once completely governed by the tabloids. 

Although the new focus on relatability and realness from celebrities has the means to provide healthy role models, it has also completely changed attitudes towards intimacy and connection in our generation. The dependency on friendships with strangers and increased expectations of celebrities to maintain transparency and honesty with fans have created a complex “situationship” between us and people on the internet. Have these “situationships” reduced the value of friendships and redefined intimacy, or are they a valuable source of community for young people? To reclaim the intimacy and connection lost to celebrity “situationships” and sensationalism, I encourage you to have more intimate and meaningful conversations with the people in your life, fixing the imbalance between intimacy experienced online and offline. 


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