Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A generation in trouble

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The death of Cory Monteith on July 13 shocked the Glee community and fans worldwide. His lifelong struggle with drugs was more palpable evidence of a generation in trouble. Something has happened to the bold and beautiful young people that sing to us, meet us in the evening for our favourite TV shows and dazzle us on the big screen.

Is the problem too much money at a young age? Are these young starlets growing up too fast? Maybe social networking has changed the game. Who do these budding stars turn to for positive role models?

It is heart-wrenching to learn of talented people such as Amy Winehouse dying at 27, Heath Ledger at 28, Brittany Murphy at 32 and now Monteith -- found dead in a Vancouver hotel room at 31.

They all struggled with substance abuse. What is it about living in the spotlight that cultivates this type of lifestyle? We could speculate, but most of us have not experienced the world under the blaring light of scrutiny and surveillance as these celebs have done since they were teenagers, some even earlier.

The cautionary tale of famous people dying young is not a new phenomenon, nor is their substance abuse. Yet, as a parent, I worry about the message our current batch of teen and young adult celebrities are sending our children.

Young girls connected with the lovable red-haired Lindsay Lohan in the Disney remake of The Parent Trap and then again as the strong-willed, independent teen in Freaky Friday. We all cheered for her to overcome bullying in Mean Girls and felt like she represented a welcome, wholesome take on star style. She was a nonconforming girl next door, a fresh-faced talent.

What do young girls see in Lohan now? The once positive role model has abused drugs, driven drunk, been arrested multiple times and bounced in and out of rehab. What went wrong?

Lohan's surgical modifications communicate natural beauty is not enough. You must change yourself, fit a mold, dress provocatively and appear sexy to get attention. It's no wonder the girls in our schools wear shorts that closely resemble underwear. They want to be wanted, crave being noticed. I fear the lengths this insecurity will take young women in the pursuit of acceptance.

As someone who has always struggled with being overweight, I find myself biting my nails when I see pictures of girls such as Miley Cyrus in magazines in the grocery store checkout line. The singer-actress's body is on its way to mirroring the form of famished children in destitute countries. Is that what our culture deems beautiful? I put the magazine away quickly before my three-year-old daughter sees the images. They notice everything at three.

With Hollywood's obsession with pregnancy and babies, its no wonder the trend has seeped into the lives of the young people who idealize them. The rise of TV shows that focus on teen pregnancy normalize a choice that can severely derail promising young people from maturing to emotionally healthy and responsible adults, pursuing post-secondary education and finding meaningful places within the workforce.

Drug and alcohol abuse can be terrifying for a parent whose only wish is for the best for their child. There is a larger peer-pressure force at work that is transferred through our celebrity-consumed culture. When famous people such as Winehouse drink to survive, or Monteith using drugs to cope, the message is it is acceptable to handle stress and struggle in this way. Somehow, a crutch has become cool. Rehab is an attractive notion. The desire for an intervention is a cry for help and attention.

The media never fails to proliferate these messages; positive role models are not newsworthy. I don't want any more premature-celebrity deaths. Please. While I don't know what will save the stars (does anyone know?), my focus is on the generation of kids growing up with these role models.

Let's move the spotlight to those who lead well by example.

Tell me more about America Ferrera's mission to promote positive body image. Fill magazines with photographs of Jennifer Lawrence and her hips that make me and millions of other women feel normal. Let us hear more from Jennifer Hudson who models health and curve power. I want my daughter to look up to women such as these.

I'd like to know about Dakota Fanning's courses at New York University, or Emma Watson's experience at Brown University. Let's get an interview with Natalie Portman about her schooling at Harvard.

I want to learn more about the charity Get Schooled thanks to Nicki Minaj. Show us more photos of Justin Bieber with kids in the Make a Wish Foundation. Tell us all how Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter star, successfully manages his neurological disorder dyspraxia.

Our generation of young people need to be inspired. That's what it comes down to. Give us the goods. Let the media's brainwash not be about human failings but point us instead to the amazing individuals making this world and themselves better every day. Then maybe being bad won't seem so cool.


Alexis Marie Chute is a visual artist, photographer and creative writer, receiving over 20 awards since 2008. She was named an Emerging Canadian Photographer by PhotoLife Magazine in 2012, is currently artist in residence at Harcourt House Gallery Artist Run Centre, in Edmonton, the mother of two young children and author of the blog Wanted Chosen Planned -- Life After the Loss of a Child.


--Gal-Friday Publicity

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2013 A7

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