Child stars have always been put under scrutiny, but today with social media, it is harder than ever for these former tween celebs to develop into mature performers. Now, in addition to having paparazzi follow them around throughout their adolescence, child stars also have to perform through social media sites to thoroughly maintain their celebrity status and engage their audiences.
In their article, “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter” Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd “argue that ‘celebrity’ has become a set of circulated strategies and practices that place fame on a continuum, rather than as a bright line that separates individuals.” The development of social media as a constant part of our lives has led to this change from a celebrity being “a set of intrinsic personal characteristics and external labels” to an “organic and ever-changing performative practice” that stars put on through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This pressure to constantly update fans through SNS’s has made it very hard for child stars to perform a constant identity as they go through adolescence and develop into adults.
Some of the generation Y celebrities have tried to shed their innocent images through rebellious behavior, but much more unnecessary scrutiny tends to be placed on the former female tweens who are seen to “announce their marketable womanhood to the world” by flaunting their post-puberty bodies in TV shows, movies, magazines and most prevalently, their own photos that they distribute through their social media networks.
Some female stars try to erase their cute, innocent images through what Amy Shields Dobson refers to as “grotesque” body representation— “images of debauchery, vulgarity, drunkenness and transgression” or “overt, public displays of seduction” (7)(9).
Please see: Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes
However, some take another route and actually try to keep their younger audiences interested in their online performance as they develop into an adult star. Selena Gomez is one of the few generation Y female stars who performs through social media to maintain a relationship with her younger audience while also trying to develop and broaden her mature fan base. While she has a Facebook page and Twitter, Selena’s Instagram is the most prominent platform when it comes to performing her celebrity identity and engaging with her diverse fan base.
As Erving Goffman explains in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, “individuals perform on multiple stages, creating a face for each interaction and developing faces for a variety of situational contexts.” Although Selena is using one stage (Instagram), she puts on different faces for both her young and old audiences.
To engage her younger audiences in her celebrity performance, Selena puts on a face of commitment and excitement. In “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter,” Marwick and Boyd explain, “celebrity is maintained through mutual recognition of power differentials by fan and practitioner, and maintenance of one’s fan base through performed intimacy, affiliation, and public acknowledgment.” Selena employs this practice with her young audience by continuously posting enthusiastic pictures with and for them. By doing this, she emphasizes her status as a celebrity while making her fans feel important and as if they are a part of her life.
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Literal power differential right here
On the other hand, Selena also keeps her older fans engaged by occasionally giving them the perception that they are seeing “particularly ‘insider’ information, first-person pictures, and opinionated statements”(142). Selena may be known for her former career as a Wizards of Waverly Place star, but in reality she is a 21-year-old living the dream – and that is what adults tend to be interested in.
To give them an idea of her life as a 21-year-old starlet, Selena sporadically posts pictures revealing parts of her “backstage” life. In many of these photos she is on vacation or with friends and portrays herself in a “heterosexy” manner – what Amy Shields Dobson defines as “a specific type of sexualisation to which most people refer when they describe young feminine representation and femininity itself in contemporary culture as ‘sexualised’”(5). Selena portrays her “heterosexiness” through hints of “traditional feminity” such as “coyness” and “prettiness” while also appealing to the male gaze with revealing clothing and suggestive expressions.
While Selena is known for being the classy child star that turned out well (in addition to Hilary Duff and Justin Timberlake who are totally killing it right now), her online performance could be seen as inauthentic due to the fact that the majority of her posts are geared towards her fans and only display the front stage of her life. Yes, Selena does post the occasional personal picture of her backstage life, but they tend to lack “relaxed style and the display of slight imperfection” (Fred Davis qtd. in Hugo Liu’s “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances”). Instead, her personal photos seem a bit too perfect and may even give off a slight hint of “prestige” as they are all taken at exclusive events or private vacations.
And even though most of the photos that Selena posts are tame enough to appeal to a “lowest common denominator” audience, there still is a risk for context collapse where a younger fan or parent could take away the wrong message from one of her random “heterosexy” images.
As Marwick and Boyd explain in their article “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter,” sometimes it is not the authenticity that matters, but “it is the uncertainty that creates pleasure for the celebrity-watcher.” Selena’s performance on Instagram could be seen as inauthentic, but it also could be seen as engaging and mysterious as she constantly updates it but only posts snippets of her “backstage” life ever so often. Either way, she has over 5 million Instagram followers and a golden reputation so she must be doing something right.