With every decade comes a new celebrity crush for female fans to obsess over. The ’70s had David Cassidy, the ’90s had the Backstreet Boys and today we have Justin Bieber.
The trend of young girls with crushes on older celebrities is the subject of research recently conducted by Karen Myers-Bowman, assistant professor in family studies and human services, who concluded that celebrity crushes are a rite of passage and a way to explore identity.
Myers-Bowman focused mostly on the effects of the “Bieber Fever” phenomena, which is defined by Urban Dictionary as “obsessively talking, texting, chatting or communication of any kind about Justin Bieber.”
“With smartphones, girls can instantly see pictures and videos of their crush whenever and wherever they are,” Myers-Bowman said. “It’s almost like carrying Justin Bieber in your pocket. There is a constant immersion for girls now that wasn’t present in their parents’ generation.”
The popularity of celebrity crushes came to prominence in the ’50s and ’60s when popular music, movies and television were aimed at teenagers. According to Myers-Bowman, the influence these celebrities have has only increased because of the Internet and mobile technology.
Back before everyone had a cellphone, Morgan Flanders, junior in economics, spent her days lusting after celebrities without the aid of technology.
“’90s girl here, [my first crush was] obviously every single Backstreet Boy on a rotating basis,” Flanders said.
Crushes like Flanders’ help youth explore how they connect with their friends, Myers-Bowman said.
“If you and your best friend swoon over a celebrity together, then it’s helping you figure out where you fit with your friends and with your peers,” Myers-Bowman said. “But, for example, if all your friends like Ryan Gosling and you like Sean Connery, you get to feel what it’s like to be different from everyone else.”
However, Flanders said she doesn’t think her crushes had a major impact on her or her personal development.
“I don’t think it was that big of a deal. It was just fun to argue with friends about who was the cutest,” Flanders said.
When asked about his first crush, Ryan Less, freshman in philosophy, had trouble coming up with an answer. He did, however, agree with Flanders that his crush had little impact on his development.
“I’ve never really thought about it that way,” Less said. “I don’t think [it had an effect].”
Myers-Bowman said besides contributing to the development of girls’ identity, celebrity crushes provide young women a safe outlet to think about sexuality free of judgment.
“The crush doesn’t have to return your feelings, you just imagine that he could,” Myers-Bowman said.
Parents can also take comfort in their child’s crush on a celebrity who does not represent a real romantic prospect.
“It’s a lot safer if your young teen daughter likes Josh Groban rather than the boy next door, because she and Josh are not going to run off together, have sex and get pregnant; that will never happen,” Myers-Bowman said. “A relationship with Josh is just a fantasy, and that fantasy is important for her identity development and feeling good about herself as a developing person.”