Opening my computer and aimlessly clicking around, I stumbled across a humorous article. It wasn’t the content that made it funny, but the subject. A website for adolescents that prides itself for “breaking entertainment news” was detailing what it deemed to be a newsworthy event: Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s trip to lunch in Malibu, Calif.
Three weeks later, another article was published on the same website about a lesser-known 17-year-old Olympic swimming star, Missy Franklin. Her accomplishment: winning four gold medals and one bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. When bumped against the Jenner girls’ accomplishments: “showing off toned [tummies]” while out to get lunch, the drastic discrepancy between the two events highlights an epidemic that is the lack of role models for girls my age.
Luckily, the 2012 Olympic Games has been a remedy for this.
In an age defined by social media, Kim Kardashian has attained the attention of over 15 million Twitter followers, just 2 million shy of the president of the United States. While her influence is impressive, her resume of accomplishments is … not. She’s really just famous for being famous, which has become a respectable career path.
Fortunately for me, working on the FOX Sports set in London, I am in a city of role models for our young women (many of them young women themselves). It blew my mind to find out that Franklin, who managed to win five medals and break the world record in the women’s 200-meter backstroke in her first Olympics, is a month younger than I am. And on July 31, Jordyn Weiber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross won gymnastics’ biggest prize, the team gold – and they’re ALL still in high school.
Though Franklin and the Fab Five stand out for being remarkable human beings, it seems to me that they are even more remarkable teenagers. The majority of us barely manage to wake up in time, complete seven hours of school, participate in a few extracurricular activities and complete our homework. These teenage girls have managed to do all these things and, at the same time, participate in the rigorous training it takes to be some of the world’s best athletes.
What places them at the forefront of their sports is the tremendous amount of work they have put into being the best. The inspirational groups of young women show what can be achieved when we get off our duffs and commit to something. Something bigger than our “toned tummies” and whom we hooked up with and how voluminous our eyelashes are, as opposed to how much we know and what we do.
Even outside of sports, the Olympics have shed light upon young women who have demonstrated serious drive. Zainab Imran showed us that a 16-year-old can be capable of a whole lot more than just getting a driver’s license. This girl displayed such amazing initiative as a volunteer coordinator of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation and as member of Young Leader International Inspiration Club that the Nasra Trust School nominated her to be an Olympic torch runner. On June 28, Imran represented her entire country as the only Pakistani to be an Olympic torchbearer.
It’s the tangible accomplishments of these real leaders — teenage leaders — that inspire me to make a difference as an individual, not the transient stardom of those whose claim to fame is a really neat sex tape.
It seems that the core of the issue is that the role models provided to our generation lack the qualities of determination and dedication, qualities that actually lead to success. The danger for us is that we confuse what is important with what makes you popular. We’re all trying to be Jenners when the real victory is being a Franklin.
From my view at the FOX studio, I can finally see what the biggest accomplishment is. While a reality show for being interesting might be cool for a while, a gold medal for being the best in the world is what really stands out. The real accomplishments come from the effort we make, not what we look like.