I don’t like the term “guilty pleasure.” The way I see it, if you like something, if it plucks a chord within you, there’s nothing “guilty” about it. I freely admit to some of my less socially respected sources of enjoyment: romance novels, fanfiction and High School Musical. But I do have a hard time admitting to one of my little addictions: browsing through Wikihow’s Character Imitation section, and devouring “Get the look” types of articles online.
As a kid, every time I finished a book that featured a character I admired, I would try to be as much like them as possible. I would strive to fashion my speech patterns, my goals and even my whole personality to match theirs. This resulted in many hilarious phases where who I was ended up buried under the weight of who I wanted to be. My mom still likes to poke fun at me for that one time I decided, after reading The Stars Shine Down by Sidney Sheldon, to dive headfirst into the construction business. When I was twelve.
On the upside, I’ve never had to be told to dream big.
This happened again and again. I would want to be a workaholic theater producer, a self-assured archeologist-to-be, a heartbreakingly charming prima ballerina, and so on. Of course, the careers, fascinating as they were, were only the tip of the iceberg. I wanted to be confident, strong, charming and beautiful, just like these women were.
How did they do it?
It became my mission in life to find out. True, I wanted the inner confidence most of all, but none of these characters showed me how to be confident, so I focused on the outside trappings in hopes that the answer would lie there. Cue my spending hours reading “How to be like” types of articles online. Wikihow’s Character Imitation section became one of the first suggestions in my browser whenever I started to type “www” to enter a website.
In my late teens, my desires to be exactly like a book or TV character became embarrassing. I’d had “be yourself” hammered into my brain until the idea of trying to be like someone else felt immature and silly. Trouble was, I still didn’t like myself, and I still dreamed of magically acquiring the traits that made my favorite characters so appealing. But looking up how to be like such role models online? Embarrassing. Right?
Hell no. I, and I think every reader out there, have grown immensely thanks to the influence of my beloved characters. I may not be a real estate magnate, but I learned from Lara Cameron not to give up. Maybe I haven’t built a theater company, but thanks in part to Eve Hamilton I can appreciate the transforming value of a good play. Perhaps I’m not a ballerina, but I have learned the power of persistence. And it was partly reading those articles that I could identify what, exactly, I looked up to in these characters and whether it made sense to incorporate those traits into my own life.
I can now tell the difference between wanting to be exactly like another person, especially a fictitious another person, and being inspired by them. And being who I am, and living in a world that is too often harsh and cruel, I don’t think we can afford to dismiss inspiration, in whatever form it comes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look up how to be like Spencer Hastings.