When thinking about a female celebrity I truly admire for her style, her general media presence, or even her Instagram, most women who come to my mind are under the legal drinking limit. Back in the day, if you asked me my favorite celebrity, I'd probably give an answer like Sophia Bush or Rachel Bilson—but don't make me pick between One Tree Hill and The O.C. OK?? My choices as a teen were adult women (who may have played teens on their shows, but don't @ me), with grown-up relationships and had found their footing in the world, or so they made it seem.
Today, as a 24-year-old editor, I'm hardly wise with the experience that is life, but somehow, my favorite celebrities fall on the younger-than-average side, even younger than those I admired as a teenager myself. They are unapologetic about the uncertainty they feel about their own futures but completely candid about their values and beliefs. They're confident in their morals and standards and present a self-assuredness during interviews and red carpets. To give you some context, the women who I'd name as my underage faves include Elle Fanning, Zendaya, Millie Bobby Brown, Kiernan Shipka, and the entire cast of Riverdale (yes, I'm obsessed).
VIDEO: Eleven Questions With Millie Bobby Brown
Take Elle Fanning. There's something about her fairy princess looks and ease on the red carpet—she's been doing this show business thing for a while now guys—that makes her seem so much older than her mere 19 years. But recently, I read a quote from her and was reminded how young and fresh and, un-jaded she is despite her years on the Hollywood circuit.
"It’s very instinctual," she said to People about how she chooses her red carpet ensembles. "And I do know what I like. I am very particular with certain things, and I’ve always just wanted to experiment and have fun with my clothes, so that is it. I’ve always been, like, ‘be true to yourself’, and it sounds cliché but that is how I do it.”
And she's right! Getting to wear a gorgeous couture gown should be fun and experimental, and it should be expressing who you are.
Zendaya, who turned 21 last month, has been just as candid throughout her career, which started when she was a tween on Disney's Shake It Up. She's well known for speaking out on African American representation in movies and TV, and she only signed onto her newest Disney show, K.C. Undercover, after getting an Executive Producer credit. She made sure her TV family was black, and her character was a smart, badass, but slightly awkward (i.e. realistic) teenager.
And don't forget her speech at the Teen Choice Awards where she told the young people in the audience, "I need you to go ahead and understand that you have a voice and it is OK to use it when you see something bad happening," she said. "So make sure that you stay educated and that you do not let people tell you what you think you should feel. Because you are the leaders, you're the future leaders of the world, you're the future presidents, the future senators, and you guys are the ones who are gonna make this world better."
A more eloquent message than I've heard from any celebrity twice her age.
Plenty of adult stars advocate for diversity, equality, and individuality (my girl Sophia Bush being one of them!), and although I admire and respect them, I don't love them in the way I love these teens. Something about their youth and positivity in the face of this sometimes terrible world we live in is truly inspiring. For them to have such a hopeful outlook on a future that looks so bleak makes me want to do better, to feel better about my own future. Their maturity inspires me to be mature and not the lazy lay-on-the-couch-and-do-nothing type of person I let myself be maybe a little too often.
Like most people, I first met Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Netflix's Stranger Things last summer. After bingeing the first season in literally three days, I had a feeling this newcomer would soon be part of my teen fascination. As her fame grew, so did my love for the star. And it seems fame hasn't changed the 13-year-old too much, even acknowledging in our November issue that it comes with her career aspirations. "I’m fine with the fame," she said. "I accept it. All I want to do is model, act, and sing, so if fame comes with that, then so be it."
Brown proves there doesn't have to be a dichotomy between confidence and finding your place in life. She's a young girl with a lot to learn, and she knows it: "I just plan on living my life and take it step-by-step," she said. "Hopefully, in five years’ time I will be in college. No, let’s say eight years ... unless I get a really good movie. Then it’s, ‘See ya, college!'" She has her whole life ahead of her, but she's not trying to grow up too fast, like so many of teen stars we millennials grew up with.
You can call it naivete, but I call it wise beyond their years. In this cynical world we live in, it's so hopeful to see these Hollywood up-and-comers tell it like it is, and project honest, un-jaded images of themselves to the world. In my opinion, they're much better role models than those of the '00s (sorry Lindsay Lohan), and for the sake of future generations, I hope they continue to be the role models I'd want my kids to look up to one day.
There are plenty of adult stars who advocate the same messages and have the same candid public personas, but for me personally, it hits so much closer to home coming from younger stars. These young women have their entire adult lives ahead of them to make a difference, but they're starting the conversation NOW, and honestly, it's inspiring.