How to Be America’s Next Top Role Model

Javacia - photo credit needed

It’s better than being Beyoncé. 

By Javacia Harris Bowser

Photo by Featureflash /


Whenever I read or hear about a celebrity who says he or she doesn’t want to be a role model, I strain my eye-rolling muscles. “You are a role model whether you like or not!” I yell at the TV screen before me or the magazine in my hands. 

But one day I realized I needed to declare this to the mirror, too.

In addition to being a writer and small business owner, I am also a teacher. And because I am a teacher, I am a role model—whether I like it or not.

As much as I am annoyed with the rich and famous for complaining that young people look up to them, a part of me understands where they’re coming from. Being a role model is scary. To know that the words you say and the things you do could have a course-altering effect on a young person’s life is terrifying. But it’s also inspiring and can be the best motivation for getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve realized that by striving to be a good role model you will not only help other people, but you’ll also help yourself. Being a role model makes me a better person.

Being a role model means I always try to be my best and even look my best. Obviously, I try to spark interesting discussions in the classroom and give students assignments that will make them better writers and thinkers. But the things I do outside the classroom matter, too. In student feedback surveys, my students say they’re inspired when they hear me on WBHM 90.3 FM discussing my latest piece for They say they know I care about writing as much as I claim to in class because I blog, because I write a monthly column for B-Metro, and because I run See Jane Write, an organization for local women writers.

Being a role model can even boost your beauty regimen. In January I bought some new makeup. The day I tried out my new collection, a student in my first period class walked in and declared, “Mrs. Bowser! That face is on fleek!” For those of you not up-to-date on slang, that actually was a compliment. She was saying my makeup was on point, that I looked sharp. Another student in that class loves my fashion sense and even takes pictures of her favorite outfits of mine. The fact that I wear my hair in its naturally curly state has inspired many of my African-American female students to do the same. And some students even comment on my manicures on class evaluation forms! All this may sound silly, but it’s not. If my Essie nail polish helps me connect with a student and that connection helps her succeed, then I’ll apply a fresh coat of polish to my nails every single day if necessary.

As a role model I must be mindful of my web presence, too. There was a time when only celebrities had to worry about their images in the media, but due to blogging and social media, we all have a public profile to manage. Being a role model means I must be mindful of what I’m putting out into cyberspace.

This doesn’t mean being fake. On my blog, for example, I often honestly write about my problems and struggles, but I try not to write about an issue until after I’ve worked through it. I keep negative self-talk in check. At school I never want my students—especially my female students—to hear me saying disparaging things about my weight or my looks because I would never want them repeating those things to the mirror. And on my blog and social media channels I often post about how much I love working out, but my posts also show that I love eating just as much.

By being a role model I can have a bigger impact on a students life than Beyoncé! Seriously!

In addition to English, I also teach an elective that I developed myself. I call it Women and the Media and it’s like Journalism 101 meets Women’s Studies. During a discussion of celebrities who are now publicly embracing feminism, Beyoncé came up. After we all gushed over her awesomeness for about 10 minutes, one student said that Beyoncé actually didn’t help her embrace feminism—I did.

She said that Beyoncé made her interested in feminism but because Beyoncé is, well, Beyoncé, she still didn’t quite understand how feminism could apply to her everyday life. But after taking my class she started viewing me as a feminist role model and a role model who is obviously more relatable than a famous billionaire entertainer. There’s a snarky quote floating around the Internet and showing up on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and prints that reads: “Always be yourself, unless you can be Beyoncé. Then always be Beyoncé.”

But by being a role model I’ve realized why we should always be ourselves, and be our best selves, no matter what.

One Response to “How to Be America’s Next Top Role Model”

  1. Great post on being a role model! I was born into a role model position, as I am the 2nd oldest child of 7, and the big sister to 4 girls. Needless to say, I have always had a lot of eyes on me, looking to mimic and “be like” me. This is an important role to me, and I do my best to provide a great example for them, while still trying to balance being true to my “adult” desires and rights. It’s a tough role to play, but somebody’s gotta do it! 🙂

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