Fashion and Celebrities

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Emma Tanner, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on the public fashioning of celebrities by Jo Littler published by Taylor and Francis.

In the realm of celebrity culture, the intersection of fame and philanthropy has evolved into a powerful narrative of social responsibility and global impact. Jo Littler’s research article, “I Feel Your Pain”: Cosmopolitan Charity and the Public Fashioning of the Celebrity Soul, published in Social Semiotics in June 2008, delves into this phenomenon, showing how celebrities leverage their public platforms to support humanitarian causes and shape their public personas.

Littler’s study explores how celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson have integrated humanitarian work into their personal and professional identities. For Jolie, her role as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and extensive humanitarian efforts are integral to her public image, portraying her as a compassionate global citizen. Similarly, Johansson’s advocacy with Oxfam and involvement in international causes enriches her public narrative, aligning her with issues of global significance. Beyond altruism, celebrity charity involvement serves as a strategic extension of their personal brand. By associating themselves with charitable causes, stars not only enhance their public image but also broaden their appeal to diverse audiences. This strategic alignment, often facilitated by media exposure and corporate partnerships, amplifies the visibility of charitable campaigns and mobilizes public support.

While celebrity endorsements can significantly boost awareness and fundraising for charitable initiatives, they also invite scrutiny. Critics argue that these alliances sometimes prioritize celebrity and corporate interests over the needs of beneficiaries, potentially overshadowing systemic issues with temporary solutions. Moreover, the selective focus on marketable causes may divert attention from less glamorous but equally pressing social challenges. The ethical implications of celebrity charity involvement are complex. Instances of celebrities endorsing brands with questionable ethical practices, or charities partnering with corporate entities for visibility, raise questions about integrity and genuine altruism. The blurred lines between promotion, advocacy, and philanthropy underscore the need for transparency and accountability in celebrity-driven initiatives. As celebrity culture continues to influence public discourse and consumer behavior, the role of stars in charity is poised to evolve. Increasingly, there is a call for celebrities to use their platforms not just for visibility but for meaningful advocacy and systemic change. By fostering dialogue and critical analysis, we can navigate the complexities of celebrity charity and harness its potential for positive social impact.

Jo Littler’s research prompts us to consider the broader implications of celebrity philanthropy in a globalized world. It challenges us to examine how these partnerships shape social responsibility and influence public attitudes towards humanitarian issues. As we navigate the evolving landscape of celebrity-driven charity, let us strive for ethical engagement, informed activism, and a commitment to addressing root causes alongside symptoms.

The full paper can be read using this link.


Littler, J. (2008). “I feel your pain”: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul. Social Semiotics, 18(2), 237–251.

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