A woman eats a lot of junk food and her children copy her eating junk food too.

What is the opposite of "role model"?

Can we say "She is a bad role model for her children"?

I found this in the dictionary

a bad/rotten apple: ​one bad person who has a bad effect on others in a group

Is "She is a rotten apple on her children" the opposite of "She is a bad role model for her children"?

2 Answers 2


Yes, "bad role model" is an acceptable phrasing to mean that the person is modeling bad behavior. You can find numerous examples of the phrase in Google Books.

But calling her "a rotten apple" doesn't really work, and I don't like the definition they've given. It sounds like a reference to the idiom one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, but idioms don't work when you take them apart, and we wouldn't say that an individual is "a rotten apple". The idiom means that one bad individual can ruin an entire group, but it isn't about that person being a role model or leader.


"Bad role model" is okay, especially if they were in some way expected to be a good role model, such as a famous sports star, a movie star, a teacher, or a leader.

Referring to someone as being "a bad example" or "setting a bad example" is also a good way to communicate the same idea, but with less emphasis on them being a person expected to be a good "role model", so more likely to be an ordinary person having lower stature and influence.

Despite this slight difference, both the examples I gave could work interchangeably without any confusion on the meaning.

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