Personal Branding, RIP

For awhile, "personal branding" was a thing. And then it wasn't a thing.

I would argue that today, for most of us witnessing the fall of many formerly influential but actually very horrible people, image-building has become a huge, gargantuan turnoff.

It's also, I believe, unhealthy. The more you split off a certain part of yourself as the "acceptable" part, or worse, compartmentalize yourself into different identities to suit different situations much like people change their clothes for a party -- the more unhealthy you are. (If you want to stop here and watch my 1 minute video on the subject, click here.)

You are thinking that I am a huge hypocrite. I am always "out there," building an image, speaking my mind. That's true, at least to some extent. But consider also that I am one of many people who has to unlearn this "personal branding" thing, which has become such a huge turnoff, and which is so bad for our psyches, and relationships.

Because acting as a false self is counterproductive for your health in the extreme. It totally blocks any possibility of real human connection. In today's world, it is entirely possible to spend most of your time busily "being the brand," so frantically Instagramming your dinner and Facebooking your friendships and Tweeting your every opinion that you lose the capacity to actually be a self.

Also, consider this: It is one thing to intentionally build a brand through your communication with the world, which was how I spent much of my time when I started out as a blogger. It is quite another to simply communicate, which means to be your actual and authentic self. Nothing about the past two years of my life has been easy or safe from what would traditionally be considered a "personal branding" perspective. If you haven't noticed, I regularly throw shade on the concept of marketing entirely.

Perhaps you are thinking that there is no escaping the personal brand anymore. After all, you have to wake up in the morning and get dressed; you have to project something. (Unless you're an eccentric billionaire, or maybe a really gross freelance writer or obsessive gamer.) Also true, you want people to think well of you.

But proper attire and a professional attitude have always been the norm, at work and in your personal life too. It's not clear to me how you can actually function in the world without some form of self-representation. And any psychologist will tell you that it's normal and healthy to try and look presentable, to try and fit in with society, and the groups within which you travel.

None of this is "personal branding," and it's a shame that the term has become synonymous with "expressing yourself the way you want to be seen," or something like that. For personal branding is a term inherently related to selling things, it means to build brand equity out of the innermost parts of yourself. In essence it means to objectify yourself, to turn yourself into a product for others' consumption, to betray your own need for privacy and quirkiness and unlovability, even at times. Only so that others will approve.

There is more to the story than this. If you think about human trafficking, in its broadest form, what is it but a fancy way of saying "slavery?" When every aspect of a person's life is dictated by the need for a dollar -- when we must practice "positioning" on ourselves, develop "personas" complete with a kind of "look," when every opinion must be "market-tested" -- we are slaves.

Worse, when children are "adulted" well before they are ready, forced by parental pressure to be "geniuses," and normed into clothing that is well beyond their years -- those kids are brainwashed into being high-performing, "personally branded" slaves.

Even more so, when kids are actually "personal branding" accessories for their parents -- when their baby strollers and sippy cups and playgroups and even their "babyness" itself is "productized," is this not a form of child abuse?

It is probably worth mentioning here as well that children who are severely sexually abused as children develop dissociative identity disorder, and literally can develop multiple personalities as a result.

We pay so much attention to the more egregious forms of slavery we see in this world. But in a tremendous act of bravery, what if we all took tiny little steps of courage, and liberated ourselves from that curse called "personal branding," the "wo/man in the mirror," and simply expressed ourselves as we are?

I think we'd be better off as people, and more successful too. I think that our society would be better off. And we could save a lot of time otherwise frittered away, running around chasing fool's gold.

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Copyright 2018 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Creative Commons photo by Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.

About

Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, www.AllThingsBrand.com and www.DannielleBlumenthal.com, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.