After reading about what it means for celebrities to come out and stumbling across an interesting quote by Perry King, everything I thought I knew about self-image, presentation, and reputation was problematicized.
My time at the University has taught me to recognize that our society is one dominated by images that we can passively accept or choose to question. These images are thrust on us through commercials, movies, and other media, and usually fall in line with certain popular expectations, beliefs, or ideas, sometimes promoting untrue or unrealistic stereotypes.
How can we expect people to maneuver through these images, let alone fight against dominant stereotypes? The way I see it, we hold a little bit of power in how we present ourselves—our own image is one that we can influence in order to bring new variation to society’s understanding of certain identities.
For celebrities (and specifically actors), image can be a way to secure future roles, and so is sometimes kept at a bare minimum (see article referenced above). Coupled with the amount of press that celebrities receive (and, by extension, the large amount of followers they have), they are put in a difficult but interesting position. Actors can choose to monopolize on these factors through the image the present to the world by engaging with politics or becoming allies to different communities.
Can or should we expect them to monitor or use their image in ways that will positively influence society? Carrie Underwood, after recently issuing a statement supporting marriage equality, has faced some backlash from her fan following. Should she have reconsidered allying herself with the LGBT+ community? I don’t think so. It is sometimes hard to take a stand for things that you believe in, especially if it means aligning yourself with a marginalized community. But the damage that can arise if everyone that shares an opinion fails to act would be even more detrimental. While there is value in critical thinking, there is power in collective thinking and action.
The point I’m getting at is that celebrities, but more importantly, all of us, can influence the way people think about things through the way we represent ourselves. I’m not saying that we should artificially engineer the way we talk, look, or the relationships that we have, but perhaps contemplate the consequences of choosing NOT to act in accordance with the things we believe.
Like always, I suppose the “right” thing to do is be true to yourself and recognize that besides being a representative for yourself, you are probably being looked to as a representative of a slew of other identities and communities.
Michelle is a senior studying Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.