In case you haven’t heard, the conventional New Year’s resolution is dead. Now, it’s all about the rebrand—whether it’s for the new year, the new semester, or even the week. The rebrand can happen whenever.
But more than that, a rebrand is distinct from a resolution because it’s not simply changing a few aspects of your life—it’s more like adopting a completely new personality or lifestyle. While some use the term in a joking manner, others are dead serious. The “how to rebrand yourself” guides on TikTok often advise rebrand tactics such as erasing the contents of their entire phone for a so–called "life reset" and telling viewers to always leave a party early to become the “mysterious girl” in their social circle.
Though many of the changes within a rebrand are presented as mental or emotional, they’re also deeply material—a rebrand is often an aesthetic upgrade with a profoundly consumerist bend. Rebrand guides for the new year tell people what trendy clothes to wear or which minimalist lifestyle planning device will perfectly organize their aspirations and meals alike.
On the surface, rebranding oneself is a spin on “glow up” culture, which focuses on physical transformation and is already increasingly being deemed toxic. But rebranding takes it one step further—it’s a personality transformation as well, manifesting as a change in one’s holistic image.
Because of this, the idea of personal rebranding raises the question: What does it mean when we try to alter and manufacture our personality, quirks, and lifestyle? What product are we attempting to sell to the world?
The answer to why we are increasingly viewing ourselves as a product lies in our increased use of social media. Jessa Lingel, an associate professor at Penn’s Annenberg School of Communication, helps outline how social media has changed the idea of personal self–branding.
“Social media platforms bring speed and they bring scale,” she says. “So the speed at which you are able to document or create these representations of who you are has increased rapidly and the [increasing] scale [allows you to] circulate that branding of yourself to a much wider audience.” From this, the lines between social media and reality are now blurred. We now tend to view everyday life as a social–media–like performance to a large, anonymous audience.
To further clarify this phenomenon, Alice Marwick, a communications researcher focusing on media and technology studies at UNC Chapel Hill, defined the term “mediatization” in a 2015 article on micro–celebrity culture to describe how media affects how we perceive ourselves. According to Marwick, a micro–celebrity is defined by how someone behaves, not the number of followers they have or likes they get. From this, a key aspect of mediatization is the adoption of micro–celebrity rhetoric into our day–to–day routine. Even without sizable social media platforms, mediatization has now caused us to act like we're the micro–celebrities of our own lives.
In short, Marwick’s view presents self–commodification as the driving force behind the rebrand mentality. We now see ourselves as a marketable brand, constantly selling an image or product to those around us—even though we don't have the followings or status that characterize micro–celebrities and influencers.
But while wanting to improve oneself is normal and healthy, rebrand guides on social media often imply that a rebrand isn’t for the benefit of oneself. Instead, it’s for the approval of others on social media.
“Once you start to treat yourself like a commodity, it can be really damaging to your sense of self—we know this from influencers, many of whom burn out,” Professor Lingel says. “That’s some of the downsides to this entrepreneurial 'you are your brand' message that a lot of young people are told is the path to success.”
While your newest rebrand can encourage you to work on yourself, it can take on a far more damaging form in which you focus all your energy on fitting into one cohesive “brand image.” Improving yourself is a slow process that isn’t always linear, and it involves much more than an external change or a change in the way you present yourself. We all have multifaceted personalities and different ways of presenting ourselves to different people—why force yourself to fit into a box of the “mysterious girl” or the “chill girl”?
When it comes to your personal rebrand for 2022, make sure to ask yourself who you’re doing for. If the answer isn’t yourself, put the rebrand process on hold and look into more sustainable forms of self–improvement for a truly authentic life change.