‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything’ - C. Joybell C.
This year, Forbes announced that Kim Kardashian has accumulated an impressive net worth of 1.8 billion dollars. The reality star runs multiple successful businesses whilst advocating for criminal justice reform in the United States. However, when conversating about her rise to fame, a topic of discussion will inevitably be her highly publicised sex tape with rapper Ray J. Despite moving on from her controversial past, studying to become a lawyer, and establishing herself as a hugely successful businesswoman, in the eyes of some she will never be anything more than the other half of a porn video. No matter who Kim Kardashian is now and despite all the evidence of self-reinvention she has exhibited, the public has never fully allowed her to move on. Whilst Kim Kardashian is a prime example, the ability to self-reinvent is a privilege not afforded to many, both in the public and private domain. In a world where we are constantly encouraged to better ourselves as people, why does the human brain have such limitations when it comes to letting go of preconceptions? And is it truly possible to reinvent yourself in the court of public opinion?
English psychologist Peter Watson first coined the term ‘confirmation bias’ in 1960. He proposed that people have ‘the tendency to immediately favour information that validates their preconceptions, hypotheses and personal beliefs regardless of whether they are true or not’. Despite this statement now feeling self-explanatory, during the sixties it was a breakthrough in modern psychology. Extensive research since has only further validated the findings in Watson’s 1960 experiment, with the ordinary person being able to clearly pluck examples of confirmation bias from the modern world.
Human beings are extremely complex individuals comprised of experiences, emotions, and intrinsic belief systems. Self-proclaimed as the smartest animal on earth, our intelligent species is often immunised against reason or scientific evidence, and we are so deep-seated in our beliefs that we disregard fact. Despite a lack of scientific evidence to support the belief that there is an almighty creator or higher power, 84% of the population identifies with a religious group (The Guardian, Religion: Why faith is becoming more and more popular, 2018). This shows just how powerful of a force belief truly is.
Daniel Radcliffe has bagged sixteen awards during his lucrative acting career, none of which were for his role as Harry Potter. Despite recognition for his acting outside of the wizarding world, Radcliffe has struggled to reinvent himself post-Potter. Pamela Anderson is an activist for animal rights, the MAC AIDS Fund, and has publicly expressed her views on anti-pornography. Even though she advocates for positive change, she is most known for her time as a Playboy bunny and her recently resurfaced relationship and sex tape with Motley Crue musician, Tommy Lee, thanks to the recent Disney+ series, Pam and Tommy. It appears that these individuals, especially those in the limelight, are unable to shake the stigma of first impressions.
Hardwired to find peace in knowing, our brains demand to put people into safe and non-confronting boxes, since the unknown is a primitive fear that often keeps us safe. Therefore, self-reinvention is possible but only if it supports the ideology or favourite worldview of the people that surround you. Unfortunately, this means that the ability to self-reinvent in the eyes of others is restricted by their own opinions. However, this does not mean that you cannot make meaningful changes in your own life. Pamela Anderson is still an activist for animal rights whether people choose to acknowledge her accomplishments or not, and Daniel Radcliffe is still an award-winning actor outside of his role in Harry Potter. If both these individuals chose to base their progression on the opinions of others, they would both never be anything more than Harry Potter and a Playboy bunny. We must therefore play the role of accepting bystander in order to self-reinvent and acknowledge self-reinvention.
Self-reinvention is also far more achievable for those who have an intimate group of friends or are not famous. Unable to hide between the anonymity of the internet, people can witness growth in a far more intimate setting. For the likes of people in the limelight, some onlookers may even go as far as to experience Schadenfreude, the experience of finding pleasure in others' misfortune and thus disallow them to grow positively.
As new generations grow to hold societal views, the world will hopefully become a far more forgiving and positive place that self-reinvents alongside those who inhabit it. For “your life can end at any time, and it can end more than once. But it can also begin more than once.”