In the age we live in, every flaw and misstep is recorded on film or video, then spilled like red ink over the Internet and discussed ad nauseam until even the photographic evidence comes into question.
Whether it's a grainy, night-vision sex tape, a DUI mug shot or a fashion blunder that results in exposing more than the proper amount of skin, the culture of celebrity has shown us that committing a public mistake or having a bad reputation makes for a compelling read and good television. Just because average people don't have their infelicities splashed all over TMZ doesn’t mean that the rumors which breed a bad reputation won't spread like wildfire. And just like the gossip and stories that crowd the pages of tabloids, some of these incidents are self-created. The question is: how much of our reputation is truly who we are?
As our lives unfold, our personas reveal themselves. These are the aspects of our character that the public perceives as who we are. The word “persona” itself comes from the Latin word for mask; therefore indicating that what people see isn't always what they get. The bookish nerd. The dim gym rat. The hilarious drunk. The pretty boy heartbreak- er.
These and other facades have a basis in who and what we truly are, but they are built by you to give you an identity so you can find your niche. No one wants to fade into the background, so we embellish and act out and decide who or what we want to be by the actions that we take.
So why do we create reputations that don’t reflect our true nature? Is it because our reputation is who we truly want to be? Or is it because it will mask who we really are? Is it armor to hide behind? Or is it a fictional magnet that we feel will draw in the people we really want to be with?
A bad reputation may scare off the people you're afraid of but if someone is really interested in you, they will look past your reputation and uncover the real person inside. The same goes for someone who catches your eye — believing the hype surrounding someone that you like may prevent you from realizing their true nature. Why judge someone by the mistakes they've made? Would you want someone to judge you because of a story they heard on the street from an unreliable source?
Every reputation is the surface of deeper waters below. The reputation that someone gets because they date and screw a lot of people may be indicative of someone searching for true love. The reputation of someone who drinks himself blind or numbs himself into a narcotic haze may not be because they're an out-of-control party animal but someone who’s been wounded so deeply he can’t face reality without altering his feelings. Perception is not always reality.
There are also the reputations built by people to make themselves seem more interesting or to hide their pasts. People who have been around and around and around may reinvent themselves somewhere new as bright-eyed innocents to erase the stigma that comes with someone who has a slutty reputation.
Inexperienced virgins paint themselves as sexually provocative because they are scared to experiment and explore on their own or are certain no one wants to take the time to train a novice. There are even people out there who dumb themselves down because they are certain that brains are not a commodity in the dating world where sometimes a pretty face and a rock-solid body are all the currency one needs to get by.
Now a good reputation is never a bad thing, but sometimes it can be perceived as boring and the yearning for popularity will cause good people to do bad things.
People often wonder: how good is a good reputation? Its common knowledge reading a story about a whore will be much more interesting than reading a story about a nun. Doing something that goes against your values may elevate your image as a bad boy, but is that the image you want? Some people look at a bad boy as a turn-on or a project while others stay away like its poison — therefore cementing the fact that people's perception can alter how they treat you whether what they believe is really the truth.
No matter what your persona is, however, if you've got a great reputation that's taken years to build, it can take seconds for it to come crumbling down. Years of good deeds mean nothing when one bad deed or poor decision can erase everything that’s come before.
Even though there are reputations that we earn from our actions, and reputations that we build ourselves, there are times when someone’s reputation fits exactly who they are.
I’ve learned this plenty of times when I’ve heard stories about guys who were liars and cheats, drug addicts and players — even a story about a hidden fiancée. All these stories were factual but I gave each of these guys the benefit of the doubt even though it came back to bite me later.
Why did I do this when I was obviously warned away? Because we never know how much of someone's back story and reputation is actually true unless we find out for ourselves. Angry ex-boyfriends, jealous rivals and giggling gossips embellish and dramatize people's actions until truth and fiction become one.
I gave these men the chance to prove that what I heard was merely rumor because I would expect anyone to do the same thing for me. Are the things that people say about me — or anyone, for that matter — true? Maybe. But until someone takes the time to find out, it’s all hearsay.
Some people believe your reputation is merely your character minus what you've been caught doing. I believe that your reputation, good or bad, is merely the line between who you are and who you want to be. And every day we make the decision on how far over that line we want to step. The people who really want to know you will discard all the toxic words that cling to your name — and those are the people you yourself should want to know.
As far as trying to shake a bad reputation, I always go by this motto: It's better to be talked about than not talked about at all.