For whatever reason this week, I’ve noticed the term “personal branding” while browsing the web. My mind immediately flooded with images of a red-hot poker sizzling some buffed prisoner’s, or better yet, frat boy’s flexed bicep. I don’t like burning flesh, but I do love big muscles in any form. So, I clicked the link. Instead of being transported to my usual web haunt of bemyprisonmama.com, I was magically taken to a land far away, one I do not know well. All over the page, men wore crisp suits with striped ties and ladies had on heels. Not any cute heel, but closed toe black pumps. Shivers ran down my spine.
Holy mother of Lehman Brothers! This is one of those self-help for business majors websites. Damn you, English language and all your double entendres.
Since I already wasted my time by slapping the enter button, I reluctantly read on. According to some authority figure at fastmoney.com, I’m now the CEO of Me Inc. And it’s important that I have a brand, otherwise known as self-packaging. I always thought wearing an underwire bra was enough packaging of myself, but obviously I was mistaken. Anyway, everything I write, wear, say and think reflects who I am. The theory goes that basically people form impressions and labels of you based on these things. Thus, if you play your cards right, you can determine your own “brand” and choose how you present yourself to the world.
Ok, I do find this interesting. I mean, by writing this blog I am projecting a certain image to all my readers. I chose the photo on my home page to demonstrate a subtle whimsy from my mid-western upbringing. I purposefully compose only humorous pieces so others perceive that I’m fun to be around. I use fairly colloquial language so I don’t come across as being highbrow and snotty. And I labeled my blog HoosierMandy so people associate me with Indiana and ditsy girls who giggle a lot. (We all know gals with the name Mandy generally fit a certain stereotype. How many Congresswomen are named Mandy? Now count the number of Playboy playmates with the moniker. Exactly.)
In other words, I’m totally contrived. Phooey. I’ve branded myself without even knowing.
Despair descends upon my engineered little life upon this realization. I pride myself on being unique and real. But instead I’m fake and manufactured, like Pillow Pets or Pamela Anderson’s breasts. As Holden Caulfield asks in “The Catcher in the Rye,” “How would you know that you weren’t being phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t.”
Thanks, great literary masterpiece, for reinforcing the point.
Unlike others who turn to food, alcohol or small furry animals for solace, I turn to Facebook stalking. Nothing cheers me up more than learning random things about my old classmates and neighbors that I can bring up at odd times during boring conversations. As I’m browsing the profiles, something starts to happen. An awareness builds in my simulated soul. Wait a second. I’m not the only person doing a little personal branding nowadays. Almost every Facebook profile paints a clear story of industrial self-invention.
From our photos to our status updates, we are constantly manufacturing our identities. Be it as a good mother or persistent partier, a dutiful husband or a mistreated employee, most people present a definitive representation to the world. Why read an article on how to brand when you can experience the phenomenon first hand? The self-help gurus have it wrong. Whether conscious or not, we already know how to promote our persona to the world. How that image is received is an entirely different matter. The bigger question is do we like what we have created?
The answer is yes, but only if your identity includes bulging biceps.