The onset of spring often dredges up an urge for transformation. The practice of spring cleaning encourages people to throw out the old and to enter the new, while the blooming of flowers colorfully advertises the beauty of change.
Though spring traditionally invites these themes into the average person’s life, now that we live in an increasingly visual culture — one in which you can easily document and broadcast these changes to an audience — self-reinvention is all the more appealing.
A TikTok trend from a few months ago involved people showing off their glow-ups. Some of these videos can be emphatically wholesome, with people documenting their journey toward self-acceptance and happiness after leaving an oppressive environment.
Self-reinvention also has a frequent presence in the world of pop music.
This reinvention may involve a radical change in sound, appearance or both, but the process remains the same regardless. The change drums up publicity for the artists’ new work, and fans are kept intrigued with the “new.”
Take Dua Lipa: While promoting her first album, Lipa was heavily cyberbullied due to her awkward dancing and lackluster stage presence. After a brief break, she came back into the public eye stunning her fans with incredible choreography, an interesting new sound and a new hairstyle to promote her sophomore album “Future Nostalgia.”
But Lipa’s reinvention and these TikToks share a dark underbelly.
People have jokingly pointed to the singer’s improvement as a sign that cyberbullying works. Sure, people seemed to be taking borderline sadistic relish in publicly humiliating this woman, but look at how much better she came out on the other side of the ridicule. Likewise, most of the TikTok glow-ups are accompanied by the implicit knowledge that the creator may have been bullied in some capacity before they were able to change themselves.
Some of these self-transformations seem to have come at a cost, the change occurring only after weathering periods of abuse or unhappiness.
This is why I feel reinvention can be a tricky concept to enact. Oftentimes, self-reinvention does not come from a need to construct a healthier life for oneself, but as a way to avoid ridicule. How can this kind of enforced change lead to anything but a skewed sense of self, created out of a fear of humiliation rather than true self-acceptance?
Granted, I am making a lot of assumptions here. Perhaps Lipa and all of these TikTokers went on a journey of self-discovery independent of outside opinions. Moreover, some self-reinventions can occur after a person has left an oppressive environment and finally has the freedom to be who they’ve always wanted to be — take Kesha, for instance.
However, their transformations were nonetheless staged around performance. Even if the change occurred off screen, independent of any prying eyes, its results were broadcast and staged for an audience.
Any personality heavily constructed around explicit performance requires a person to place greater importance on aesthetics and outward appearances. If this is the most obvious way one can indicate to those around them that they have changed, it allows people to transform themselves without focusing on emotional or mental changes.
I’m not saying this kind of self-reinvention is negative. But these intensely public periods of change gamify self-expression, turning one’s personality into something easily moldable and entirely too dependent on the audience’s reaction.
This becomes all the more complicated when one’s attempt at self-transformation fails. Take the recent controversy around the band Tramp Stamps.
On TikTok, Tramp Stamps marketed itself as a punk rock feminist band, with three white members dyeing their hair and singing songs about hating straight white men.
But people soon felt betrayed after finding out its members looked a lot less like actual riot girls a few months ago. People attributed their dyed hair and punk rock sound as clear marketing ploys to appeal to grungy teenagers rather than genuine markers of the band’s personalities.
Of course, the Tramp Stamps members’ transformations are different from your average TikTok glow-up, given that each member has already worked in the music industry. But this band provides an exaggerated case study of how self-reinventions can leave one devoid of any true depth, personality or authenticity.
Spring may be the perfect time to work on letting go of bad habits and trying something new. But to expect complete self-transformation without understanding the added emotional labor behind these changes can lead one to define their personality entirely on outward markers of change.
In short, the performance of self-reinvention — whether it be for the purposes of marketing a terrible punk band, promoting a new album or making a sharply edited TikTok — may destroy more of the self than it reinvents.