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How to honestly move on from a problematic past

How to honestly move on from a problematic past

How to honestly move on from a problematic past
July 29
14:00 2021

As the value of a clean digital footprint grows, many celebrities feel cancel culture’s intended purpose is to permanently write someone off. The reason why many public figures do not successfully recover their reputation is because they fail to realize that’s not the purpose of an apology in the first place.

Take Chrissy Teigen — model, television personality and the latest celebrity to display disdain for facing the consequences of her actions. Teigen’s ironic fall from her coveted influencer status came after she announced her departure from Twitter because she was “deeply bruised” by criticism of her decision to collaborate with Kris Jenner. The announcement prompted model Courtney Stodden — who identifies as non-binary, to share their story. Stodden was only 16 years old when they were publicly mocked for marrying 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchinson in 2011. People overlooked the 25 year age difference and failed to consider Stodden as a victim. Teigen was one of many public figures who were far from supportive, as evidenced by tweets that resurfaced of her encouraging Stodden to take a “dirt nap.”

Teigen posted a public apology to Twitter on May 13 after Stodden initially brought up the issue, but Teigen’s most recent statement showcases the vast oversight people have when it comes to being canceled or as people called it before the dominance of social media: being held accountable. On July 14, Teigen posted a caption on Instagram detailing how she wants to communicate with her following “instead of pretending everything is okay.” She continued in her trademark satirical tone, commenting how the “cancel club” is a weird place. Detailing all the problematic aspects of the statement would require a separate piece of its own, but the main issue lies in her failure to acknowledge it was her behavior that landed her in such hot water. 

The statement prompted more criticism, and rightfully so. The public is responsible for holding privileged public figures accountable. Without checks and balances, the normalization of toxic behavior will occur. So, how does one genuinely move on from their toxic past? 

First, the wrongdoer must accept they are not entitled to forgiveness from the offended party. This is especially relevant in situations when the committed act is rooted in ableism, racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia. Members of marginalized communities often opt to distance themselves from the situation in order to protect their mental health. Some people fail to understand this concept and apologize with the sole purpose of being forgiven. They are concerned for their own ego, instead of digesting how hurtful the offense was. An apology should validate the offended party’s feelings, emphasize the problematic behavior is not the victim’s fault, express remorse and explain the thought process behind the harmful action, according to apology expert Aaron Lazare. 

Once the offender accepts they are not entitled to forgiveness, they must understand what it means to genuinely apologize.

“To apologize is to share remorse and shame, to accept consequences and to restore dignity and healing to those we have hurt,” according to Psychology Today.

Teigen’s initial apology acknowledges the pain she inflicted on Stodden but added she is “mortified” and she works hard to make people happy. Imagine how mortified Stodden was when Teigen was publicly spewing hateful words at them? Notice Lazare’s guidelines focus mainly on the victim, so the use of self-centered language is a red flag, and it’s a surefire way to cheapen an apology. Teigen should have refrained from talking about her feelings and focused on her role in causing Stodden’s pain. 

When an apology isn’t solely focused on the offended party, it can make them feel somewhat guilty for their discomfort. This is especially true if the person is a victim of abuse because they constantly face people who discredit their trauma. In any instance, an apology is not a tool to redeem the wrongdoer.

Once a genuine apology is made, it is up to the wrongdoer to get to the root of their behavior and correct it. This final step is hard for people, especially those with a platform, to accept because social media has made everything so performative. People get so caught up in how they are perceived publicly. They hardly reflect on their actions and begin to lack self-awareness. Celebrities are defensive when their apologies aren’t met with affirmation from the offended group and it exposes their entitlement.

Teigen isn’t the only high-status figure to issue a tone-deaf apology, so why do people with the financial means to access educational resources, therapy and rehabilitation have such a difficult time realizing being held accountable is not a punishment? It is a humbling reality all humans must face to learn and grow from a mistake. 

When a person lives a charmed life, they must be constantly aware of their privilege. Many celebrities and public figures neglect to do so, and they become stuck in a cycle of constant criticism. While it can be abused, canceling someone who has the world at their fingertips and neglects to see past their own privilege is a necessary response.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Rhema Joy Bell

Rhema Joy Bell

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