By Robin Fisher Roffer with Jessica Haring
It’s in our nature to evolve, yet so many of us stay stuck in our careers. We dream of making a change but are too afraid to do things differently. These public figures have reinvented themselves and made an impact. Let them be your inspiration to fly out of your pigeonhole so you can be seen for the real you.
Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel had a long standing reputation as an austere leader, reflective of her upbringing in Cold War German Democratic Republic. When European tensions heightened in 2015 Merkel rose to the forefront with surprisingly audacious leadership. She fearlessly lead the charge of progress on debt, migrants, refugees, Greece’s default, and Russia’s usurpation of Ukraine. Public perception of Merkel began to shift under her dependable, hard-lined EU management. When Europeans directed grief and anger over tragic refugee deaths at leaders who refused to open their doors, Merkel stood firm in her conviction to welcome those who lacked shelter. Despite vicious backlash, Merkel pushed policy that ensured no limit would be placed on the amount of refugees that Germany would accommodate during crisis. When she welcomed more than one million asylum seekers into Germany, Merkel transformed her reputation into brazenly hopeful global leader. Time Magazine named her “Person of The Year” in 2015 for using “a different set of values–humanity, generosity, tolerance to demonstrate how Germany’s great strength could be used to save rather than destroy.” Time notes that, “It is rare to see a leader in the process of shedding an old and jaunting national identity” and Merkel is doing just that. (Gibbs, “The Choice” Time)
As Rue in The Hunger Games franchise Amandla Stenberg rose as an understated celebrity. She made waves in public consciousness when she took an unprecedented step for a young star, bypassing publicists and media outlets, to make her voice heard through self publication platforms YouTube and Tumblr. Stenberg changed the tone of the tense pop-culture debate over cultural appropriation with engaging thoughts, wise beyond her 16 years, in her now famous video Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows.
Amandla has continued to inhabit atypical stardom and to express her individuality. While most stars Amandla’s age are subject to intense media scrutiny, Amandla turns the lens back on society and voices a mature cultural commentary. Elle magazine named Amandla Stenberg 2015 Feminist Celebrity of The Year while Dazed magazine called her “one of the most incendiary voices of her generation”, she continues to ruffle feathers and embody her own brand of beauty and courage.
Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope, brought new accessibility to the Papacy reinventing public perception of the papal office. For the first time in recent history the Pope’s influence extends well beyond his Catholic following and into the global dialogue. He brought with him radical empathy for the suffering and disenfranchised and a push towards progressive social change.
Pope Francis has so completely reoriented the Papal reputation that Rolling Stone published articles in 2015 like, “The 13 Most Radical Lines From the Pope’s Climate Encyclical”, while the New York Times casually flirted articles like, “My Crush on Pope Francis,” without much irony. In 2015 the world agreed, Pope Francis was a beacon for public good and the Catholic Church had a new seat at the table.
Aziz Ansari shone as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation from 2009 but flew relatively under the radar with a fanbase that sustained his stand up comedy. In 2015 the actor and comedian undertook big stakes when he co-produced, co-directed, and starred in his own comedy series on Netflix. Ansari told NPR that he created content because he was being pigeonholed into roles with ethnic stereotypes, and he wanted to do something new.
Ansari is breaking ground in his funny and evocative exploration of the first-generation American experience while proving definitively that there is a big audience for more diverse characters in writing and representation. The New York Times calls it, “the year’s best comedy”, Rotten Tomatoes gives it 100%. Master of None sets Ansari center stage as he creates his own opportunity to exhibit his singular talent and creativity.
Mark Zuckerberg went from quiet, self made billionaire, characterized mostly by a negative portrayal in The Social Network, to bold philanthropist and political activist. While Facebook’s popularity is waning amongst younger users, Zuckerberg is leveraging his wealth and status for fresh relevance. In his biggest move to reinvent himself Zuckerberg nestled his plan to donate 99% of his Facebook shares to charity, within the deeply personal announcement of the birth of his first daughter, Max. The donation, valued at forty-five billion dollars, sparked widespread debate about wealth disparity and pushed the term philanthrocapitalism to the forefront of economic debate. Some doubted Zuckerberg’s intentions and his right to freely control so much capital. But he won public favor when he married his donation to the selfless act of raising a child, and the desire to create a better world for her. Regardless of debate, Zuckerberg is poised to greatly impact society for good, and simultaneously placed his own social-media platform back in global headlines.
Amber Rose is a model, designer, entertainment host, author, and entrepreneur, but the media media narrative always left out her identity, and branded her simply as a “gold-digger”. Rose didn’t stand for this, instead seizing control of her brand story, she developed a strong, focused public voice. She made a bold claim to power by arriving at the 2015 VMA’s in a dress covered in the same derogatory labels that were used to shame her, appropriating the insults to promote her upcoming SlutWalk.
Rose has declared a mission to end “sexual injustice, victim blaming, derogatory labeling and gender inequality”. She is now making her mission visible with a clear brand, everything she does reinforces her new, self made identity. She starred in an irreverent Funny or Die video, “Walk of No Shame”. She refused to be passive to unfair press. Rose criticized GQ magazine for identifying her as relevant only by proximity to her famous exes. Rose continues to make her voice heard with the publication of her book, How to Be a Bad Bitch.
In a tearful speech during her well attended Los Angeles Slut Walk Amber Rose spoke candidly about the struggles she faces as a woman. She inspired many by refusing to accept sexist media representation, instead she used her platform to claim space as a complex and dynamic human being.
Teenage Justin Bieber won the hearts of legions of fans and built an empire that hinged on passing muster with parents. From 2013-2014 a deluge of bad behavior culminated in more than 270,000 people petitioning the White House to have him deported from the United States.
He fell out of favor with his market and teetered on the brink of losing his career. In 2015, Bieber orchestrated a dramatic turnaround. He courted his audience to shift focus to his music. He laughed good naturedly along during a Comedy Central roast while hosts merciless tore him down. Reluctant reporters began to comment on his politeness and maturity. He created windows into his personality with bits like Carpool Karaoke and endearing appearances on Ellen Degeneres. Ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez corroborated his efforts to model himself as a changed man saying, “this is what I always saw in him”. He released two top ten hits including his first Billboard number one, accepted a handful of awards at the MTV EMA’s, and received a Guinness World Record for being the youngest male artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Bieber nailed his first VMA performance in five years, ending his spot in tears, which many attributed to his surprise at receiving warm applause in place of increasingly common hostility. Bieber turned his ruined reputation into a distant memory and is primed for huge success.