How Far Back Should Your ‘Past’ Affect Your Image or Brand?

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 03/28/2014 | 03:00 PM EDT editor Gerren Keith Gaynor tackles whether or not NeNe Leakes’ old arrests is bad news for her business

As the old adage goes, “everyone has a past.”

Unfortunately for some, particularly celebrities, one’s past can sometimes come to bite you in the rear. No one likes to be reminded of their mistakes, especially when you’ve learned from them and moved on. Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes, however, learned that the hard way when her criminal past made a splash in the tabloids and blogs just weeks after she blasted former friend Marlo Hampton for her prior battery arrests


Though Leakes, 46, has been an open book when it comes to being a stripper during her 20s, it turns out she was also charged with three felonies and one misdemeanor of theft from a phone company in 1992. Leakes, who was a single mother at the time, plead guilty to all four counts.

From a branding and image point of view, it must really suck for such news to surface during a time when millions of people tune in to see the actress and TV personality share her “reality” on Housewives and bust a few ballroom moves on the Dancing With The Stars stage. Though this happened over 20 years ago, and Leakes had no way of knowing she’d one day become a television fixture, it’s sure to have its negative effects on how the public will view her.

But just how much should your past matter after so much time has passed?

While we’d all like to believe we’ll always make good decisions, as human beings, sometimes we fall short. But regardless of how dark your cloud of mistakes may be, the key to overcoming your past is owning up to it and making an honest and conscious effort to learn from it and, of course, not making the same mistake twice.

But there are many variables that are in place when it comes to ridding yourself of your past mistakes. For one, how serious your transgressions are will determine if you’ll ever be able to escape them. In Leakes’ case, theft may be the least of things one could care about. However, it could point to how far she’d go out of desperation for money, material things, etc. This could have consequences for Leakes, as it has the potential to ruin many business relationships. No one wants to partner with a potential thief or scam artist.

Sometimes your past matters. If you’re a politician it hurts you in the long run if you happen to have a criminal past, or if you’re an educator, having a history of molestation would almost guarantee you to be blacklisted.

But not all things in our past should come back to haunt us. Sometimes our mistakes make us better people.

Personally, I remember writing a column for my college newspaper in which I sensationalized and criticized male students on campus for their androgynous style of fashion (heels, tunics, etc.). I remember being blasted by the gay and online community. Just one google of my name would lead you to very hurtful and eye-opening comments about me. At 19, I didn’t know any better. But that experience led me to read up on gender and sexuality studies, and years later it has only helped me in my career as a journalist. However, by owning up to my “past,” I have to accept the fact that my words could always resurface.

No one expects you to be perfect, but when you put yourself in a position to be judged it will most inevitably come. Your brand and your image is sacred, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use your past to your advantage. Own it and take control. Hopefully NeNe will do the same.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not express the thoughts of Centric TV or BET Networks.

(Photos: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Elle; Clarke County Sheriff's Office)

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