Beware the Past

Apr 17 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

It is not uncommon to come across memes of local celebrities wherever Ethiopians congregate on social media. Recently, famous memes show the before and after of celebrities - when they were relatively unknown and after they became famous.

The difference is visible. There was even a series of memes that targeted known public figures showing how different they look now compared to before they rose to fame.

Some of these memes feature a text, “If you want your life to change like this celebrity, then you'll stay at home.”

Most of these memes are funny. All of us change our appearance over time. The juxtaposition can even be provocative. People change with status. As people become more successful, they tend to take care of themselves differently - they tend to eat, exercise and dress better. Likewise, when people know there are millions out there watching them, and they are in the public's eye, they tend to be very conscientious of the way they are presented.

But there is something unnerving about this exercise. Primarily, there are people that dedicate their time to digging up these photos for public consumption. Just as worryingly, the internet manages to keep a massive storage of data on us that anyone can presumably dig up.

It is scary to realise that we are all posting photos of ourselves without really understanding how these will be utilised going forward. Many young teenage girls are guilty of this, posting stuff that is a little too inappropriate for their age. I always get the urge to tell them to think twice about putting themselves out on social media the way they do.

It is fine to experiment early in life, but we should be wary of leaving traces of it for everyone to see on social media. We should aspire to keep our personal and public lives separated.

Under most circumstances, when we look back at the sorts of people we were, we have some regrets. The judgment other people reserve for our past selves will not be forgiving either, no matter how much we have changed. They will use our past against us, either because it helps someone personally or because it is entertaining for public consumption.

Who knows where we will end up in about a decade?

Imagine running for office, and some embarrassing part of our past lives is made known to the public. It could happen. It has happened to many others who have had to learn the hard way.

A friend recently got engaged. She had not been active on social media for a while but decided to reactivate her Facebook account with the intent of sharing the good news with her friends and colleagues.

A few days later, she got into a fight with her fiancé. Even though she has told him about her past, looking at her feed aggravated his feelings. He called her names and threatened to call off the wedding. All this because of some silly thing she posted on social media years ago.

The problem with the gendered world we live in is that this phenomenon affects women more severely than it does men. The memes that target famous people, for instance, usually target women and scrutinise them for their looks. Photos of them with and without makeup are put side by side and a game made out of spotting the differences.

Society does not allow women to have a past as it does men. Women are required to be perfect from the start, making no mistakes and waiting patiently for the man they were meant to be with for the rest of their lives. Some women lie about their past relationships just to avoid being called names and interrogation from their spouses.

Men, on the other hand, can get away with a simple phrase such as "all that stuff I did was long before you came into my life."

Neither men nor women should not be put on trial for the mistakes they committed years ago when they were young. This is a problem that is exacerbated by social media. Let us not pick on people's pasts but instead encourage them for the progress they have made. If there is any reason to scrutinise their deeds, let us do it without personally attacking them.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 17,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1042]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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