This goes out to everyone who has, at one point or another, tried to be someone they’re not in order to please everybody else. This goes out to those who are ostracized for being different. This is for those who continue to be criticized and bullied when all they’re really trying to do is be themselves. This is for the square pegs in the round holes. This one’s for you.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last night I watched Charice Pempengco on a local late-night show, GGV. I must say that the first time she appeared internationally on Ellen, and then on Oprah, I really admired her for her talent. As a Filipino myself, I could not have been any prouder.
But things changed. She changed.
For those of you not from the Philippines, maybe you are less aware of this, but Charice’s recent change of image garnered her a lot of hate and criticism from the locals.
I must admit that when I saw her walk out of that X-Factor Philippines stage with hair colored shocking yellow, I, along with the rest of the country, exclaimed: “What is she doing with herself? Fame has gotten to her head and she’s changed.” In vernacular, “Nagbago na sya,”—and in local parlance, this remark is usually considered anything but positive. It is reserved for those who have gone from humble to bigheaded, from unassuming to self-important, and generally speaking, from good to bad.
I stopped liking her as a singer, I was no longer proud of her, and I almost hated her for having to change her image like that when she could’ve maintained a bigger fan base had she stuck to her old image. What a waste of a blooming career, I thought. She fell into the trap of fame and fortune.
But last night, I realized that maybe she wasn’t the one who fell into a trap. Maybe it was the rest of us who have.
Charice is now a young adult and she has gone through adolescence under the prying eyes of the media and the public. I could only imagine how difficult it must’ve been to be under the spotlight all the time while going through the complicated process of self-discovery and establishing an identity all adolescents contend with. In retrospect, I see that throwing her all that hate and criticism about what she does with her hair, her clothes, her image, and all that, is actually a form of bullying. Most people may not consider it so, probably because she’s a public figure. But all too often, we are too possessive of our public figures; we fall into the belief that they are our own and they work to please our personal tastes. We are quick to judge and to comment and to criticize. We forget they are human.
In one of my previous posts, I talked about the need to eradicate the stigma of mental illness. But I realize that before that can be accomplished, maybe we should start toning down all the hate first—the criticisms and condemnation we throw everyone who isn’t up to our taste. It’s another kind of stigma we have cultivated, for celebrities who change the way we don’t want them to, for public figures who decide the other way than we would’ve preferred, for every single person who has messed up their lives, for those who don’t conform to the traditional.
This kind of societal attitude is what contributes to higher rates of depression, anorexia, and all sorts of mental illnesses. It fosters self-ruin. It’s one reason why people go out and kill themselves.
Live and let live. This is the key here. For as long as the person is not doing harm to anybody or anything else, what’s all the hate for?
The adage “Be yourself” has been advised so many times that now it seems like nothing but a tired old cliché. We say that all the time to the youth, but the truth is, in the society we live in, truly being yourself is a risk. It’s not as awesome as we project it to be, especially if the “self” you’re trying to be is not something considered conventional by society.
Take the case of homosexuality, for instance. Much has been accomplished against the discrimination of gender choices, but we cannot say that the battle is already won. A significant amount of stigma still remains and there are probably more people still who remain closeted for fear of being ostracized, especially in a country as conservative as the Philippines.
Homosexuality is just one of the more obvious concepts prone to unequal regard. There are many others. Every day, God knows how many more people are pushed around, looked down upon, and disapproved of because they are fat, or physically disabled, or simply different.
Going back to Charice, look at how a mere change of hair color has sparked the criticism of many. We’ve all thought she has “changed,” but the truth of the matter is, she may just have revealed who she really is. She’s just trying to express herself. What we call a “change of image” is not necessarily a change in her values or her core being. It is probably not even a reinvention of herself, but more of a revelation of who she is on the inside.
She’s not a freak. She’s misunderstood.
I actually admire her for having the courage to still express herself the way she wants to, even though it has been met with a disparaging flood of comments and criticisms. Despite everything, she did not simply conform to what everyone else thinks is the “right image” for her just to please everybody. In the interview, the show’s host Vice Ganda made a sound point in saying that you should not be afraid to go for what makes you happy no matter what everybody else thinks or says, because it’s your life. The ones commenting are not the ones living it. In the end, it’s you who will feel happy or sad about what you’ve made of yourself and of your life.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ~ E.E. Cummings
This battle is not only to be fought by the individuals trying to be true to themselves, or by those struggling for acceptance and understanding. This fight spans society as a whole. It’s easier to pass judgment on people rather than try to understand them, but the challenge for all of us is to not fall into this trap.
The world is already more broken and messed up than it has to be.
Maybe we should divert the campaign from the cliché “Be yourself” we hound the youth with, to one that says to the world, “Be more accepting of each others’ differences.” Let’s hold back from being quick to judge and criticize others just because they are different, or make choices we would consider weird or absurd. The differences we have are not trigger points for us to fight amongst ourselves. They are expressions of human diversity, and if we care to understand more and look closer, we may even see beauty, truth and sense in every single thing.
Yes, even in “noodle hair” colored shocking yellow. ♦
• About the Author •