All my life, my Mom has told me “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.” Wise words, and when I was young I used to wonder what the big deal was. Who, as a child, did not long to at least partially emulate a mentor, a movie star, a singer, or a professional person who had the job you one day hoped to aspire to? Most of us, I would imagine.
We dressed like Madonna. We sang into a hairbrush or curling iron, pretending to be the rock star of the moment. We donned cowboy outfits, fireman’s coats, safari gear; we were only limited by the boundaries of our imaginations. Frankly, any time we dress ourselves we are donning an outfit, or costume. It is how we perceive ourselves and project to others what we are all about. Some of us would not dream of venturing out our door sans makeup, while others could not possibly care less. What’s all the fuss about?
Yet the question remains…can we decide to be someone other than ourselves? Actors do it for protracted periods of time, but I doubt that anyone can actually “become” someone else. No matters to what degree we may choose to emulate another, we cannot fully become that person. Everything we do, even imitation, reeks of our own personality and mannerisms. It is what makes us individuals. To me, the individual is something of value. If we were all the same, it is not a world in which I would care to dwell. Boring, boring, boring.
So, this reflection on individualism brings me to wonder why, in this day and age, people still fear being themselves? Honestly, it took me a long time to be comfortable enough with myself to truly be the person I have always been. I like to look different than others. At my age I still wear Chuck’s (in primary colors, no less), have an affinity for unusual eyeglasses (I’ve been wearing academic nerdy glasses long before they became trendy), love menswear (ties, bowties, French cuffed shirts, vests, and heavy-soled oxfords). In the past I was intimidated to wear such things at times, now I wear what I want, when I want and care not what others may think. I’ve earned the right as far as I am concerned. Many compliment me on my individual style, which is nice; but that is not why I do it. It’s just me. I gotta be me.
A great friend of mine recently noticed my lovely persimmon Coach Madison bag. I mean they went nuts over it. Ooh and aah and drool. “I looooove it! The color! The softness of the leather! It is perfect in every way! I’m so jealous! I so would carry that exact bag, if I were able.” I shook my head and replied, “So why can’t you?”
You’ve no doubt discerned by now that my friend is male. Why can’t he carry the bag he loves? People do it all the time, especially in New York. But no, no, he wouldn’t dare. That just makes me sad. Sad and more than a little angry, frankly. It’s almost 2012, is this as far as we’ve come? To a place where a handsome young man can’t carry a tote style handbag? We should be ashamed of ourselves. And yes, I am all too well aware that this is simply the tip of the iceberg. I swear I am tempted to just buy the bag for him and then he will be forced to carry it so as not to hurt my feelings. Yet, I would not do something to make him uncomfortable or worse yet, a target.
No matter how old and wise I become, I will never understand the mentality of a society that refuses to embrace the individual. Is it really society’s goal that we all conform and be alike? Dear Lord, I hope not. With all that is wrong in the world, the one thing that should be right is that we can be who we truly are. Thankfully we have progressed somewhat, but nowhere near far enough. Chaz Bono can finally be himself, but people still have hateful comments about it. That probably will never change. Sadly. Gay individuals can marry now. Slow progress, but still progress.
I suppose what makes this subject a sad one is trying to answer the question of why one person can be themselves when another cannot? What makes one individual more safe, more easily accepted than another? Contained in the answer to that question are many people’s fears, prejudices, and hates. We all have them.
It is almost New Years and I suppose that tends to make one reflective. There are many things I wish for in 2012: world peace, the return of true bipartisanship, a lesser dependence on oil, a stable economy…but most of all, I wish for people be accepted and embraced for who they are rather than who society wants them to be. And I wish to see my friend sporting the bag he wants to carry.
“Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.” Thanks Mom. I totally am.