“All human life seemed driven by shame – the fear of being an incorrect self. Wear the right clothes, talk the right way, like the right things, buy the right fancy toys. As if shame were an evoluntary necessary evil designed to keep the tribes of society simultaneously together and apart. If there were no shame, would we be freer? Or just descend into chaos?”-David Yoon, Super Fake Love Song.
When I was 14, months after graduating eighth grade, I was asked to sing a solo in front of my entire high school. Normally, a request like this would make the average teenager barf, and it did- five months earlier when I was asked to perform at the beginning year assembly. Having had a great performance then, I agreed to sing again, thinking with enough practice like before the whole thing would be a success.
It was not.
Unlike my earlier performance, I didn’t have the extra two months to expertly master my song . With the pianist confirmed only a few days before, my religious ‘song-perfection’ ritual had to be shortened: that meant no ironing out every inflection, no strategically placed ‘riffs’, and no flips or tricks – just me, a mic, and my imperfect voice.
The nervousness alone sent me shivering off the stage and into my seat before the last note. As the pity applause sprinkled through the audience, I decided then and there that I would never expose myself like that again, or else risk complete and utter embarrassment.
Looking back, my reaction might have been a tad bit dramatic, but for anyone who’s been under the impossible blanket of shame, you get the feeling.
In my current read, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon, main character Sunny Dae confronts his own shame as he attempts to get the girl of his dreams by pretending to be his rock star older brother and not the fantasy-loving nerd he actually is. The book is a quirky rom-com with its fair share of charm, but the story’s real grabbers are it’s hard-hitting one-liners that make you rethink what it means to ‘be yourself’ and how hard that actually is.
Like Sunny, I think we’ve all been terrified of showing our true selves at one point or another. Maybe some of us have been so terrified for so long, that we ourselves have grown to hate who we really are under all that pretending.
When I walked on the stage, I was scared that the sound of my stripped voice would cause an embarrassing performance. Now, years into learning to be comfortable with myself, I’ve realized that it was the fear and shame of being myself in front of others that ruined me before I even started.
This quote reminds me that while shame is powerful and can inspire us to only put our best foot forward, it shouldn’t defines us. Like Sunny and other characters in Super Fake Love Song, we’ve all got to come to terms with our true, imperfect selves. Sure it can be terrifying, and sure, sometimes the blanket of fear can be a little too comfy. But at the end of the day (as the rock anthem [and John Keats] says) , there is nothing more perfect or ‘beautiful’ than being ‘true’ to ourselves.
(PS. If you’re a fan of cute rom-coms with heart, I recommend Super-Fake Love Song for your next read!)