“Be yourself,” said the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde, “everyone else is taken.”
The idea of being authentic isn’t new. It isn’t pop culture, although it appears to have gained momentum in the last hundred years. It echoes the ancient Greek aphorism: know thyself. It appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when the obsequious, posturing Polonius gives the ironic advice to his son: to thine own self be true.
To be honest, I have occasionally wrestled with the maxim of being one’s self. There are just too many times, throughout my life, when I have pretended to be someone else. Besides pretending to be a princess who has fallen on hard times in order to exude the poise and confidence to get a job I felt unsuited for, and pretending to be an artist in order to come to terms with my new glasses, I have repeatedly pretended to be a younger, slimmer, nearly chic Mrs. Claus at Christmas; a British woman named Jane who works in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road; a novelist like Charles Dickens, or storyteller like Isak Dinesen; a friend of Miss Marple’s who has come to tea at Danemead Cottage; and countless other characters from novels and film.
I must have spent half of my childhood pretending to be somebody other than myself, but I don’t suppose that is anything out of the ordinary. It was later, when I crossed some invisible line drawn in the sand that I began to feel the pressure to either look and act like everyone else or just be myself. The thing of it is, I am both. And I am neither. I am a pretender. Isn’t it ironic, that being myself often means imagining I am someone I am not?
But I am not alone. I recently heard pop singer, Meghan Trainor say to a nervous young artist on The Voice: “When I get nervous before a performance, I pretend I am Beyonce.”