Monday, April 27, 2009

The beauty of being different

I DID not have a keen sense of humour, I was told, when I said I did not find the Danny Boy advertisement amusing.

If you have not seen the advertisement, which is no longer being shown on terrestrial television stations, it's about a young man whose blind date after an exchange of SMSes turned out not to be what he had expected. The sight of the oversized, Ugly Betty look-alike shocked him and he ran for his life.

I was at a friend's place when the advertisement appeared on TV. One observant teenager in the living room asked why I did not laugh. I said I did not get the joke. He then proceeded to explain the "joke" to me, slowly, and even related a similar experience with his version of Ugly Betty, and how he had cleverly sneaked out the back door of the McDonalds outlet where they were meeting. I told him that his action was not only not amusing but it was also rude.

I am reminded of the painful years when some of my friends had to endure the teasing of their peers for being different. Their physique, health condition, genetic inheritance or even financial status -- or rather the lack of it -- often became the source of jokes among the shallow-minded.

One chap who suffered from albinism was embarrassed when a teacher nicknamed him "Snow White" -- a tag which followed him everywhere until his failure in the Lower Certificate of Education offered a way out of his misery.

One tall girl I know became hunched in later years after constantly bending her head low to escape the "panjang" taunts of her classmates. There were many more who were made fun of.

The emotionally tough ones grew up, forgot about the teasings and went on to lead successful lives. However, the less able ones carry the psychological scars into adulthood, becoming overly self-conscious as they try to stay hopelessly compliant to the norms, real or imagined. And the only ones who benefit commercially from these insecurities are the marketers.

Too dark? Get a cream that will make you fairer. Can't see your toes for your girth? No problem. Join a spa that will turn you into a supermodel.

Can't get any friends? Spray this aerosol under your arms and you will not only smell sweet but have more friends, too. Losing your hair? Slap this cream on your scalp and you will not only get your hair but also the girls back.

In other words, there is something for every complaint that you may have.

After being exposed to such messages long enough, it can cloud your judgment of what is normal and what is not. It gets quite tough, too, when it comes to guiding your growing children through these minefields of perceived norms. I tell mine to just be themselves. It is their lives and they should not let others dictate how they should live it. As human beings, we are entitled to the frailties of being human, even a blemish or two. Beauty that is skin-deep can dangerously mask an even more serious character flaw.

Remember how people laughed at William Hung when he first performed?

Probably the same type of people who also laughed at Susan Boyle recently. And guess who's having the last laugh now?

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