Is “Be True to Yourself” Good Advice?

May 23, 2022 by

The Self-Made Self.

You don’t need to look far today to notice that personal identity is a do-it-yourself project. A gym near where I live advertises itself with the slogan: “Be Fit. Be Well. Be You.” A new apartment complex around the corner, offering high-end luxury design, carries the byline: “An Unlimited You.” People think about themselves constantly, it seems, and with high expectations!

High schools are also in on the act. One school’s marketing gave this advice to its current and prospective students: “Be Inspired. Be Challenged. Be Excellent. Be You.” The goal for every pupil in our day, we might say, is to leave school singing the most popular song from The Greatest Showman: “Look out ’cause here I come.” A veritable anthem for Millennials and Gen Z, the lyrics speak of unapologetically marching to your own drumbeat and proudly announcing to the world who you really are.

Popular culture regularly taps into this preoccupation with self-knowledge and self-expression. Think of the several decades-long success of Madonna—singer, songwriter, actress, and business woman—who embodies this approach to identity. Madonna is famous for regularly reinventing not only her music but also her image. Not surprisingly, her sixth major concert tour was styled the “Reinvention World Tour.” Personal identity today is all about self-definition and self-expression.

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