To See Yourself
A young girl, no older than five, sits cross-legged on the carpet. When she looks up at the television, she’s met with a character adorned with a white doctor’s coat and a sparkly stethoscope and her stuffed animal sidekicks. “Doc,” the tutu-wearing sheep calls her. Doc’s hair looks just like hers, tied back in two braids.
“Mama! She looks just like me!” she exclaims, pointing her finger at the screen.
“What color is the jungle?” The girl with the purple backpack waits for someone’s reply. A child chimes in, “verde!” She uses the words picked up from the sentences of her family and claims that she’s going to explore, just like Dora, bringing along a scroll of paper and her school bag.
A Black boy lowers himself down into a hideout with his friends. “To the creek!” he shouts, mirroring a cartoon. He and his friends pretend the couch cushions will save them from the patterned carpet disguised swampy waters. “I’m Craig and I’ll save the day!” he cries out as they all erupt in laughter.
A group of friends tiptoe into a movie theater. As the lights dim and the screen widens, they sink into the reclining seats. Cheerful music begins and we see a mother covering her son’s eyes and leading him out to his new car. “I’m just like you. For the most part, my life is totally normal,” he narrates. They cheer for him when he finally gets to meet his crush on the ferris wheel and they wish they could run musical lines in a waffle house. They all root for the main character as he wonders whether or not people will love him after he’s told them. Tears stream down their faces because they know that experience all too well.
A man picks a movie because he “recognizes her from Fresh Off the Boat,” and lets the movie play. “London, 1995,” the screen reads as rain splatters on the pavement and thunder roars. A family, soaked by the rain, enters the lobby and mud streaks the shiny tile. He’s dazzled by the glamorous weddings as much as he is the cast. There’s something about how the cast makes it look so natural to be the center of the story, to unapologetically have their own storylines, that makes something shift in him once the screen begins presenting the end credits.
Whether it be on the big screen, in the pages of a book, through the lyrics of a song, or in beautiful art, to see yourself represented is crucial. Positive portrayals of marginalized groups beyond the stereotypes we’ve been given are absolutely necessary. Showing us as something more than a one-dimensional token-character lets us know that even if we don’t follow the stereotypes set up for us, that it’s okay because the world sees us as more than that.
Watching the world around you portray people who look like you, act like you, or love like you, it makes you feel seen. Stories and films cradle you in their arms and tell you that it’s okay to be who you are, that you are loved the way you are, that you belong. Everyone deserves to feel seen by the world around them. You deserve it too, to see yourself.
Written by Mariel Bumanglag. Edited by Pooja Manjakandy.