To be yourself is all that you can do.—Be Yourself, by Audioslave
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.—Man to God, Psalm 139:14-16 (ESV)
Be Yourself is a popular trope, especially in shows aimed at children. One character tries to persuade other characters to change their images and not be a loser, geek, etc. After the change goes amiss, Flowers for Algernon Syndrome almost always ensues, and An Aesop is delivered about how it is better to be true to one's own nature. Usually, that means being physically unattractive, uncool and a complete and utter failure.
Occasionally this is warped into "Be Who You Should Be", as a Rule-Abiding Rebel; the plot doesn't even recognize certain personalities as even being choices and thus they "clearly" must be fake personas. And forget the notion that someone has different branching possibilities. That's far too complicated.
Can be considered a Broken Aesop if a character's true nature is to be vulgar or pure evil - a Card-Carrying Villain is certainly being true to himself, but that doesn't make him a good person. Most frequently, however, it's broken when the intended message is inadvertently twisted to "don't improve or reinvent yourself, broaden your horizons or even make any new friends" - the more often an episodic series attempts "Be Yourself", the more likely they are to break it this way.
Of course, one that puts up facades by nature should be considered true to oneself by definition. The worst attempts at showing this Aesop strike upon the Appeal to Inherent Nature, a logical fallacy that confuses what is with what ought to be. The better attempts are usually reminders to just be honest rather than to deny oneself.
If the Be Yourself succeeds, it may lead to said character declaring I Am What I Am.
- Being beautiful and being yourself are mutually exclusive according to this Converse All Stars commercial
- Lipton Ice Tea: Be Yourself. Naturally
- Averted in the Mandalay Bay commercials. Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas isn't the place to be yourself as Mitchell Bernstien C.P.A and Suzanna Jones, a 5th grade teacher and mother of 3 demonstrate.
- An early-1980s cinema advert for National Westminster Bank, starring Adrian Edmondson as a character not totally unlike Vyvyan Basterd, played this trope for laughs. In his quest to open a bank account, pseudo-Vyv dons an ill-fitting three-piece suit, buzzes his mohawk, and has the metal stars on his forehead removed (apparently, they are piercings). After this, and overcompensating with his RP at NatWest, he is granted an account ... and moments later, the punked-out guy behind him in line opens his own account without a hitch. Our hero doesn’t take this well.
- In this Heinz commercial this woman's being herself through her crude table manners.
- Inverted by all those "above the influence" commercials telling teenagers not to do drugs.
- The whole point of Shugo Chara.
- Princess Tutu brilliantly carry on this trope
- Early on in Kare Kano Yukino is Ms. Perfect at school and a Slacker at home who likes to wear sweat clothes and be comfy. She learns to "Be Herself". She put so much work into faking perfection that she's constantly exhausted and burnt out when she's at home.
- Ouran High School Host Club does this with Nekozawa and, even more memorably, Kasanoda. Also done with Honey; in his case "being himself" includes being a hedonist who values sweets and toys above people (even his own family). Haruhi even notes that "himself" isn't that great of a person. This is used for Haruhi herself, as a sort of subversion. She says that she'll "Be herself from now on," meaning she would leave the host club. Haruhi eventually decides to pursue her dreams and become a lawyer, moving away to America.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Listen Simon - don't forget. Believe in yourself. Not in me, who believes in you. Not in you, who believes in me. Believe in you, who believes in yourself!
- Essentially one of Fudo's Aesops from Sousei no Aquarion. Not before a Crowning Moment of Funny though.
- This is the big life lesson of Kimi ni Todoke. Sawako uses her gifts to make friends and isn't forced to change her innate nature.
- Subverted in Gokinjo Monogatari, where the author obviously considers daring to be your eccentric self and going against the current in a society as stiff and homogeneous as the Japanese a sign of bravery and something admirable, but at the same she doesn't gloss over the hardships that being an oddball is likely to bring you. Like being bullied and expelled from school and having close to no friends until you find more kindred spirits.
- Mahou Sensei Negima: Nagi (in Alberio's pactio): You should be yourself.
- A message from Alphonse Elric to Sheska telling her not to be discouraged that her best asset was reading, and that he respected her for having a unique talent.
- In Virgin Love, Daigo has to reassure Kaoru that it's okay to be a Crazy Jealous Guy and that he shouldn't run from relationships because of self-hatred. In turn in Junai no Seinen, Kaoru tells Daigo he doesn't have to try so hard to live up to Kaoru's expectations because Kaoru wouldn't date him if he wasn't already what he wanted.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion plays this in a horribly idealistic way. The whole plot probably wouldn't have gone as insane as it did if Shinji had just been honest with himself and others from the start.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Season 1 has this present during Jaden's duel vs. Zane in the graduation duel. Jaden tried dueling like Zane or Bastion would and it nearly cost him the duel. After some food and some advice from Zane to be himself, he went back to normal to try and win. He didn't win, but he tied though.
- Mikoto teaches Ritsuko this in the A Certain Scientific Railgun manga. Considering Mikoto is a tsundere who is always hiding her feelings for the guy she likes, she's a terrible choice to dispense this and ends up coming like a Broken Aesop or something. Now, Kuroko, who is always herself, would have been perfect for this, and likely funnier to boot.
- Deconstructed pretty harshly in Fate/Zero. Gilgamesh gives this advice to Kotomine - except that Kotomine's natural inclination is to take pleasure from suffering, and Gilgamesh knows it.
- Invoked in Cherry 2000, wherein the hip, New Age Californian villain orders his henchmen to spread out and be themselves!
- Double Subverted in About a Boy where Hugh Grant's character Will, helps nerdy teen Marcus by buying him the latest trainers and teaching him about the latest music to fit in better with his classmates, and is shown to be doing him a favour. Because his nerdiness really wasn't "himself", just who his mother wanted him to be, as evidenced in his mom and Will's argument.
- Monty Python's Life of Brian.
- One of the songs in High School Musical, "Stick to the Status Quo", features three people who move out of their clique's normal behaviour (a geek who likes hip-hop dancing, a stoner who plays the cello, a basketball jock who bakes) and their peers exhort them repeatedly to "Stick to the stuff you know; stick to the status quo".
- Subverted completely in Bertie & Elizabeth. Edward VIII was made to look like an uncommon jerk for being himself. George VI was praised for being a Wise Prince. The message was "do your duty" not "be yourself". It helps that Edward VIII was a Royal Brat with more of a care for his pleasure than his duty, and that George VI is to this day one of England's most beloved monarchs due to his steadfast leadership during World War II.
- One of the main themes in Dead Poets Society, which is subverted when you consider that staying true to himself indirectly leads Neil to be Driven to Suicide.
- Thoroughly deconstructed in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Exactly what "being yourself" means to the animals in the film is never clear—they straddle the line between the humans and the truly wild wolf. At the beginning, they act like humans, with lawyers, gym teachers and newspaper columnists. The film later asks, how much like yourself should you be, when that self is brilliant but destructive? We never really get a good answer.
- Happy Feet: The whole point of the movie's Aesop is that Mumble made all the difference in the world by being himself.
- Chris's mother says something of this nature to him in the movie Just Friends.
- This is the moral of the film "Can't Buy Me Love", and its remake, "Love Don't Cost A Thing".
- In How to Train Your Dragon Hiccup is told a few times that he just needs to change, but eventually becomes respected for his own abilities. The quotation below becomes a set of Arc Words.
Gobber: You need to stop all..this.
Hiccup: But you just pointed to all of me!
Gobber: Yes! That's it! Stop being all of you!
- Although it's not explicitly stated in Tangled there's a definite undercurrent of this moral throughout the film. For example, Rapunzel encourages a group of rough-and-tumble thugs to follow their dreams (even though they don't fit their image) and tells Flynn Rider that she prefers his real name, Eugene.
- This is a major part of Cars 2.
- This is also a major part of Mystery Team, coupled with an Aesop about being willing to change.
- X-Men: "Mutant...and proud."
- Broken by Family Matters with "Stefan Urquelle". And then reconstructed when Laura decides she loves regular Steve, instead of letting him be Stefan permanently.
- Amongst Petey Greene's ramblings in How to Eat a Watermelon is this. Interestingly, he teaches this not by avoiding a stereotype, but by fulfilling it. Rather effective, actually.
- Ruthlessly parodied on 30 Rock, when Tracy gives one of these speeches at a high school graduation, which concludes, "Just be yourself, and I guarantee you every single person in this room will one day be President of the United States!"
- This is the moral of The Weird Al Show episode "One for the Record Books". Al spends the entire episode trying to break a world record in order to feel special until he finally learns that he's special just the way he is.
- Glee: In one episode, token Camp Gay Kurt just wants to be normal, his standards for "normal" being his father, and musician John Mellencamp. For a glee club assignment, he performs Mellencamp's "Pink Houses", complete with false Southern accent. The teacher Will is visibly concerned, and by the episode's end, Kurt learns he was trying way too hard to be more like his dad, even if it meant not doing his hair and making out with Britany.
- Dexter spends much of the second season deciding whether he should be himself. Thing is the "himself" he means is a serial killer, turning this into a Family-Unfriendly Aesop.
- Inverted in the reality show Beauty and the Geek with the entire series being about men and women having to act specific ways to get a smart or attractive partner.
- Warehouse 13 Claudia has just been made an apprentice agent, and tries desperatly to act the part. She naturaly makes a fool of herself.
Claudia: Umm... maybe I should stick with the computer stuff. I'm really not good at the interviews. Especially with the... people.
Myka: Why do you say that?
Claudia: Well, I tried to be like you, you know all professional and adult and...
Myka: [Burst into laughter] That... that is really dumb!
Claudia: Is this your version off a Pep Talk?
Myka: We already have one me, we don't need another me. I want you to go in there and be more like... you.
- Subverted in the Highway to Heaven episode, Friends, in which the lesson is that it's okay to be yourself if you're not fat. Jenny is a fat girl who doesn't have any friends. The lesson she must learn in the episode is that she needs to lose weight for people to like her.
- In Community episodes Physical Education Jeff gives this advice to Abed when the rest of the study group is telling him to act differently when approaching a potential secret admirer.
- Saved by the Bell: Lisa pretends to be high-class to date a rich guy. She discovers he's a jerk when he scoffs at her old friends.
- Mister Rogers Neighborhood: Mr. Rogers delivered this message with great sincerity to his viewers, getting right to the heart of the matter:
"There's only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you exactly as you are."
- In Kamen Rider Fourze, this is the motto that Amanogawa High School follows, having each of their students be themselves, and thus have a diverse student body. However, this also creates a chaotic school ground, especially considering that some of the students are given Zodiarts Switches.
- Subverted in Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Ami, afraid that Usagi and others would leave her if she didn't act more social, reads a self-help book and tries to immerse herself more in her friends' habits, even lying just to establish herself as a more outgoing person. Usagi finds the book and realizes Ami has been faking it, and it seems that we're in for a straight Be Yourself aesop... until we find out at the end of the episode that while Ami has indeed reverted to her old shy personality, some of the changes have stuck, and she has the potential to defrost even more. People don't change overnight, but can change slowly, given enough time.
- Audrey Wait: A side character preparing her for live, national TV says these exact words to Audrey... before handing her cue cards on what to say. Audrey ultimately takes the advice to heart, ignoring the cue cards and screwing over the network airing her (and their duplicitous label associates).
- Psalms 139 invokes about being yourself that God made and loved you beforeyou were born.
- Madonna: "Don't call for second-best, baby. Put your love into the test. You know, you know, you've got to make him express how he feels. And maybe then you'll know your love is real."
- Is the overarching message of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated".
- Lady Gaga's "Born This Way".
- Practically the whole album.
Cat StevensYusuf Islam's "Be What You Must".
Be you dust or be you star, to be what you must, just reach out for what you are.
- Oasis, "Supersonic"
You need to be yourself. You can't be no one else."
- Frank Zappa's "You Are What You Is".
- The Veronicas Secret Life album uses this as a theme.
- Britney Spears utilizes this as her message, subtly and unsubtly
Baby I'm a freak and I don't really give a damn
- Eminem's "Beautiful" is all about this trope
Be yourself man, be proud of who you are / Even if it sounds corny / Don't ever let anyone told you you ain't beuatiful
- Discussed and contraindicated by Chris Rock, who has gone on record of saying that on a first date, you are not you; you are the ambassador of you.
- Hamlet: the moral is delivered before the hero's downfall. Early on in the play Polonius is telling his son Laertes "This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
- Yelled repeatedly along with "dude" in the Aladdin show in Disney's California Adventure park by the genie when Alladin goes to meet Jasmine. After yelling for a good minute, the genie becomes overly embarrassed at how long he took, and then goes off to "find nemo".
- The trolls from Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt. "Be thyself, and thyself is enough!"
- Cyrano De Bergerac: Cyrano is ugly and eloquent. He loves Roxane, but he will never dare to confess to her because he is afraid she rejects him. Christian is fair but not witty, and wants to confess to Roxane, but he knows she never will accept someone who is not eloquent. Cyrano convinces Christian to woo Roxane (who desperately wants to believe Christian is as eloquent as fair) by Cyrano being... well, Playing Cyrano. When Christian discovers the rather obvious truth that Cyrano also loves Roxane, Christian accepts the fact that he is fair but unwitty and forces Cyrano to tell the truth. Notice that Christian still has hope that Roxane will chose him, but if not, Cyrano and Roxane, the two people Christian loves most in the world, would have been happy.
Christian: I will be loved myself—or not at all!
- Alvin and The Chipmunks: Alvin tries to make nerdy Jeanette into a beauty queen to compete against Brittany in a pageant.
- The same plot was used on Recess: After being tricked into entering a beauty contest, tomboy Spinelli is taught to be a "beauty queen" by her friends - but ultimately wins by being herself.
- In an episode of Muppet Babies, Scooter is tired of being the klutzy nerd, so Gonzo tries to help him create a new persona.
- On CatDog, tough-acting tomboy Shreik tries to make herself "a real woman" so that Dog will take notice of her. It backfires when every guy except Dog ends up hitting on her.
- On Rugrats, the Deville twins are tired of people getting them mixed up and decide to take on new personas. Lil becomes more like Angelica, a heartless bully, and Phil becomes more like Chuckie, a timid coward.
- A significant theme of Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille: Be yourself and follow your dream, even at the risk of death.
- Also a significant theme of Disney's Aladdin (and only the Disney version): Pretending to be the overbearing, pompous "Prince Ali" only alienates the hero from Princess Jasmine, who finds the earnest, resourceful "street rat" more appealing. In fact, the other characters feel trapped as well. Princess Jasmine, thanks to being a princess is forced to marry, while the Sultan is trapped by the law that says that his daughter must marry a prince. In the end, however, they realize that they can all get what they want while still being themselves. Additionally, in the memorable scene on the balcony, the Genie transforms himself into a bee and encourages Aladdin-- "bee yourself!"
- Almost every Disney movie has this, but The Emperors New Groove subverts it - being himself means thinking It's All About Me.
- Watch this excerpt from The Little Mermaid TV series. Sebastian provides the perfect Theme Song for this trope: "You Got to Be You".
- A subplot in one episode of Sushi Pack. The crabby Kani decides to be mellow, even though everyone likes her the way she already is.
- In Kung Fu Panda, this is key to understanding the Dragon Scroll's message, which contains the power to make whoever reads it one of the greatest kung fu masters in existence. It's a blank scroll that shows nothing but the reflection of the reader's face. Or rather, the true secret of the Dragon Scroll is that there is no secret ingredient. The most important factor in your success is you and your desire/determination to improve yourself.
- The Aesop of every single Kim Possible episode where Ron Stoppable gets to be special for one episode. It is discussed in "The Cupid Effect", where Wade suggests the idea, yet Ron dismisses it: "That only works in cartoons."
- When Tucker tires of his geeky (and for that episode, unlucky) lifestyle in Danny Phantom, his friend Sam suggests a change and makes him a Goth like her. Tucker however finds the experience horrifying, refusing the dreary make-ups and accessories, causing him to revert to his original self. Subverted the entire time because Sam tricked him into accepting who he is by making his short lived experience as a Goth as terrifying as possible.
- A major theme of the Holly Hobbie films, particularly "Marvelous Makeover."
- The premise of My Little Pony: Princess Promenade, in which the dragon, Spike, tries desperately to get Wysteria to be a proper princess. She does her best to go along, but really just wants to be herself, and eventually ends up standing up and saying so, finding a way to still be a princess while being herself.
- It's what both Fievel and Tanya learn by the end of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, and it's shown that they've learned it more through action than words; i.e. Tanya washing her make-up off and Fievel turning his hat right-side-in so it's blue again and not a cowboy hat. A rare example of the trope executed in a way that doesn't come off as sappy. Also inverted when Tiger saves the day and gets the girl by going from peace-loving to badass via training montage. Kind of breaks the whole aesop if you think about it.
- In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Adventures in Squirrelsitting", Tammy tries to impress Chip by going to Fat Cat's hideout to recover the stolen Maltese Mouse. Gadget eventually finds her and seeing that she's jealous to tears of Gadget, informs her that she doesn't need to do anything impressive to get Chip to like her; she just has to "be Tammy".
- Family Guy has fun subverting this trope, using Meg.
"Chitty Chitty Death Bang"
Meg: I don't get it. The harder I try to make friends, the more people hate me.
Peter: Listen. Meg, you're a one-of-a-kind girl with a mind of her own. Now, see, that's what people hate.
Peter: I'm telling you, just be the girl you think everyone else wants you to be.
Meg: Wow, it's so obvious. Thanks, Daddy.
- Subverted in the "Clean is Keen" episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: Suede Simpson stunk because he never showered. At the end Suede starts taking showers.
- In an episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger explains that the secret of his popularity is, "I've just got to be me!" Unfortunately, Eeyore misinterprets this by trying to just be Tigger.
- The original philosopher of this trope, Popeye the Sailor--"I yam wot I yam and tha's all wot I yam."
- Constantly played with in Futurama. Lots of episodes end with a character learning a Be Yourself aesop, despite "themselves" not being the greatest of people. In general, they run with the humorous twist that "being yourself is the right thing, even if it's not the best thing for everyone," or as Hermes put it.
Hermes: When push comes to shove you gotta do what you love, even if it's not a good idea.
- This comes up directly in the episode where Fry becomes super smart and cultured thanks to worms remodeling his nervous system. Fry decides he wants to be liked for him, not because someone's making him better, and gets rid of the worms. It ends badly.
- Played with in another episode, where Bender goes to Robot Hell after failing to be a good person, and as he escapes promises never to be any more good or evil than her already is.
Leela: ""Um... do you think you could be a little less evil than that?"
- This is a major idea, plot point, and overall Aesop delivered in Persona 4. Subverted in the case of Adachi. It's implied that since he's a Complete Monster, he happily embraced his Shadow with next to no difficulty since at this point he no longer feels the need to repress his sociopathic urges. A similar case would be Mitsuo, where his shadow represents that he's a worthless human being, which he rejects with a feeble attempt at claiming that his life is actually worth something.