There isn’t anything abnormal about feeling shame or embarrassment. It’s a human emotion, and we’ve all been in the position of red cheeks, and shaking hands at least once in our lives.
However, as I grow older, I am slowly realizing that there are things that should not warrant this feeling. Or at the very least, there are events in which other, better, feelings win out by extreme amounts.
‘To be cringe is to be free’, is a saying you hear a lot on the internet. It talks of embracing every part of you in order to fully enjoy your life. It implies ignoring the public and accepting your weird habits, geeky obsessions, and obnoxious happiness in order to truly feel how deeply you can feel positive emotions.
There are lots of ways in which I heavily agree with this sentiment. However, this specific sentence, to me, had always felt too abstract. Yes, it would be so much better if I could laugh as loud as I want, start dancing on the streets, and talk any random person’s ear off about what my favorite K-pop idol was doing today. But I, personally, am not strong enough to ignore the thoughts of other people’s perception of me to accept this statement as it was.
And so, I had to find my own way of framing ‘to be cringe is to be free’.
To do this, I had thought of all the interests, activities, and actions that made my eyes shake with the awareness of heads turning towards me and thought of why I should be doing them anyway:
When I was younger, K-Pop was not as popular as it is now. Liking K-Pop had been odd when all the girls were screaming for other, more mainstream interests. In my youth, my best friend and I would only talk about it in private when no one could hear us. But then, as I began to open up more and let more people know about this interest, so did my whole world.
Attending events specifically for fans of this genre has allowed me to meet so much more people and make friends that I can now count on for things beyond this niche interest. The circle of people that I care about has grown immensely, and I can attribute that to getting over my fear of being known in this way. If I had still been too ashamed to talk about my interests, I would have missed out on knowing so many amazing people.
Another thing that made me particularly self-conscious was participating in events that I was not particularly good at.
For example, I cried once during practice for a dance performance required by my school. I couldn’t move my body with any coordination, and so I decided it would be better to just hide away. It was unfortunate as my lack of skills did not mean I did not enjoy the feeling of trying–I had just been too ashamed to show anyone that my trying did not amount to anything amazing.
As I’ve gotten older and met more people, I’ve gotten to know others who try and who share their attempts–if only to the people they care about and who care about them. While I still do hesitate at the thought of showing the whole world a new dance I’ve learned or a craft I’ve created, I’ve realized it’s enough for me to enjoy it for myself–and maybe sometimes, show my work to those that I know are rooting for me the same way I root for them.
Finally, when talking of actions that have caused me to hide away, I had always felt ashamed when my mom would make me pose and smile for photos in random places. In the height of my teen years, I’d roll my eyes and make sure people would know that it was against my will.
There had been a lot of wasted shots spent on my frown.
Now that I am older, I regret ever making her feel like she was embarrassing me. Seeing the smile on her face as she looks back on the good photos matters so much more than the feeling of embarrassment. And so, I will take all the shots in all the most random locations–mall decorations, tourist traps, pretty sceneries–and I will continue doing the silliest poses that she asks of me. All of this, just so I can keep her happy. Because as time seems to be passing faster, how much time left do we have to be around each other like this?
So, in my own framing, ‘To be cringe is to be free’ because there are things that matter more than other people's judgments. Rather than not caring about the public, it is making the active decision that the benefits of doing what I love with the people that I love outweigh the shame that I feel. So yes, my cheeks still turn red, my hands still shake, and my eyes still dart from side to side sometmes–but I’m not going to let that stop me from living my life in the way that makes both myself, and the people that I love happy.