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.
An early-1980s cinema advert for National Westminster Bank, starring Adrian Edmondson as a character not unlikeVyvyan 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.
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, never forget. Just believe in yourself. Not in the Simon that I believe in; not in the Kamina that you belive in... Have faith in the Simon who believes in you...
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.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Alphonse Elric once sent Sheska a message 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, making a huge comeback. He didn't win, but neither did Zane as he forced the duel into a draw.
One of the main themes in Tenshini Narumon, where it mainly applies to the heroine, Noelle, but as it turns out, most of all to Mikael
A major theme in many early Astro Boy stories is Astro learning to deal with being different from his human friends (he's much smarter than the average human but he's incapable of understanding art and music and can't feel pain or fear) and overcoming Pinocchio Syndrome. In one story he gets an upgrade that lets him experience more emotions but the villains of the week take advantage of his new sense of fear. In the end Astro decides it's better to be the best robot he can be instead of trying to be something he's not.
In the end, Lucifer's attitude is deconstructed by Yahweh, who points out that no-one can truly be entirely themselves: Everyone is created and shaped by external influences, and Lucifer's continued desire to be himself means he'll be eternally seeking for something he can never have and be forever alone and miserable.
This is the aesop of Swamp ThingAnnual #2. Alec Holland asks his predecessor the plant elemental Swamp Thing from Alan Moore's run what it did to become The Paragon of Green champions. It tells him that the secret to its success is very simple: if something tries to change who he is as a person, he can always say no. The past Green champion who introduced them tells Alec that all he needs to do to be successful is to emulate his predecessor exactly. Alec proves he learned the lesson by saying no.
This is a recurring theme for Zuko's character arc in The Stalking Zuko Series. It's pointed out that Zuko considers his mastery of stealth and Dao swords an important part of his identity, since they're things that he mastered on his own. Lu Ten's final letter also tells Zuko that he shouldn't conform to others' expectations of him, although he, having internalized others' opinions of him, believes it means he can't change and begins to despair, until Katara helps him to understand. The author believes that Mai's relationship with Zuko will not work out because of their mutual desire for the other to change.
This is 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!"
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.
In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph is the Bad Guy, and doesn't like it. The film even starts with his being told that they are needed to be bad.
A significant theme of Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille: Be yourself and follow your dream, even at the risk of death.
Happy Feet: The whole point of the movie's Aesop is that Mumble made all the difference in the world by being himself.
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.
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!
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.
Films — Live-Action
Invoked in Cherry2000, 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, 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.
One of the songs in High School Musical, "Stick to the Status Quo", features three people who move out of their group's normal behaviour (a geek who likes hip-hop dancing, a stoner who plays a cello, a basketball jock who bakes) and their friends 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 steadfastleadershipduringWorld War II.
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.
Chris's mother says something of this nature to him in the movie Just Friends.
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 an entire series being about men (and women) having to act in specifically uncharacteristic ways to get their smart or attractive partner.
Warehouse 13: Claudia has just been made an apprentice agent, and tries desperately to act the part. She naturally 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 of 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.
Later, when Claudia is about to go on a date with a hardware store employee named Todd, who appears to be clueless about anything tech-related. When she asks Artie for advice, he tells her to just be herself. Her attempt ends up completely ruining the date, and she blames Artie for giving bad advice (to be fair, Artie's not exactly an expert on relationships). Artie does end up fixing things. Later, it's revealed that Todd is, in fact, a geek in a witness protection program, and Claudia instantly falls for him (she gets off on him using technical terms).
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.
"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.
In Kamen Rider Wizard, this actually gets deconstructed. One of Wizard's allies goes and talks with a guy who she sees as being down on his luck. She soon finds that he became a Phantom and talks with him about that and for a while, she actually manages to get through to him, realizing that he doesn't like what the Phantoms are doing and doesn't like being ordered around to do exactly that. Then she suggests just doing what he wants. Turns out that the Phantom was a recurring enemy to Wizard whose major encounter with him involved assaulting a woman so that her son would succumb to despair. See, he likes wanton destruction more than just breaking the wills of people, and that he'd prefer doing the former more often. It actually becomes bad for all parties involved. It's bad for Wizard's ally who soon gets held hostage by the Phantom, bad for Wizard since the Phantom grew so much in power that he would have died in one encounter, and bad for the Big Bad himself since the Phantom is going out of his control and might wind up undermining his own goal of creating more Phantoms by making them despair (they can't despair if they're dead). And all because someone suggested to him that the Phantom should be himself.
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 positive changes have stuck, and she has the potential to defrost even more. People don't change overnight, but can change slowly, given enough time.
Deconstructed — probably accidentally — in the 2004 Made-for-TV MovieBiopicMan in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story. From his rough child star upbringing onward, Jackson keeps mentally flashing to a vision of Diana Ross advising "Follow your heart", and he does that no matter how tough things get for him or what those around him advise him to do. Unfortunately, following his heart results in him having plastic surgery to the point of body horror, having sleepovers with prepubescent boys, not having meaningful relationships with his wives, etc. The audience is still supposed to see those who disapprove of his behavior as antagonists who just don't understand him, even as the film ends (as it had to at the time it was made) as his trial on child molestation charges is about to begin, and it's clear that he and the people around him haven't benefitted for his trueness to himself.
Addressed in Frasier. When Frasier is mocked and pranked repeatedly on-air by some shock jocks at his station, he compares it to bullying he and his brother faced as kids. Martin is totally unsympathetic to both instances, pointing out that the reason he and Niles were picked on, both then and now, is that their high-class, stuffed shirt personalities made them easy targets, and the only way for it to stop would be to act more middle-class. Frasier realizes toward the end of the episode that while that he may get picked on for being different, the only real way for a bully to win would be for him to change who you are.
Psalms 139 invokes about being yourself that God made and loved you before you were born.
Reviving Ophelia, a book focusing on the struggles of adolescent girls, discusses the various good and bad points of the Be Yourself lesson; on the one hand, self-confidence is the key to resisting a lot of the negative pressures girls face as they approach their teenage years. On the other hand, that can lead to destructive rebellion and depression when one's self is not the one that parents and peers want. As one girl puts it, "I am a perfectly good carrot that everyone is trying to carve into a rose. As a carrot I have good color and a nice, leafy top; as a rose, I wither and die."
On the Broken side, "Be yourself" has often been used to restrain ambition. The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings is a cautionary tale in which the bunny gets what he wants — and his mother doesn't recognize him and slams the door in his face. There's an excellent takedown of it here. It was written by a white woman named Carolyn Bailey who claimed it was adapted from an Afro-American folktale. The poem "Just Be What You Is" is another example, also written by a white author.
...But while this may be true, you are the one and only you.
The main theme of Lindsey Stirling's piece "Transcendence" is about being who you are and the happiness and freedom that comes with that, rather than trying to fit ideas other people project onto you or how culture says you should be.
Kevin Max's "Be".
Be, be yourself there's no one who does it quite like you. And be no one else, cause if you don't, then who is going to?
"Thou Shalt Always Kill" by dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip. After three minutes of bafflingly specific, vaguely anti-consumerist didactic rhetoric from the titular Scroobius Pip, he admonishes listeners to "think for yourselves".
Quadrophenia ends with this. One of the more mature uses of the trope: the plot is about Jimmy trying and failing to find his identity by fitting in with other groups (and constantly being let down). It's only when he lets all that baggage go at the end of the story and decides to be himself that he finds his identity.
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.
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".
It's a repeated motif in Ibsen's plays. It plays an important part of A Dolls House, and also in Brand ("Be what you are, complete and whole, not a divided, piecemeal soul.")
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!
In Twice Charmed, Cinderella learns that it wasn't her dress that made the Prince fall in love; it was her.
This is a major idea, plot point, and overall Aesop delivered in Persona 4. Whenever someone gets thrown into the TV world, they're confronted with a twisted "Shadow" version of themselves that attempts to Break Them by Talking, and then just break them. The only way to survive is to accept their repressed issues, which turns the Shadow into a Persona. Becomes darkly twisted in the case of Adachi, who is implied to have 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. Although, the boss fight after, an outer shell that looks like an 8-bit character, implies what happens to people like that, and that part of themselves is the shell they hide behind, but it's not as "self" as whats under it.
Namco High: "BE TRUE TO YOURSELF" shows up at least once in each route and in the end credits.
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.
A, very rare for kid's show, deconstruction in the Randall's Friends episode: Randall is ashamed to admit to his father that he has no friends, but his father tells him he was proud of him for using his time to spy and tattle on kids rather than helping them and building personal relationships, because he was that way himself at that age (and still is), and he just wants Randall to be true to himself.
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.
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.
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.
Also the key theme of "Come Back, Lily Lightly," in which Lily Lightly thinks that her friends will shun her because she glows. "Yes, I guess, we have to say, we all shine in a different way! And that means... me too? No one shines any brighter than you!"
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".
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 an episode where Fry gets parasites from a rancid sandwich and they improve his body and mind. Leela says "I love what you've become," which worries Fry and causes him to get rid of the worms so he can see if she likes him or just what they made him. She rejects him, but they become an Official Couple later on.
Played with in another episode, where Bender goes to Robot Hell after first trying to be a good person, failing, and then going overboard with evil/hedonistic acts. As he escapes with Fry and Leela, he promises never to be any more good or evil than he normally is.
Leela: Um... do you think you could be a little less evil than that? Bender: That depends. Do you think you could survive a 200 foot drop?
In "The Cyberhouse Rules", Leela is frustrated at being labeled a freak so she has plastic surgery to turn her one eye into two. Fry is none too happy, saying that it made her unique and special (and also because she starts dating the surgeon). When the guy talks about adopting and "normalizing" an orphan with an ear in the middle of her forehead, Leela tells him where to stick it and says she was fine the way she was.
In the Bob's Burgers Halloween show, one of the marauding teens starts flirting awkwardly with a girl he likes - the Belcher kids look on behind shrubbery:
Gene: That guy's totally dying.
Tina: He should just be himself.
Louise: No, he really should be someone else.
This is the moral of the Care Bears (1980s) episode, "The Best Way to Make Friends". Treat Heart is recording a video about the best way to make friends. Champ Bear says the best way to make friends is to show how strong you are. Cheer Bear says it is to show how pretty you are. Bright Heart says it is to show how smart you are. Treat Heart laughs at them, but they were being serious. They leave, but they come back and ask Treat Heart to continue being funny. The four characters find the moral: the best way to make friends is to Be Yourself.
In the second season of The Legend of Korra, Tenzin comes to learn that he'll never be his father and shouldn't try to be. You wouldn't think a man in his early fifties would need this, but when your dad was a hero who ended a 100-year war and you have to carry on his nearly-extinct culture...
He later gives a similar lesson to Korra, who had just lost her powers and connections to her past lives, saying that Wan, the first Avatar, became a legend for who he was, not what, shaking her out of her Heroic BSOD.