Absorbing Me

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There is a girl with my face broadcasted on television. She flounces around with my name, which is shortened into an easier-to-pronounce version of itself. All the better for foreign audiences. 

Though this girl wears my round face and flashes my crooked smile at the cameras surrounding her, she is not me. She might possess a semblance of my voice and dark eyes, but I know they are not the same. They have not been in years. Those eyes don't hold the warm light that always shines from mine.

From the moment I step on to a stage, everything about me disappears and only she remains. A glorious idol in dazzling clothes, graceful and petite, gliding through performances. This girl can enrapt audiences this way.

She's consistently surrounded by glamor, even the smallest of which costs more than my childhood home. 

Of course, she doesn't care about my poor roots. She possesses none of her own, has only existed from the moment I debuted to this present, gasping breath. Such backgrounds are not welcome. She has an image to uphold after all, and my dirty rags would only tarnish what she has built. 

An empire of one-way glass, where everyone sees the gilded surface, and not me, who stares out at them. Forever pinned away in silence. 

As the night broadcasted on television continues, the girl sits straight in her seat, prepared for the time when she gets to take the stage. She's ready to show her skills, fingers tense in her lap. 

But even after her performance, she can't relax, not truly, or she may revert back into me, and with so many eyes watching, there is no place for error. Fear keeps her movements graceful and easy, instead of the shaky ones I possess.

A cute laugh here, a sly wink there. All calculated, acted out in moments when she feels eyes upon her. Small bits of confidence melt away my difficulty with eye contact, drawing attention away from my inability to meet others' eyes. What becomes a cute habit of winking at total strangers was only meant to distract from me and make her seem more quirky. Likable.

She winks at the cute idol next to her, drawing a blush to his cheeks. He is cute enough, but I know her flirtations only last within this instant. A manufactured moment for all her fans. This boy can't have the chance to see the true me who lies beyond her. Her career is worth too much to risk it. 

She hands him a bottle of water and nearly knocks over a table in the process. It almost falls on both of them. Thankfully, he has quick reflexes. The dazzling boy saves the table before it clatters to the floor and removes the risk of drawing more attention. 

The girl blushes, her cheeks and ears burning a pretty pink. 

He gifts her a bright smile. He must find her clumsiness endearing. Most do. 

Each gesture captures his attention in the same way the fans' cameras captures them. These videos will be played back, talked and gossiped over. She knows it's best to put on a show while they're recording. Keep this cute boy flirting until the cameras click off. 

She laughs at something the boy says, and I'm reminded of the first time she ever faked such a laugh. A high, perfect laugh, contagious and flirtatious. Nothing like the belting one I love. The laugh that's mine.

The first time that perfect sound appeared was months after I'd been accepted as a trainee, barely fifteen and with little experience of how idol life actually worked. I was new to South Korea as well, only aware of the language and culture because of my parents and the stories they told.

A fellow trainee had been telling jokes, my senior, a girl about eighteen years old. She was much cooler than I, confident and talented when I was quiet and mediocre. Naturally, I'd wanted to impress her. I'd laughed at every joke she told, even though most of them made no sense to me.

It was this time that I'd learned to disguise my accent, adding another piece to the girl who now consumes my image. The girl on camera speaks both perfect Korean and English, after all, without the tell-tale Australian accent I lug around. She cannot allow anyone to connect the girl I had been, who stepped on people's toes when nervous, to the graceful K-Pop artist her fans strive to replicate. Even the smallest signs have to be erased until even I can't recognize who I've become.

Fifteen-year-old me had a dream, a vision of the person I needed to be. To accomplish everything I wanted, the person I was wouldn't cut it. I'd needed to change. My parents would never be proud of me, only the girl on television. 

At first, my persona was a disguise, a comfort I could turn into whenever those bright cameras clicked on and my voice sang out crystalline words. I was too clumsy, too foolish, too dull for the world to like me as I was, so I gave up scraps of my personality to become her. She willed away every plaguing self-doubt with simple nods of her head.

I found traction in her, a rock in the oncoming flood of difficulties.

Now, she is a world-class singer capable of entrancing audiences with just a few words. Her voice is powerful, but the words she sings mean nothing. Not to me or the issues perpetuating the world. I, though my voice was soft, had always sung about the things that mattered to me: mental illnesses, poverty, representation.

Somewhere along the way, my persona discarded these balms and relatable tales in favor of the dime-a-dozen love stories. She lets others write the words she sings, though she knows I am capable. Neither of us trusts the words I write. 

Finally, the flirtatious boy moves away, either to the stage or the next cute thing. I don't care much for either. 

I take the pause to breathe.

The awards ceremony the girl attends is drawn out and tiring, her fellow idols and herself being surrounded constantly by screaming fans. Every movement is filmed and uploaded, so she takes care to uphold her own image, to keep me hidden.

As her performance draws nearer, more and more artists take the stage, all equally radiant. Some are her friends while others she only exchanges pleasantries with. She is just as meticulous in planning her friendships as she is her personality. The best to keep my persona in place, of course. Some friendships are only meant to be career deep, and she keeps this close to heart.

As the night drags on, I wonder how many of the artists, her peers, hide a person like me behind their perfected idol masks? How many are terrified of losing themselves to personas but also terrified of revealing too much of them? 

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