When “Being Yourself” Hurts Yourself

Viewer Discretion Advised: Season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel contains copious amounts of nudity and swearing. The article also includes spoilers for the show.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a comedy-drama series set in the late 1950s and 1960s. The show centers on Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a New Yorker who learns she has a knack for comedy. At the start of the most recent season, Midge believes that if she can just be herself, then everything will go her way. But no one around her is convinced, and by the end of the show, even she is no longer sure of this conviction.

The season opens with Midge being dumped from a career-making gig with a world-famous singer for saying too much in one of her comedy routines. Left reeling from being punished (again) for saying what she wants to onstage, she decides that she is only going to do gigs where she can “be me” by saying whatever she wants. Susie, her friend and manager, tries to explain that this isn’t how the business works: you have to get big before you can do things the way you want. But Midge refuses to accept this, deciding that she wants to “change the business.”


To start, she decides to MC at a haphazard, illegal strip club. However, by the end of the season, Midge is no closer to changing the business. In fact, she is still working the same gig as when she started. Throughout the season, she turns down opportunity after opportunity, each one better than the last. Midge is convinced that she won’t be allowed to do things her way, so she won’t take the jobs at all. She sees herself as a moralist who stands up against something wrong—she should be able to be herself, no matter what that looks like. But we must carefully decide what we are going to base our morals on, knowing the difference between what we want and what is right.

“Contradicting Identities”1
Today, many people fall for the lie that “being yourself” is the ultimate goal. In a longing to feel accepted and have our desires satisfied, “being yourself” is sometimes looked at as the supreme virtue: a dogmatic belief that we all have the right to do whatever we want.

Unfortunately, this often leads to flawed and hurtful implications. If there is no check on the limits of “being ourselves,” then our cravings have the final say.That means we have no objective standard from which to judge or evaluate our cravings and we can’t tell when we are going towards the worst, most sinful parts of ourselves. Midge is right that we have to go against the grain to be our true selves, but this can mean two very different things. We can go against the grain by secular standards, pursuing whatever comes most naturally to us; or we can do this by biblical standards, choosing to deny ourselves to gain the goodness God offers us. Both ideas push people out of their comfort zone, but in opposite directions.

“Be Yourself”
“Be yourself” is the advice that most Disney movies, and many other secular sources, have given us for many years and have continued to offer. The secular way tells us we need to take risks to indulge our wants—this is what will help us become who we truly are. For many, going against the grain by claiming the sexual identity they resonate with the most feels terrifying but is also an act of bravery and liberation. Previously, claiming a miniority sexual or gender identity was frowned upon, but no longer. Today, insofar as one is genuine in the pursuit of “being yourself,” the new identity is encouraged and celebrated.

Rarely is there a concern for some moral standard to follow. If there is an innate desire present, the individual has every right to follow it. For Midge, saying what she wants to say whenever she is on the stage feels right. It is what makes her shine because she is speaking the truth as she sees it. In this way, Midge mirrors the moral culture of the world today, which could be summarized as: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

“Deny Yourself”
Alternatively, Christ actively calls Christians to “deny” themselves (Matthew 16:24-26). This is in stark contrast to what the world advises. After all, if the ultimate goal is “be yourself,” then how can someone be themselves when they are denying themselves? But the Christian worldview suggests that there is not just one self in each of us; there is the old self and the new self (Ephesians 4:20-24). The new self is our true self—one we cannot become without Christ. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.” He suggests that the truest self, the one that we were created to be, is only found in Christ.

Unfortunately, this path can sometimes feel like the harder one. Why? Because we are going against the grain of our former selves. But Christ knows this—he knows that going to the cross is the hardest path to take, but it is also the only way that results in the world’s reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10). He reminds us the way that leads to true life is hard (Matthew 7:13-14). But he also promises us rest as we rely on himself (Matthew 11:28-30).

This doesn’t mean that the special skills and passions we have are worthless: God creates each of us uniquely with these attributes. Becoming more like Christ means becoming more truly ourselves, more truly human, because he is the one who created us to be human. He knows who we are, what we love most, and what our strengths and weaknesses are even better than we do. He created us to grow and change in life, not to be blank slates or stagnant creatures. While culture sees the call to “deny yourself” as the greatest insult or attack on one’s identity, God calls us to be brave enough to live within boundaries, seeing beyond the goods and riches of this world into the future riches that he has in store for us as we choose to live according to his law (Ephesians 1:16-21).

“Shine Like Stars”
In the closing moments of the season, Midge is confronted by Lenny Bruce, a comedian she admires, who cares deeply for her. He chides her for what she is doing, calling her out for being afraid of going forward—for “hiding”—after being traumatized by being dropped. He tells her that if she doesn’t push herself, she will never move forward and be the comedian she could be.

Midge stunts her own growth as a comic by deciding that she is someone whom she simply isn’t. She isn’t a headliner, though she has the talent to become one. Recognizing this fact will give her the space needed to grow into who she truly is. To do this, Midge has to accept that she has based her beliefs on what she wanted rather than on what was true. When we do this, we are hiding from the constraints of reality that we wish didn’t exist. Refusing to acknowledge the state we are in only leaves us more broken.

Ultimately, it is by becoming more like Christ—and thus who God created us to be—that we can truly “shine like stars” to a hurting world filled with darkness (Philippians 2:15 CSB). Out of love, God steps into our brokenness through Christ, giving us an alternative. When we are brave enough to see past our own egos to who God is, we realize that all we need in life is more of him (Ephesians 2:13-22). It is when that fact becomes the greatest truth in our lives that we become more fully ourselves. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “Look for Christ and you will find him. And with him, everything else.”

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By Rebecca Sachaj

Rebecca Sachaj

Rebecca Sachaj is enthusiastic about helping fellow believers deepen their relationship with God. After finishing her Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Writing, she pursued further study in Apologetics through The Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. She plans to obtain her Masters in Apologetics, focusing on the connection between the Christian Imagination and Apologetics. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her two dogs, Strider and Samwise.