There is a girl with my face on television, flouncing around with my name, which is shortened into an easier-to-pronounce version of itself.
Though she wears my round face and flashes my crooked smile at the cameras surrounding her, she is not me.
She may have a semblance of my voice and the same dark eyes, but I know they are not the same. Have not been for years. They do not hold the same, 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 that cost more than my childhood home.
This girl can enrapt audiences this way.
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.
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.
But she can’t relax, not truly, or she may turn 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 stare deeply into 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.
Each gesture captures his attention in the same way as the fans’ cameras surrounding them 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.
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 first time it appeared was months after I’d been accepted as a trainee, barely fifteen and with little experience of how idol life truly 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 were culture-based and made no sense to me.
It was also around that 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.
At first, this girl 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.
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.
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.
As the night wears on, I can’t help but wonder how many of the artists, her peers, hide a person like me behind their perfected idol masks?