Growing Up “Ugly”: Afterthoughts & Musings on Wicked the Musical

This weekend, I happened to watch Wicked: The Musical live here in Manila. It was a beautiful spectacle of pure talent,  grace and exquisite music. Defying Gravity,  anyone?  It was one of the most-loved musicals in Broadway and to watch it here live in Manila was a dream come true.

I cannot help myself but sing alongside the cast as they sang No One Mourns the Wicked. I shed tears when Elphaba sang that sorrowful rendition of I’m Not That Girl, which is another song dedicated to those who are waiting in the shadows for the person they loveAnd when Elphaba in all her wicked,  emerald glory belted out the powerful Defying Gravity,  everyone stood and cheered in applause (You are the best,  Jodie Steele!). Finally,  I cried as I hear the magical duo of Glinda The Good and Elphaba singing “But because I knew you,  I have been changed for good.”

It was truly a night to remember,  a wickedly good one with magical and astounding performances from the entire cast. They made you smile at Galinda or rather Glinda’s perkiness and blonde awesomeness. They made you fall in love with Fiyero,  with his graceful moves, powerful voice and deep love for Elphaba. And lastly,  they made you feel sorry for Elphaba,  the Wicked Witch of the West, the star of the entire show.

But what truly caught me during the entire performance is the initial question that was posed by the people of Oz to Glinda the Good when they heard that the infamous Wicked Witch of the West has fallen. Are their people born wicked? 

And the story takes us to the start how Elphie became “wicked” in front of people’s eyes and how they terribly judged and misunderstood her throughout her entire life. Will the people of Oz have the same reaction if it was Glinda?  If Glinda turned out to be the powerful sorceress instead?  Probably not. As Glinda put it,  she was popular. Everybody loves Glinda,  except maybe Fiyero.  Glinda was conventionally beautiful with fair skin as pale as the moon. Elphie is not, with skin as green as the leaves. Glinda has beautiful, bouncy hair that she can toss and toss while Elphie does not. Glinda wears the most fashionable and colorful outfits in the university while Elphie’s frock seems to be ragged hand-me-downs. But Elphie was nice and kindhearted,  never did she say something against her father despite her father’s harsh words. Elphie was loyal and fierce,  she fought for the rights of her animal friends and she never let anyone bring her down, despite being alone. And yet,  she was the wicked one.

Was she misunderstood simply because she was ugly?  Are we quick to judge people just because they are strange and not beautiful enough as society has dictated?

Probably yes. Probably not. But I know what Elphie felt. To be judged,  to be laughed at,  even if you are not doing anything bad,  because of how you look. Growing up,  I was not conventionally beautiful, for Filipinos anyway. I am morena, with skin as brown as the soil. Girls my age mocked me for not having fair skin. And all I can do is to listen to their mean words and cry in the corner. I, not only have darker skin, but I looked completely different. I have a sharp nose,  full lips,  wide deepset eyes reminiscent of people of Indian and Arab descent. If I looked Caucasian enough, my classmates will love me like the prettiest girl in our class. But I was not and will never be.

Growing up,  despite the harsh cruelties life has set against me,  I was able to accept them and like Elphie, defied gravity. But things became more complicated when I reached puberty. It was the time that boys start to see girls differently and vice versa. In high school,  I remembered going out with my girl friends as they meet their boyfriends and I am the only one alone. Like many teenage girls at that time,  I dreamt of meeting the boy of my dreams and we will sail in the moonlight. Romantic,  isn’t it?  But nothing of that sort happened.  I was always the third wheel, seventh wheel even. But I do not understand why. I was a good girl, with good grades and on top of my class like Elphie. Maybe because I was not born of the rose and pearl. I was not winsome enough to win the boy. Cue I am not that girl. Lol. 

In fact,  I had a crush back then. And he told me that I was not fair and quite fat, things he did not like. And that hit me. No matter what you do, no matter what you have been,  many will still judge you by your appearance. What you look like will still play a role on their impression of you. It was unfair. We never got to choose what we look like anyway. It is genetics, people. Like c’mon. And what society deems beautiful is just a mere social construct in the back of our minds and yet,  here we are,  still judging people based on what they look like. Like Elphie.

The problem is how close-minded some of us are. We tend to look at things the same way. In Act II of the musical,  Glinda herself cannot believe that someone like Fyero,  conventionally handsome and rich and perfect,  can fall in love with someone like Elphaba. And yet he loves her so. As Fyero put it when Elphie asked him if he was lying when he called her beautiful, “I am not lying. It is looking at things differently.” 

We should stop caring less about what society thinks. We are all unique individuals with different qualities and traits. And our uniqueness itself makes us special. Imagine a Philippines who all looked Caucasian. I would never want a country like that. I would rather see a country with all kinds of faces – fair,  dark,  chinky-eyed, flat noses,  sharp ones,  full lips, thin lips. Our appearance gives us our identity among billions of faces. But it should never be the basis of how good or how wicked a person is. Like Fiyero,  we should go beyond the exterior to see a person for what s/he truly is. And Elphie despite her green skin,  showed that she was a gem like no other. She was an emerald, as vibrant and as exquisite as the color of her skin. That is how looking at things differently means.

When I looked at the mirror,  I used to see an ugly girl as brown and dirty as the soil. But now what I see is a woman,  loyal to her friends, with a heart full of love for everyone, no matter how misunderstood she was. And someday I know,  like Elphie I will defy gravity for good and I am not that girl that I used to be.

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