Dear Diary is a series where we invite folx to write open letters to their younger selves. In this installment, we spoke with Henry Bae, co-founder of SYRO — a shoe brand that creates heels that I can only assume make you feel like a pop star/superhero multi-hyphenate.
Once you finally leave home for college, you’re going to apply for an internship at a fashion magazine filled with non-Asian and non-Christian people; you’ll spontaneously introduce yourself as 'Henry.' You won’t realize the weight of this impulsive choice until years later, but this will mark the death of you and the birth of me. As Henry, I will go on to steer us further and further away from the conservative expectations of our family, religion, and Korean-American culture. I will tattoo our body with liberty. I will develop the habit of dancing at the club when social anxiety takes hold. I will cultivate confidence and make visible the queer insecurities you desperately conceal. In your wide eyes, I am surely a triumphant sight. My self-empowerment is a marvel. But despite the vast distance, you think you see between us, we’re actually not so different. In fact, I’ve travelled back in time to tell you that you, at 15 years old, could be just as powerful and magnificent as me should you simply choose to be.
Let’s start with the superficial: you find yourself terribly unattractive, and I know how much it’s hurting you. You’re inundated with beefy cisgender men in cologne and underwear ads who assert that your thin body is undesirable. You’ve yet to embrace your East-Asian face that differs from Euro-centric beauty standards you’ve been fed by racist American media. Even your parents assert that your skinny frame is unworthy. But while this all feels so oppressive, the truth is you’d be better off to get the fuck over it. Is it delusional to convince yourself of your own beauty? You’ll never have the “discipline” to stuff your face with enough food to gain weight. The gym will never be as enticing to you as staying home and singing Broadway musicals. Luckily, none of these things are problems because your body is already perfect! Modeling scouts will chase after you and glamorize your features. Sexy people will be in your DM’s (I’ll explain what DM’s are later) wanting to see you naked. You’ll be blissfully ignorant of chronic pain all throughout your twenties. You are skinny, you are Korean, you are able-bodied, and you are blessed. Take advantage of it!
On a deeper level, being bullied for your femininity by queerphobic peers will, unfortunately, stunt you from expressing your authentic self and building genuine relationships. This will have catastrophic effects on your ability to embrace vulnerability and connect with others. You will hide in the library during lunchtime to do homework alone while others unwind. Social media will introduce you to a peculiar opportunity to craft a bubbly persona without challenging your isolation. Fashion will become an armor that prevents people from approaching you because, well, your individualism is just too intimidating. But being invisible isn’t as sustainable in the “real world” as it may be in high school. You will tire of these lonely tactics and discover that the imperfect, scorn version of yourself is the one other damaged people yearn to connect with. Get comfortable with taking chances on others and betting on kindness. You’ll find yourself being invited to social soirées and building rewarding friendships far sooner than it took me.
And lastly, by all means, be the raging gender non-conforming femme boi that you are and always have been. I am not 31 years old, living in New York City, wearing heels and getting my nails done because I achieved the confidence to begin expressing myself; rather, my confidence is a consequence of honoring my authentic self! I know it’s hard in this terrifying society, but once you free your joy then you will have access to the same bewildering power that it appears I have accessed all these years later.
You are literally perfect and ready to be a bad bitch. You needn’t abandon yourself, Stephen, and create me, Henry, in order to experience a new lease on life. You’ve already got it in you.