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Often a character will have an aspect of himself of which he's ashamed (or that society insists he should be). It might have something to do with his heritage, such as being illegitimately born, Half-Human Hybrid-demon or some other inheritance considered unfortunate by society. It might have something to do with his lifestyle; e.g., if he's gay or geeky, or he collects belly button lint. Maybe he was forced into an Emergency Transformation which he can't undo, and he's been bemoaning "What Have I Become?" Or maybe it's an obstacle he faces, like being handicapped, dyslexic or incapable of thinking rationally. Could even be a matter of love. Whatever the issue is, expect the character at some point to receive an epiphany that leads to him embracing whatever makes him different.
Often leads to a Moment of Awesome, An Aesop or both. If in a musical, expect a whole song to be given over to this, and it may be a Dark Reprise or Triumphant Reprise of the "I Want" Song. May result in a character repairing broken mirrors and defaced pictures of themselves. Due to its nature as a characterization trope that signals self-acceptance, confidence, and a certain degree of enlightenment, not to mention vanquishing inner demons, may be a rather spoilery trope.
- Setsuna Sakurazaki from Mahou Sensei Negima. She's not particularly ashamed of the fact that she's half-tengu and therefore can sprout wings at will, but she is ashamed of the fact that said wings are white rather than black (it's hinted she may be albino), which marked her as a instant outcast of her demon tribe. Never mind the fact that her True Companions think that the wings are awesome and that she looks like an angel.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
Simon: "Who the hell do you think I am? I'm Simon. Not my bro, Kamina. I am myself! Simon the Digger!"
- One Piece:
- Usopp gets this a lot.
- Robin at Ennies Lobby.
- Ace in the War at Marineford Arc finally comes to terms with his heritage as the son of Gold Roger. Too bad he dies soon after!
- Dragonball Z:
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
- Shinji: "I hate myself... But, I might be able to love myself. Maybe my life could have a greater value. Yes, I am nothing but I. I am I. I wish to be me. I want to continue existing in this world! I am worth living here!"
- Kyou Kara Maou is full of people with subtextual identity issues. The two surviving members of the Half-Human Hybrid Rutenburg division make a study in contrasts on this point:
- Yozak is the cheerful, improbably competent, muscled, crossdressing red-headed spy who seems incredibly at home in his own skin, though some of that might be coping mechanism. His mother died and he spent his childhood (i.e. about thirty years) starving because of the customary ostracizing of anyone with half-Mazoku children in Shimaron, and he harbors some resentment against Mazoku for their less virulent but still racist treatment of half-bloods. At any rate, he is very I Am What I Am by this point in his life.
- His best friend and captain Conrad, though, is "the perfect guy," probably the best swordsman in the world, of practically royal lineage on both sides but unable to hold any rank higher than 'sir', gives off the creepiest Stepford Smiler vibes sometimes, especially when explaining without rancor about some other shitty thing, and has apparently, his entire life, needed to have someone else to base that entire life around. When he was a kid, he had a Big Brother Instinct around Wolfram. After Wolfram rejected him for being half human, he eventually attached himself to Julia. After Julia died, Shinou arranged for him to transport her soul to Earth and make sure that the baby it became was born safely. And after that, his whole reason for being is Yuuri.
- Renton in Eureka Seven says this a lot, especially as he tried to climb out of his father's shadow early in the series.
- In Midnight Secretary, Kyouhei first considers his vampire pride, where being a vampire is most important thing that defines him. However, later in serie when he is called out by other vampires on how low he has fallen, he claim that it doesn't matter what he does, he is he and that he is vampire no matter what. He also claims that he doesn't want to be bound, but realises that he was bound by his pride as a vampire
- Dr. Allison Mann in Y: The Last Man. Not really a example, since she had no hang-ups about it, but must be included due to being the most Badass Outing ever:
- Then immediately Subverted when Toyota hands Dr Mann a new one, since "fishing for points"-fencing differs from "hacking each others in pieces"-fencing.
- Too many characters to count among Marvel Comics X-titles and mutant spin-offs. Whether hero or villain, whether their ability has inconvenient side or not, whether angsty over it or taking it in stride, before, during or after an about-face (or about-heel) and back, almost every one has an I Am What I Am moment at some time.
- An unusual villanous example in Kingdom of Heaven: the Templar Grand Master stands dripping blood from men, women and children and stares into the middle distance - "I am what I am... somebody has to be."
- The Color Purple: "I might be ugly, black, and dumb, but I'm still here!"
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Del Griffith delivers an incredibly touching rebuttal to Neil Page's tirade about him, which may be the perfect rebuttal to any Reason You Suck Speech:
Del: You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you... but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I'm not changing. I like... I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get.
- Note Del's very brief hesitation while saying "My wife likes me;" it's a beautifully subtle touch from actor John Candy as well as some rather tragic foreshadowing to the reveal that his wife actually passed away years ago.
- This is perhaps the main moral behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack Skelington, the Pumpkin King, had become bored and dreary with scaring and longed for something more. After discovering Christmas and attempting to take a shot at it, only to fail miserably, he has a BSOD Song which leads to up to this trope:
Well, what the heck! I went and did my best! And by god, I really tasted something swell! And for a moment, why, I even touched the sky! And at least I left some stories they can tell, I did! And for the first time since I don't remember when, I feel just like my old boney self again! And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King...That's right. I AM THE PUMPKIN KING! HA! HA! HA! HA!
- One of Max's last actions in the movie Bent is taking off his shirt and replacing it with a blood stained shirt with a pink triangle sewn onto it, to finally show pride in himself against the nazis.
- That's the main motive behind A Better Tomorrow. Initially, Mark is convinced that gangsters like him can't really change their ways and run an honest life, and at one point even scolds about it his former boss Ho, who is trying to do just that. But later on, Mark acknowledges the fact that only by taking their destinies straight in their hands, people can really call themselves free, and even ends up being killed while lecturing Ho's brother (who is a cop and quite the Inspector Javert of the situation) on the goodness of Ho's efforts.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Red Dwarf, Kryten the android becomes human. At first he's thrilled, because mechanoids tend to view humans as awesome. As he starts belittling his origins and insulting his spare heads, he starts to realize that he can't change what he is inside; an android who can't tell the difference between Popeye and Descartes. Also, it provides this funny moment:
Human Kryten (Hands Lister a Poloroid photograph of his penis): Is that normal?
Lister: What, taking pictures of it and showing it to your mates? No, it's not."
- Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
- Parodied in The Catherine Tate Show. Jamie, fed up with his grandmother constantly criticising and swearing at people, says in despair "Why are you like this?" She responds by launching into a rendition of "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles.
- Spock throughout Star Trek. He even addresses it word-for-word in "This Side of Paradise":
Spock: I am what I am, Leila, and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's.
- One episode of Pushing Daisies has Ned say that he's not sorry or ashamed about what he does, because "it's what brought everyone I love into my life".
- Kurt from Glee: He decides he's not afraid to be who he is, and tells his father that he's proud to be who he is, and that he won't hide in the closet.
- Scrubs: Three words, "I'm. The. Todd"
- In episode seven of Game of Thrones, Petyr Baelish describes to a couple of his "employees" the epiphany he had in regards to this trope. See the quotes section for the full speech.
- In the season 3 premiere of Breaking Bad, Jesse, blaming himself for the death of Jane and the airplane crash that her distracted father accidentally caused, tells Walter, "It's all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am. I'm the bad guy."
- Veronica Mars: Invoked word for word in response to people sometimes calling her out on her role in upheaving people's lives (she's a private investigator - and naturally nosey).
- Jane Eyre: Jane decides that, if she has to live without friends and without love to keep her self-respect, she will do so. That is her nature, not to compromise, and she will be true to it: "the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."
- This phrase and variants of it are repeated throughout the first book of the Sword of Truth series, usually after one character or another laments that they wish they were someone else, who didn't have to worry about their magic or saving the world..
- William Shakespeare's works:
- Discworld: In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching overcomes the Fairy Queen with the very selfishness the Queen taunted her for when she realizes she's willing to fight for the things that are hers. Then she lays claim to the entire land.
- Forgotten Realms:
- Drizzt, once he stops apologizing for being a drow.
- Galaeron Nihmedu. First, he suffers from prejudices as a sorcerer, then he's cut off the Weave (one of worst fates for an elf) and others see him almost as Undead. But once he regains control over himself, he does what's right for him and neither reacts to cold reception nor wangsts himself out.
- This is a dominant theme of The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, which is told from the viewpoint of an autistic character. That said, given the choice in the end of whether to undergo surgery that will cure them, not all of them will end up choosing alike.
- Some of the characters from The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassanda Clare; the obvious one being Alec being gay. Also maybe Jace and Clary with their father.
- The Bible: In The Book of Exodus, God famously responds to Moses asking Him for His name with "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE". This can be interpreted in several ways, such as 'No name can describe what I am', and means that the Hebrews' sacred name for God, YHWH, means "that which was, is, and will be". Another translation of the line (quoted in Dogma) is "I AM HE WHO IS CALLED 'I AM'."
- In one fantasy short story, God tells the modern world (by having every single broadcast radio and TV signal at the same time announce it) to justify humanity's continued existence within a short deadline. After the U.S. government puts in every known fact into a computer, the computer gives them the name of someone to talk to. When they talk to him, he thinks for a few minutes and replies with the (slightly adjusted) Bible quote above. "We are what we are".
- The following exchange from Night Watch between the Light Other Anton and the the Dark One Zavulon:
Anton:"Zavulon, you are the spawn of darkness."
Zavulon:"Indeed, I am. But only that darkness that was inside me."
- "I am whatever you say I am! If I wasn't, then why would I SAY I am?! In the paper, the news EVERYDAY I am! I don't know, that's just the way I am."
- The song "What I Am" by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians ("What I am, is what I am, is what you are or what"); referenced in the Aretha Franklin song "A Rose is Still a Rose"
- "I'm Real" by Jennifer Lopez (both the original, and the remix with Ja Rule).
- The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band had "What Do You Do".
I do what I do,
I am what I am,
We are what we are
We do what we can!
- Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch" is all about this trope; the chorus proudly proclaims "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover," followed by several other contradictory attributes (Child/mother, sinner/saint) and announces "I do not feel ashamed!".
- Mercy Me's "No More, No Less."
- This is said by the narrator in the Alice Cooper song Fantasy Man
- Lady Gaga's single "Born This Way" (2011) from her second studio album of the same name.
Don't hide yourself in regretI was born this way
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
—Born This Way, Lady Gaga
- La Cage aux Folles: In the Act I finale, Albin, a professional drag queen, has learned his longtime partner and their adoptive son want him out of the way to avoid offending the son's conservative future in-laws. He sings the eponymous song in defiance, declaring that he, at least, is not ashamed of who he is.
- Elphaba, in Wicked, sings 'Defying Gravity' as a realization of her own nature and her own standing in the world: she will never gain the love she's dreamed of and still be able to respect herself. She's hated being a witch, and she's tried not to be a witch, but it's her nature, and for the first time she really embraces it.
- Monsieur Madeleine, in Les Misérables, comes to accept who he was before and trusts in divine providence to come to the bar and say, "Who am I? I'm Jean Valjean!"
- In Oliver!:
- West Side Story: "I love him, I'm his, and everything he is I am too - I have a love, and it's all that I need, right or wrong - and he needs me too."
- Funny Girl: In a vein combining 'I Have a Love' with 'Defying Gravity' above, 'Don't Rain On My Parade' is Fanny Brice telling the rest of the Ziegfield follies, and Ziegfield himself, to go jump in a lake, because she knows what she wants and she's not going to let him get away.
- Man of La Mancha:
- "I, Don Quixote" says it right in the title: "I am I, Don Quixote! the Lord of La Mancha..."
- His "fair lady Dulcinea" spits out the darkest possible version of an I Am What I Am song, saying that she is what she is: an unloved, unremembered whore who comes from a dog-eat-dog world and that's only way she can be, and all she deserves.
- When Iago of Shakespeare's Othello says "I am not what I am" in a soliloquy, he means a couple of things. Firstly he's telling us he's a manipulative bastard, and possibly a psychopath rather than the honest and reliable man the other characters think he is. Secondly, this statement also roughly equates to him saying that he is soulless and therefore daemonic. Iago is fine with this and he's quite happy admitting his true colours to himself and to us as the audience.
- Shrek The Musical: Near the end of the show, during the titular character's Ten-Minute Retirement, the various fairy tale characters exiled from the kingdom band together via the song "Freak Flag", wherein they embrace what makes them different from "normal" people, and decide to fight back against Farquaad themselves.
- Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories: Riku spends most of his side the work trying to fight his darkness. When he finally decides to use it to save himself, he's actually called out on it by one of the antagonists - and responds with a reworded version of this trope:
Zexion: Heh... After all your protests you're still just another darkling.
Riku: I know who I am.
- Every party member in Persona 4 does this to obtain their Persona.
- MadWorld: "I don't save people, I kill them."
- In the canon route of Blaze Union, Garlot has it dropped on him quite abruptly that he's not who he thinks he is--as much as his mother tried to hide it from him, he's actually a pureblooded descendant of the demon Brongaa, and his real name is Gulcasa. As this comes in the middle of a brutal Trauma Conga Line, it would probably be forgivable for the poor kid to break down from the identity crisis... but he just accepts the truth calmly and then sets about trying to find a way to use his newfound power to protect people. At the very end of the game, he puts the spirit of this trope into words, but by then it really comes off as more of a Tear Jerker than anything else, as several people who meant a lot to him have utterly rejected him because of this.
- Sonic the Hedgehog series:
- In Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic gives one in response to Shadow's inquiry of what special kind of creature Sonic must be to have been able to conduct Chaos Control (especially notable as he did it with a FAKE Emerald, something Shadow views as impossible) and escape certain death from that explosion. Sonic's answer is the defining moment of his character: "What you see is what you get. I am just a guy who loves adventure. I am Sonic the Hedgehog!"
- In Shadow the Hedgehog, at the end of several story routes and especially the final, canon route Shadow states, "This is who I am!" when he is finally at peace with his identity and has put the past behind him once and for all. Shadow comes to terms with the idea that he is a weapon designed by Gerald Robotnick, but he has decided that he is now more than just a weapon: with his powers, he will find a way to bring the people of the Earth happiness, just as Maria had hoped.
- Metal Gear Solid series: One of the constant struggles for Solid Snake's character be that he has Blood Knight tendencies. Snake's father Big Boss and his brother Liquid remind him that inside of him there is a warrior spirit that loves to fight and that he should embrace it, Snake does embrace his fighting nature but tries his best to apply it for good causes. Though despite his attempts to do good Snake acknowledges that he is a bad person and that he is a killer by nature stating he is no hero as some would imagine him to be, "I am no hero, never was. I am just an old killer."
- Order of the Stick: In his Start of Darkness, Xykon doesn't seem in any way ashamed of his powers, but his eventual affirmation of his own style and defiance of those who thought he should have been a self-loathing Atoner is a glorious Moment of Awesome.
- The plot of Misfile is this trope meeting both Gender Bender and Reset Button (for Ash and Emily respectively).
- Erfworld: Defiantly stated by Prince Ossomer, but he's not speaking about a flaw (as he sees it) -- he is stating his principled opposition to Ansom and his anti-Royal rhetoric.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: "My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Firelord Ozai, Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the throne.". This doubles as a Badass Boast, although while it intimidates his opponent, the people he was protecting from them really don't like who he is and run him out of town.
- Balto: Balto spends the first half of the movie angsting over his half-wolf heritage, but then buckles down and uses his ?wolf powers? to save the sled team and get the medicine to town.
- Dumbo: Dumbo is teased for having abnormally big ears, which are what later enable him to fly. As his friend Timothy Mouse puts it, "The very things that kept you down are gonna carry you up and up and up!"
- All throughout The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, SpongeBob is told that he is just a kid. After his harrowing journey, he realizes that "no amount of mermaid magic, or managerial promotion, or some other third thing can make me any more than what I am inside - a kid," and that he is OK with it. And then he unleashes The Power of Rock.
Django: Where are you going?
Rémy: Back to the restaurant! They'll fail without me!
Django: Why do you care?
Rémy: Because I'm a cook!
- Popeye: Popeye uses this phrase as a Catch Phrase, mangled by his usual pronunskiation: "I yam whats I yam, and dat's all dat I yam". Probably the Trope Codifier
- In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sam reveals to Flint that she was teased for being a nerd as a child, so she changed her look and hid her smarts behind a bubbly ditz personality. Flint not only gets her to reclaim her nerdiness, but to revert to her earlier glasses-and-ponytail style.
Flint: I mean, this is the real you, right? Smart, bespectacled...who wouldn't want to see that?
- In the first episode of Gargoyles, Goliath responds to humans' dislike of his race with "We are what we are".
- Kim Possible's Ron Stoppable: "I am what I is."
- Kung Fu Panda:
- In Kung Fu Panda
Tai Lung: You cannot defeat me... You're just a big... fat... panda!
Po: I'm not a big fat panda. I'm the big fat panda!
- And then in Kung Fu Panda 2:
Po: I am Po. And I'm gonna need a hat.