No one likes to watch perfect characters. They are unrealistic, can be hard to relate to, and just aren’t as interesting. It’s in the flaws that we get to understand the whole of the person. Sometimes these flaws are of a sort that could be turned into strengths, depending on how you look at them. Other times, they are things that make characters more unpleasant to the viewer or something the character struggles with that makes their life in-universe more difficult. These flaws don’t prevent us from liking a character and sometimes these flaws make them all the more relatable as we see our own struggles reflected in them.
For me, the character who I love, flaws and all (and maybe especially for her flaws), is Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy. I admire her strengths and the way she uses things that can be perceived as flaws (like her competitiveness) as a strength to accomplish her goals. But it’s her stubbornness, guardedness, and desire to control the environment around her that draws me toward her because I understand that. It’s where she is the most relatable to me.
I just started watching Grey’s last month, so I apologize that all the examples I’m going to be using are 8-10 years old since I’m only near the end of the second season. It leaves a lot of room for future characterizations and growth but just in these two seasons, Cristina has become one of my favorite characters of all time.
In the episode following the discovery of her ectopic pregnancy and the resulting surgery, I have never related to a character more. Cristina wasn’t attached to the pregnancy so she tried to pretend like everything was fine and she was unaffected until she couldn’t any more. And even then she didn’t really want to be crying but she couldn’t stop. She handled things basically like I would have – whatever combination of denial and avoidance is required then breaking down because it’s all too much, whether I want to admit it or not.
I’m perfectly happy to have emotional reactions to television as I get invested in the characters or the moment is touching. In that way, TV has helped me access my emotions a lot more than before. But I still struggle with the idea that being strong doesn’t mean not having emotions or being able to ignore them. Yes, it’s useful to be able to set your emotions aside if you don’t have the mental resources to deal with them but at some point, you have to pick them up again and express how you’re feeling. I’ve gotten better at that but it’s still something that doesn’t come at all naturally to me and that I don’t always like doing. It was nice to see that sort of reaction on TV and to have Burke be there to hold her when she did fall apart. I liked seeing myself in her but more I wanted her to learn that it was OK to let go of that control sometimes and that she could have someone there to catch her. It was a powerful moment for me when I learned to accept that and it was what I wanted for her.
Our behaviors, reactions, and coping mechanisms are so natural and ingrained in us by the time we are adults that it can be hard to see past them. That’s why I like seeing them reflected on screen because it helps me learn and want to overcome my ways of doing things that may not be the most beneficial to me. I get involved in characters and their emotional journeys and if I want them to do things differently so they can be happier or better able to deal with life and their problems, I should want the same thing for myself. I want to see what it looks like when I do better.
Our flaws and struggles don’t have to define us but they are a part of us to accept, just like we accept them in our favorite characters. We’re not perfect and we don’t always act perfectly. If we can accept that in others, than we need to be able to accept that in ourselves. TV helps me do that. If Cristina can be loved with her flaws, then so can I. If being strong isn’t working through the flu or pretending like something serious isn’t affecting her when it actually is, then I can have those moments where I need and accept help without giving up the strength I value in myself. I know these things are true because people I love and trust have told me and have been there for me when I need to fall apart but there is still something about seeing the lesson reinforced in a fictional character that inspires growth.
What have your favorite characters taught you about accepting your flaws? Are you drawn to characters with similar struggles as yourself or do you prefer characters who are nothing like you?