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If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you are probably aware that I’m featuring a very unusual (and experimental) photography series about freedoms. All this traveling, freelancing, living as a starving writer/artist and mingling had a side effect that remains one of my favourite aspects of life: true freedom of expression.

Dine in a restaurant around Makati, grab a coffee and spend a couple of minutes in Starbucks, and you will hear stories about working people, mostly those who work in BPO companies or as we call them, call center agents showing up in a plain white shirt paired with leggings and a pair of flip flops or rubber sandals. A stroll through Ayala Avenue will succumb people wearing everything from suits to 5 inch red mohawks to mud-stained overalls. In Makati, you could do pretty much anything as long as it didn’t have a negative effect on anyone else.

As an ordinary girl who has always been a bit weird and off-beat, I have a love affair with this freedom of expression.

I wandered around the park in a pair of shorts and a 16th century wool vest not because I wanted to make any sort of statement, but because it was what I felt like wearing that day. I could go shambling through the sand, blunder and slip repeatedly in the waters while I wait for the perfect wave to surf with, or slush through the mud brought by that first rain of May without anyone looking at me funny. I could stand out in the middle of a yoga class practicing Maha Natarajasana or the Standing Lord Pose or struggle to do a perfect headstand or chase my siblings around, wearing a dress while on roller-skates, and not only would nobody care, people would often join you.

Freedom of expression is eminently important to me. When I can’t speak my mind, my feelings or be myself, I wither a little bit. I loathe jobs that require uniforms. They make me cringe, and I don’t even bother applying for jobs that demoralize personal expression. Freedom of expression is hardwired and essential to my personal happiness, and so I have generally made it a priority in my life. Unfortunately, most people seem unaware of the importance of true freedom of expression, and end up falling under the silencing pressures of society without even being aware of it.

I have had the good fortune to mostly live in places where I have never had that freedom overtly oppressed, but even in places where it’s not greatly manifested, it often takes a more casual, more sinister form: silent disfavor.

Silent but obvious disapprobation or disfavor is one of society’s most blistering weapons, and sadly, one of its most effective ones. Try to walk around a conservative town with a bright orange hair and unless you have the nerves of steel, all the stares and pointed fingers will eventually have you searching for a hat to wear. When I moved to the South of Manila area, I noticed that despite the fact that there must be creative types of people in here, I couldn’t see them. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a visible liberal presence, it’s that I saw no expressions of individuality at all. Everyone wore the same black suit and tie that seems to be the unofficial uniform of the South of metro region. No expressions of personal sentiment, not even a uniquely colorful briefcase. I’ve learned quite a bit about working for the government while living here, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that individuality is discouraged and that the silent voice of disapprobation is clamorously deafening indeed.

As I’ve lived here, I’ve learned how to see through the waves of black wool and see the hidden signs of personality, but it makes my heart ache to know that these people think and feel that they can’t express themselves, or even worse, that they have lost any desire to. The problem is that humans are, at their very core, social animals and if we don’t see any deflection from the herd by anyone else, we’re unlikely to deflect ourselves. I hope that someday I will walk the streets of Dasmarinas and see an orange mohawk above the crowd of suits and hear lively debating as I pass through the park. Only when people feel free to express themselves can communication and meaningful dialogue truly occur, and the world needs dialogue more than anything. Only when there is true freedom of expression can people truly understand each other and later on create a eloquent relationship.

What about you? How do you express yourself in your daily living? What are the things you do to make sure you have that freedom of expression? What do you think the world can do to make it easier for others to feel that same freedom?

I’ll be leaving you with those simply complex questions. I hope everyone’s enjoying the weekend.

Namaste from Manila!

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