I was standing under the blazing tropical sun, in the middle of arid industrial area Pulogadung. Suddenly the rain fell heavily, and I had no other option than going on board to the first Kopaja I saw. It was extremely packed with people and I had to hang on a rusty steel pole that scratched my skin with one hand and tried to protect my bag from thieves with the other hand.

Needless to say, I was smelly and crumpled – and in moments like those, I always prayed silently that I wouldn’t meet the man of my dream. And in moments like those, even I found it hard to believe that I was once standing on a stage with blinding spotlight, and awarded a trophy and sash as Miss XXXX Indonesia.

That was the first (and probably the last) time I joined a pageant. And I just found out how many girls who are maniac about these pageants. I met girls who have joined more than five times. Previously I only knew about Putri Indonesia and Miss Indonesia. Turned out that before you could go there, you have to start from smaller pageants, such as Abang None (uhm, Brother Sister? I can’t translate it!), Putri Pariwisata Indonesia (Miss Tourism Indonesia), Putra-Putri Batik (Batik Son and Daughter? Okay, these translations are ridiculous), Duta Bahasa (Ambassador of Language), Ratu Bunga (Queen of Flower), you name it! I’m quite sure there would be even more absurd pageant, such as Ambassador of Komodo or Queen of Tiger.

And what are the girls looking for? Well, acknowledgement. Prestige. The sash that finally wrapped around their bodies, which will make them recognised as a girl with a complete brain, beauty, behaviour package.

If you snort and underestimate those girls, look down and see yourself. Do you have a name tag wrapped around your neck? A name tag with big company name written proudly. Company that gives you high flying salary, and to join them you have to go through a selection that’s even more competitive than The Hunger Games. And when you finally get the position… you wear that name tag proudly.

And, perhaps unconsciously, that name tag increases your self-confidence up to 30%. (I made up that number, obviously.) When you wear it, you are a part of a greater organisation. You are important.

We wear sashes or name tags as shields. We wear them as our prestigious identity. And when we have to take off that identity, it feels uncertain and scary. That’s why many people stick to jobs they hate – simply because it feels good to boast that you are a part of that company when you meet high school friends.

My sash now was just sitting uselessly in a cupboard. But until now, I’m still struggling to take off that name tag, with all the privileges attached to it.

Update: I finally took off that name tag, read the story here.

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