Sunday, October 3, 2010
I have a new obsession: Single Dad Laughing. I read a post by him about perfection. You can check it out here. He made me think about how imperfect I am, not that I need any reminders.
But I look around me and I see that almost everyone I know is infected with this disease of being perfect. We- collectively as Americans- need to be perfect. I think it stems from some skewed perception of capitalism wherein we have to go big or go home. Large houses with green lawns, big boats, fast cars, expensive clothes and hair and slim thighs and great skin and the right shoes...it's all part of the American dream.
Why do I sometimes feel ashamed and angry that I don't have all of those things? I'm an educator, for Pete's sake. What I do is important and it matters greatly, to offer other worlds and experiences to students and to take the opportunity to learn from them. I derive a great deal of self-esteem from teaching, from doing anonymous good works, and from looking for ways to be kind- especially to those who would be unkind to me. I live in a house and I have enough to eat. My car goes places. My dog and cat are always happy to see me, especially if they think I have something tasty. My friends are there for me when I need them most of the time and I am there for them, most of the time. So why do I so often compare myself to the appearances of others and feel as though I lack?
But I feel what I feel. Long ago I made a choice to be what and who I am and that means that the American dream with a white picket fence, a couple of kids and the ability to keep up with the Jones' is not in the cards. I could have chosen vet school; I was accepted in the top three of the hundreds of applications. Not that being a veterinarian is so glamorous- it's a lot of poop and blood if the truth were known, but it comes with a nifty white coat. I only applied because I wanted my husband to think I was good enough. When I just couldn't do it, I left behind the man and the life and the lifestyle and became a teacher.
Years later in a fit of anger, my ex husband said that I was his project and that he never really did think I was good enough. At the time it stung, and it made me look long and hard at my own actions. I realized that I am defined by my actions but not my family. More importantly, I am a human and like other humans, I deserve real love, unconditional love. It's a lesson I've never forgotten and try to practice; to try to understand rather than just change others into your image of them.
I cannot tell you my schedule without feeling exhausted. I am actually attempting to learn Italian amongst all other stuff I have to do in a week. I have downloaded language learning audio onto my iPod and listen and repeat in the mornings on my drive to work. I have no other real time during the week. I have this drive to do well in my classes, to teach well, to be a good colleague, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, sister and friend. Fact is, those things often slide. Or at least one or two slide since I do have to sleep sometimes.
It's not just our time and energy that's subject to perfectionism. Our bodies seem to be under the most scrutiny. Everywhere I go I am bombarded with advertisements for rejuvenating treatments "My wife looks ten years younger. I can't believe it!", liposuction "Get the beautiful legs, hips and thighs you've always wanted. You deserve it!", breast augmentation "Imagine how much more confident you will feel!", day spas, salons, gentlemen's clubs, gyms, diet pills and make up commercials just on the radio. I gave up television long ago but the images still haunt me.
Nothing makes me feel more insecure than women's magazines and snickering, whispering teenage girls. The fact is that I went to war with my body sometime in 1999. I could say it's because I was a big girl in high school, with petite and beautiful sisters. I could say it's because when I was 11 years old, my grandma-who was trying to be kind- said "Well, honey, you're not as pretty as your sisters, but you have nice child-bearing hips." I could blame my ex-husband for telling me the truth when I asked if my jeans make my butt look big. He said "I love you, but you've gained twenty pounds since we got married." I went to the gym that day. From that day to this, I cannot see what the scale at my doctor's office tells me. If I know that number, I will immediately go on a crash diet to lose ten pounds. And I'm not too picky about how I do it.
The fact remains though, that every day that I wake up, I make a conscious choice. I choose to just be myself. It's not natural. I want to be a reflection of what people want me to be. Especially since I'm single again. I want to be liked even though I have no fear of being alone. Actually, I prefer to be alone. It's way less complicated. My cat doesn't judge me for eating watermelon for dinner right over the kitchen sink so that I don't have to wash another dish. She just sits on my lap and purrs while I type. That's why I post pictures of me with bad breath, bags under my eyes, acne and no hair brushes... because I need to just be me for awhile. I need that to be enough. I need that to be enough for me.
Dan Pearce, from Single Dad Laughing, struggles with his weight and self-esteem. What we all struggle with is that feeling that we're somehow unlovable since we're imperfect. I'm glad to struggle with this rather than to delude myself that somehow the universe loves me above any others. My imperfections make me feel a part of the human race, rather than apart from it.
Please, please be imperfect. Those imperfections in the people I love are what make them human and therefore, accessible. It takes the pressure off of me too. Nothing is as real as me calling up a friend to say "Boy did I screw this up. Can you help me figure it out?", because I know that next week she's going to call me and say "Oh please help me dig out from under this mountain of laundry!" and together we'll heft the load.