The Myth of Perfection

The Myth of Perfection |


Lately I’ve been noticing more and more media spewings about the perfect body. About erasing dark circles and wrinkles. About controlling what you eat. About the 50 Hottest Women in the World! About actresses who “look good” for their age. About the Beautiful People and who they are procreating with. About fatness and thinness and shades of skin colour as if the body is all there is.

I buy magazines to cut up for #creativityreboot fun and suddenly notice how young the women in the pages are. How a feature about anti-wrinkle creams is illustrated with close-ups of teenage faces that have probably still been retouched. I read about actresses getting digitally slimmed and perfected in films and my heart just hurts.

It’s all so preoccupied with the external.

I know so much of it is animal instinct — it’s sex, basically. Women want to attract a mate so they want to look appealing to catch the attention of potential suitors. That basic instinct is woven through our DNA. We’re most fertile when we’re young, so youthfulness becomes most desirable. Then we wonder about our competition, so we become interested in who’s more appealing and where we land in the desire-ablity charts. Our genes want to be replicated — it’s all about survival. It’s about immortality and the fear of death.

I spent a large chunk of my young life wanting this perfection and feeling cheated that I didn’t have it. How I LOOKED was more important than anything else. The surface of my body was how I measured my worth and most of the time I found it to be lacking. I wasn’t photogenic, the holy grail I wished for for my first 30 years. I didn’t have the self-awareness needed to look deeper than my skin and begin healing my hurts, so I became obsessed with the pieces I could see with my eyes. All of this external preoccupation wasn’t caused by the media but it was certainly exacerbated by it. As women we were told we’re second class for so long it got absorbed into our collective psyche. And now that bras have been burnt and we edge towards a society filled with equals? We’re hit again in our tenderest of places — we’re judged on how we look by the harshest critics of all: ourselves. Has there ever been a more effective way of keeping people down? We’re so busy worrying about how we look there’s no time for anything else. We could probably take over the world if we weren’t stressing about fitting into our skinny jeans.

I’m making sweeping statements here, of course, and on the other side of this there is so much amazingness in the world. Possibility and freedom, knowledge and progress. Art and music, inspiration and joy. And love, there is plenty of love. I see it and I feel it and it fills my heart. And yet there are still too many mornings when I look in the mirror and make a split-second judgment on my attractiveness. It’s as automatic as taking my next breath. Since hitting my 40s the unspoken judgment is most often “I look tired” even if I feel rested, and though I no longer voice it, I can still feel the chilly backdraft of “not good enough”.

I feel as frustrated with all of this as I did the first time I read The Beauty Myth and started becoming conscious of how I was disempowering myself. The older I get the easier it is to see what’s really important but that doesn’t mean I’m now magically immune from wishing I was more classically beautiful. Writing that in public really shines a light on how meaningless that desire is and how so much of all this was written into my blueprint when I was younger. I don’t believe we can rewire our thinking to the point where such desires are erased, but I do think we can hold the light AND the dark of who we are. Awareness is where it’s at. I am aware of my desire AND I know what’s more true for me. I can be gentle and loving with the part of me that still believes I should look a certain way AND celebrate the fact that I have a fully functioning body that houses a beautiful soul.

I imagine it’ll take generations to filter out this messed up perfection-is-everything ethos. As sentient creatures we’re still so very early in our collective development. We still kill each other. We still wage wars over an unseen man in the sky. We’re still so unbelievably self-destructive, like toddlers who put their fingers in electricity sockets to see what happens. So maybe it makes some kind of weird sense that we still make lists of who’s the Richest or the Most Beautiful or the Most Clever as if those things have any bearing on how to live a worthwhile life. We are still learning. We’re only just graduating from evolutionary kindergarten.

This post isn’t what I intended to write when I opened my laptop this morning, but it’s been burning a hole in my head for a while and clearly needed to come out.

Despite all the screwed up crap in the world I still believe in the magic. My most fervent belief is that if we heal our own hurts so we don’t pass them on, the world could change overnight. If we dared to look beyond the external to find out what’s truly going on inside, our way of being in the world would transform. So I’m going to continue remembering who I really am, and sharing what I find, and making stuff that helps others do it too.

This pin sums it up for me. xo

32 responses
  1. phoebe reid

    Perfectly said!

  2. Bekah

    What a beautiful post – I know in myself that I’m a perfectionist, but trying to be more accepting of myself these days… Society puts so much pressure on getting things right, that we forget that sometimes imperfections are part of the beauty…


    Thank you so much for writing this wonderful post.


  4. Denise

    This post is so, so true. I wish I had written this! It expresses all that I think–too–about all this focus on the external…about how we poor humans so need greater consciousness. Which begins with articulating what is beneath the external to others. Bravo!

  5. Mary in VA

    I agree with everything you said. I walked away from trying to be pretty or photogenic a long time ago and get really bothered when someone focuses on how “beautiful” I am rather than looking beyond that. And I still catch myself noticing the little lines by my eyes and the dark areas under them. I believe its programmed into us as children, from the age when a woman was expected to always look her best even if she was doing housework.

  6. Raquel

    Oh, god yes. To all of it.
    I would add that our biology certain contributes (creates) this myth, it is important to remember that many, many, many of these so-called imperfections have been created by corporations in order to sell a product. It is absolutely flabbergasting. I first read of it while researching the origins of the belief that women mustn’t have body hair and from there… it blew my mind. We are told we are ugly so we try to fill that self-hatred with something that will not fulfill it, so ultimately we are slaves to advertising, “the machine”, whatever you’d like to call it. In addition to all of the self-acceptance I am attempting this year, I am also going to try to do my part by not comparing myself to other women, not judging another woman’s looks, and in general, not commenting on a woman’s looks (of course, compliments are great, so long as they don’t imply or support the beauty myth, such as, “wow you look so much younger now that you’ve dyed your hair”, things like that).

    One of my goals this year is to see all women as my sisters and to look for what is within. That is my small, personal revolution to the beauty myth.

  7. mel

    this was great…every last word of it and the pin was pretty special too.thanks for this.

  8. Jen

    This is such a wonderful post, Susannah. I’ve been on a journey over the past 2 years to let go of perfection, particularly through stopping dieting, and just accepting myself as I am. For so long I’ve been holding onto the belief that I just need to lose a little weight… and it has taken an intentional, deliberate effort to let go of that belief and make peace with who I am, as I am. The media makes it so hard to do this – in fact, I have been on a diet, a media diet! I’ve been so careful about what magazines I read (if any), I avoid television commercials and shows and films that make me feel bad. I think we need to be very selective about what media we allow ourselves to consume while we are on the journey to self-acceptance. It’s a shame that most of the time the media seems to be sharing negative messages, but I choose to look after myself and avoid media that doesn’t make me feel good. So far, so good! It’s a tough journey but I feel so much more at peace now than I ever have. Thanks for sharing your journey :)

  9. Anne-Marie

    Thank you for such a wonderful post.

  10. Courtney

    Thanks for such an amazing post! After reading the last part about evolutionary kindergarten, I did that little motion that people do that means “mind blown.” I have never thought about how our collective society is on an evolutionary path towards being greater consciousness and deeper kindness. I am an elementary school teacher, and I often think about the messages that are being sent to my students through the media, their community, and the adults in their lives. I work every day to teach them compassion towards others and towards themselves. This post reminded me that it will always be an uphill battle – but one worth fighting!

  11. Mariella

    It might have not been intentional but I think this is one of your best posts because it’s so true. Beauty myth and how it affect young women is an issue as old as the modern world and yet still so current. I spent most of my twenty worrying about my physical aspect, wasting energy I could have used in much better way. Although my main goal was to grow into an independent and well educated woman, these kind of feelings were still creeping inside. I feel only motherhood has somehow relieved me from this.

  12. JO

    This is (one of the reasons) why I love you so. xx

  13. Katie

    Amazing post Susannah, despite everything, I believe in the magic too! Katie. X

  14. Alexis

    I struggle with this myth too. I call it lookism what society forces on women to be perfect. I wrote a post on my blog about it a long time ago and I continue to journal about it. You bring up some great points!

  15. Luzmarina Quiroga Carriel

    “We’re only just graduating from evolutionary kindergarten”. These are the words I’ve been looking for, I try ti remember this every time I see the terrible things humans do to each other, but at the same time, we all are just babies getting to know this wonderful world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, they help me to clarify mine. :)


    I couldn’t agree more ! I know im still learning… and will do . Being in touch with human,on the ground people helps me, im not alone and it feels good. Thanks


    I couldn’t agree more with all this great writting. I look at myself in the mirror lately and think yes i am getting older looking. I have a love hate relationship with smoking and yet i enjoy it!!! its excepting thats just me and were i am right now. I believe that my beauty lies within and without and yet sometimes i feel strong with this and other times i feel vulnerable. It seems like a wave at times- sometimes im in and sometimes im out. Keeping it steadier is going to be a agoal of mine this year.

  18. Izabela

    This is so beautifully written, and I just love how you acknowledge that we can’t be completely re-wired, however we can accept our wants, and our truths. Thank you so much for this

  19. Judy

    Susannah, you’ve done it again, put into words what so many women need or want to hear! I have friends my age who look younger then me and they tell me I would look younger too if I would just color my hair, get rid of the gray, do this do that. However, I love my silver hair as I call it, I like it that this is who I am authentically and I feel so young so I don’t feel the pull of which I am so grateful! Thank you for sharing your wonderful post and thanks for keeping us real:-)

  20. Jessica

    So glad you did write this when you opened your laptop this morning. Such powerful words and absolute crafts(wo)manship arranging them all together. This is beautiful. Thank you!

  21. Charmanine

    so true.

  22. Lottie

    Wise words, beautifully put- thanks. The truth of all this becomes ever more interesting and difficult as I watch my daughter grow up (11 yesterday) and say to me “I think I’m fat, mummy” (she is so far from it) “xxx told me I have a moustache and a unibrow, am I ugly mummy?” – how do we learn to focus in on tiny, external details and find something to criticise in them, never seeing the whole- inside and out- person. Find it hard to explain better than- you’re beautiful – and try and say why!

  23. Fanny

    I felt the same way during years and years and I finally found a little bit of peace inside me but I transfer the problems on what I’m doing. Not enough, not correct, not the good way. I’m trying to find my way, hope I’ll do it !

  24. Kristine

    I am so glad you wrote this post, Susannah – I have been feeling the same way lately – How we have come so far, but then seem to fall back five steps in our ways of thinking – I watched the interview with Michael Sams (First Black Openly Gay Football Player in the NFL) and Oprah and cried most of the way through it – How can a world in 2015, that can be so understanding in some areas yet treat another human being so poorly? I thought we had come farther than this. We still have a long ways to go. I realize this is only one example, but I wanted to thank you for your honesty. Hugs, Kristine

  25. valerie martin

    Importnat words, Susannah. I also hate that even though, biologically speaking, men shouldn’t be attracted to super-thin bodies (with magically huge boobs), society has taught them that they should be, and this really affects that way that men see REAL women. I know the more evolved ones see waaay beyond that, but the messages are seared in from a young age, nonetheless. I agree it will likely take generations for our society to change with this — as amazing as the body positive movements are, they are still so small compared to the mainstream $$-driven messages.

  26. Cheryl turtlemoon

    Hi! I have learned that there is no such thing as the perfect body. I had an operation after cancer, leaving me without a vulva. I felt awful, but a year later, I realise it’s what’s in my heart and mind that’s important, rather than what people can see. I am happy to be myself, and to be the person I am, even without my girlie bits. Rejoice in being yourself. X

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