There's this real phenomenon in America - and especially on the internet - that you must be perfect in order to interact or show up. All your words carefully chosen, your photos on Instagram carefully staged, your activism carefully crafted. It feels daunting and terrifying, even when you try so hard to make sure it's perfect before you speak/present/post because it's almost never good enough. (I mean, I know from past experience that over the next few days I'll come back to edit this blog entry no less than five times because I'll find a typo or repetitive word choice and it will eat at me until I fix it.) Someone will always call you out on your mistakes/typos/errors and in some cases try to destroy you and your credibility if you're not perfect enough for them.
I've seen it happen over and over, especially to celebrities or famous folks. You can have a legacy of amazing and radical work that speaks to so many but mess up one time and suddenly it negates everything that person has contributed and "they are DEAD TO ME." (Hell, it's happened to me a handful of times as well.)
"Perfect is the enemy of good" is an old saying that has roots in several places, going back to the 1770s with Voltaire using the phrase in his French writings. Shakespeare uses the concept in King Lear and even Aristotle and Confucius talk about it with the golden mean, which warns against extremism in general. The main point of it being that someone may never attempt or complete a task if they can't do it PERFECTLY. Winston Churchill is credited with saying something very similar about how perfection is the enemy of progress.
As someone who was born with a Type A personality and the oldest child in my family, I've struggled with personal goals of perfection my entire life. In addition to unattainable feminine beauty standards imposed upon me by our patriarchal culture, it's really this notion of being perfect that has been the biggest battle on my body image journey. I spent so many years trying to alter my natural body to be different, or "perfect," with no acne, stretchmarks or cellulite. We've owned our home in Boise for nearly twelve years now and I spent so many of them obsessed with keeping it organized and clean and afraid to let anyone in the front door unless it looked "perfect." I worried about writing about how hard motherhood is or how shitty and heartbreaking it was to have two miscarriages because I was sharing my imperfections and that is vulnerable.
I learned, though, that it was my imperfections that made me beautiful and powerful. Embracing my life and body and motherhood as it is right now and doing the best that I can and sharing the process is important. I found that owning my perceived imperfections removed their control over my life and, yes, my progress. I learned that life is too short to wait to try new things or learn stuff or share my work (in progress). I'm always a careful student and do my research and check my words and think all of this is super important, but so is taking chances and asking questions, both things that are scary and risky in this day and age.
I started reviving Hilda, the plus-sized curvy pin up girl drawn for calendars in the mid-century, in a subversive selfie series last summer in a fun and feminist way. I use things I find around the house or buy at the dollar store, set up my iPhone on a tripod with the 10 second timer and run to take my place. There's a lot of accidental nipple and things aren't perfect by any means. I have much more cellulite than Hilda has (because, um, she's not a real human woman and has none in the drawings) and her body angles are sometimes impossible to re-create as is the perspective in the illustrations (and thus the angle I would have to shoot the images from). And people love to point out all these flaws (and more) in my photos when I share them. But thousands more people like to tell me how poignant, encouraging and sexy it is seeing my Hilda images. How they've come to accept their bodies more because of my vulnerability.
It's rare to see a 42-year-old fat mom taking up space - both on the internet and in the world - like I do. Sharing my imperfections in all their glory. Summer is nearing and as the temperatures rise so does baring more skin and the body shaming and unnecessary striving for the "perfect" summer body. I love presenting my "summer body" with all its luxurious rolls and dimples and unabashed love of tiny bikinis, tank tops and flip flops. The warmth, on both my skin and my soul, is glorious.
Another example of this irrational demand of perfectionism can be seen in the recent criticism of the new Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty! (Or any film or song or book taking on body image or any other social justice element these days, really.) Immediately upon the release of the concept of the film - and later the film trailer - the hate came. I always find this shocking, but no longer surprising. I have a general principle of not critiquing any work of art before I’ve read/seen/viewed it myself first; many others do not abide by this principle.
I co-organized an event with our local plus-sized consignment shop and the Boise Rad Fat Collective to meet for dinner and drinks before going to see the movie together as a group. I think the consensus of most of the group of folks aged 14 an up was that everyone really liked the movie. Some people even got teary and cried and applauded at the end. There was lots of LOLing as well. It’s funny and sweet and uplifting. I loved that the male love interest was also quirky and unconventional.
While I agree with so many of the criticisms and shared many initial concerns, I also realized early on that perhaps the film isn't/wasn't made for ME and that is okay. There were a few problematic parts, but overall the message was a good one. As I suspected it is pretty Body Positive Lite - not super radical, but it is a RomCom starring Amy Schumer so I didn’t expect it to be. And that's okay. Overall, it was a step in the right direction for mainstream Hollywood, even if it’s a baby one.
Just like the film, the event wasn't perfect. The restaurant forgot to reserve the large tables for our huge group and took forever getting our food out despite ordering early enough. We didn't get to all sit together in the theater due to rushing in smaller groups to get there on time.
The best part about seeing the film, honestly, was the amazing community I got to see it with and the companionship beforehand with the discussion after, despite the small snafus and imperfections of our timing and the restaurant's mistakes. We shook it off and laughed and snuck our to-go food into the theater. These people and "imperfect" experiences all enrich my life and my own body positivity more than a film ever could. And perhaps it's really our imperfections that bind us.
My 10-year-old daughter Alice is playing her third year in Little League softball and started pitching this year and is a badass. I've seen her practice and focus and shake it off and strike out three girls in a row. I've also seen her obsess and feel the pressure and in tears because she didn't pitch perfectly one game. She's told me she's not good enough and that messing up while pitching is embarrassing and hard. Witnessing this, and having a very similar personality to my small girl, I know this is all true. Having the self-confidence and tenacity to stand up and learn on the spot is rare and valuable and certainly traits that I hope to continue to instill in her. What a joy it is to see her coaches agree and voice encouragement and give tips when the going gets tough. And I can see how Alice perks up when her teammates call out to her from the field with "you got this, Alice!" or when her dad and I cheer loudly from the sidelines. I am intensely proud of her defiance of perfection.
I talked to the girls at my 2nd annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminist Teens about this quite a bit a few weeks ago. We created these beautiful body biographies, maps of our bodies and their histories and I made mine as an example beforehand, complete with stories of body parts I perceived imperfect for so long and how I now see them as important parts of what make me ME. The girls followed suit and the projects were hard, heartbreaking, strong and stunning.
Some of them struggled with the concept and I ran out of paper due to my imperfect planning so a few of us had to create body torsos instead of full bodies. We talked about not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes when discussing the meaning of feminism and defining terms like "privilege" and "intersectionality." About how hard and scary it can be to ask questions these days but I assured them this was a safe space and they should ALWAYS feel empowered to ask questions and try to learn and understand. That they should take chances with sharing their voice and their art. That it's okay to get it wrong and make mistakes and share works in progress and defy this notion of being perfect, on Instagram, on Facebook, in the classroom and everywhere.