“I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy… I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting… again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” (Madonna, in a 1991 Vanity Fair interview)
I’ve been told that this is predominantly a girl-problem.
Body Envy/Worship Envy
In every arena of life, I relentlessly compare myself to others. Not men, other women. There are the obvious ones, like comparing my muscular build to their hour glass figure, or my hipster/writer costume to their sophisticated duds. The mall is hell for these sorts of things.
But that isn’t all.
I get angry because so-and-so in my church cell group is better at worshiping than me. They have their eyes shut and their hands raised, while I just got distracted by the sound of my own pure soprano. And they’re crying and getting all lovey-dovey with the Father and I’m thinking, “Jesus, I really hate this song. Can you zap this song and make it disappear?”
And then I look at them and think “You’re faking it. I just know it!”
So women push themselves toward the crippling burden of perfectionism. Perfect body, perfect hair, jeans that fit perfectly, perfect hostess, perfect Mom. Not only do I need to run three times a week to fight back the potato chips, but I need to go out in stylish gear so I look hot while doing it.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that ain’t happening.
That is why most people who suffer from eating disorders are women. Women are more likely to self-harm and commit suicide.
I am Remotely Controlled
But this attempt to control our lives and make them perfect is actually to give ourselves over to be controlled. We may desire peace and contentment, but the popular opinion of beauty and fashion will not let us. ‘The Jones’ won’t let us be happy until we keep up to them. Heck, as I’ve talked about in Still Fat on the Inside, we won’t even be able to enjoy innocent pleasures like food.
We will miss opportunities that could be life-changing, all because we were afraid of looking stupid. I can think of fun activities that I didn’t participate in because I was afraid of failing. I’ve never been to the gym, because I’m afraid of looking stupid (that will have to change soon–ugh). I won’t ask for help, i.e. in finances, because I don’t want to admit areas of weakness.
So while I am trying to control how others think of me, they are actually controlling me.
And why? Tell me: would we like a perfect person?
The Flawed Hero is the Best Hero
As we stood outside my building after a run, my friend Rosie and I were talking about a book series she’d been reading. The one book had this character who was a good Christian girl, willing to do whatever God asked. It was like she could do no wrong. The second book starred a young gladiator who hated God. Who did we agree was more fun to read about?
I’d say this was part of our comparison and perfectionism, but I suspect there is something else to it. Our subconscious minds can spot a fake. The author can sell us that godly goody-two-shoes as reality but in the back of our minds we know that this is just wishful thinking. There are some really awesome people out there who love God and want to follow him. But we know ourselves, and we know how hard we have to fight just to do one or two good things every day. We know that we treat God like we treated our parents. We do what he asks, while stomping around and kicking the dog to prove that we’re only doing it because we have to. And only for the briefest moments do we experience the harmony with Him, and that intimate friendship that we so desire.
If we love the loser characters, can’t we accept ourselves too? Can’t we look into our own hearts and see the weaknesses, and realize that no one is without flaws?
You can’t see what goes on inside another woman’s mind. You can only see the external accoutrements of her life. You haven’t seen the price she paid for what she has. I worry sometimes that people look at me and think I have my whole life figured out. Like today, I mentioned the awesome run I had to an friend. She asked, “how long did you run?” I immediately felt the need to downplay and said, “Well, 10 kilometres–but I don’t run 10K every day!” I used to think that ‘real runners’ practically floated above the ground, and ran without pain and gasping for air. Now I know this is a fantasy every time I pull off my jacket and the stench of sweat emanates from my shirt. I know the perpetual tired legs, and the burning chest, and the foolish feeling one gets when prancing around in skin-tight pants.
So allow others their weaknesses, and own up to your own. It can be immensely freeing to admit that you’re weak. I’ve found great relief in telling my friends my struggles, only to have them smile and say, “I feel the same way.”
Repeat after me: there is no perfect woman. And we aren’t so different after all.