Repeat After Me: There is No Perfect Woman

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day is from Venus

“He says, ‘You’re not my mother,’” she said as I rang up her stack of clothes. That was why she was buying her own Mother’s Day gift. Her husband wasn’t going to be buying one.

Her kids, well, I dunno.

That was just the first. I kept hearing it: “I’m going to go buy some flowers, since my husband won’t be.” “I’m buying my own Mother’s Day gift.” Etcetera.

Granted, these were far outweighed by the daughters buying clothes for their moms, the little girl with the long blond hair, who came running in to pick out a necklace with her daddy, and the sheepish husbands buying gift cards, who’d never be caught dead in a women’s clothing store for any other occasion (except Christmas, when they come in droves—sheepish droves).

But I found the whole scenario rather pathetic.

Some Men Have Dropped the Ball, Here

I’d never say that all men MUST buy their wives Mother’s Day presents. You’ve got to take budget into account, and specifically, the love-language of the wife. Not everyone receives, or gives love the same way. Some prefer quality time, acts of service, physical affection or affirming words over gifts.

So if gifts aren’t her thing, well, they aren’t her thing.

But clearly these ladies would have enjoyed a gift, so…

Fail.

Women Are Lousy Communicators

I’m tempted to say that the men are at fault. I mean, if they just knew their wives, they would have known she wanted a gift.

Give them a break.  I’m not very old, but I’ve already learned that it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve stood in the kitchen with my brother and my Mom said, “This needs to go downstairs.” I heard “please take this downstairs,” and my brother heard “this needs to go downstairs.”

I carried it downstairs.

I’ve been thoroughly pissed, ready to cheerfully wring someone’s neck. And my male boss and coworkers never picked up on the steam coming from my ears. But at least they didn’t ask me why I was crying… or maybe they just didn’t notice.

They don’t know, okay? (As a qualifier, I’m not a man, and I could be wrong. Correct me if I am).

Women are LOUSY at communicating expectations.  I actually am a woman, so I think I can say this with some certainty.  We speak in subtexts and hints and only one in ten is ever picked up.  But, like Einstein’s definition of insanity, we keep on trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

Still, the guy who told his wife “you’re not my mother” passed up on a simple opportunity to make his wife happy.  The investment probably would have paid off in droves–you know what they say: ‘happy wife, happy life’.

So, still a fail. Big fail.

But my favourite image of the day is that of the tall young Dad with tattoos, and the little girl with the streaming blond hair perching on his knee while picking out a necklace. Her brother stood alongside, also debating what to get. Finally the daughter picked out a silver pendant. After much discussion, the dad and son decided to go with gift cards. His wife will not have to buy her own Mother’s Day gift.

A Fat Girl’s Guide to Fashion Freedom

Because learning to dress myself was only the beginning.

They were white, with purple and pink roses. No wonder I still remember them. I doubt those hand-me-down sweatpants were ever stylish, but I rocked them. When I was six I wore what I liked. Purple and pink were my favourite colours, so I wore them together, along with every barrette in my arsenal. I even had this splendid set of pearl earrings (clip-ons), which I would wear to church and embarrass my mother. Those were the carefree days, where I didn’t even stop to consider what people thought of my clothes. Would that I could go back.

purple and pink me

Or not.

Bellbottoms, or flares, were coming into fashion as I was entering my teen years. Pants, with flared-out legs so wide that you could park my little car under them, were paired with platform shoes—the clunkier the better. And I had neither.

When my birthday rolled around, I took my birthday money and bought a pair of black flares with white stripes down the side. They were haute. I wouldn’t be caught dead in them today, but I was twelve, and anxious to fit in. I asked my most stylish friend if they suited me, and she assured me they did. Great, I had one pair of fashionable pants.

I was a chunky, acne-riddled teenager. While my friends were wearing low-slung jeans and baby tees that showed off their flat midriffs, I was wearing a hoodie and modest jeans. Stores for kids that age don’t sell size XXL, and even if they had, my allowance didn’t permit much clothes shopping. I wouldn’t have known what clothes to put together anyway. That had to be learned.

I thought I wasn’t popular because I was fat, that I didn’t get attention from boys because I wasn’t beautiful like the other girls.

I did what I could. I bought makeup and experimented with covering my acne scars until I got it right. I tried different clothes, though I refused to shop in the plus sizes because that, somehow, made me ‘fat’.  But somewhere in my late teens I started to pull my wardrobe together. I had this great jacket that made me feel like a million bucks, and some pretty tops that dressed up my jeans. I remember (and laugh) about the first scarf I bought, when they were a new thing. I was afraid that my family would think it was too ‘out there’.

I suspect growing up and gaining confidence did more for my body image than new clothes ever did. I got a job in a meat-packing facility, which is a direct route to looking like crap every day. But I was forced to associate with guys (gasp), stand up for myself, and assert myself among a group of adults that didn’t give a damn about me, or my feelings. It thickened my skin. Knowing that I could hold my own in the real world helped me hold my head high, even when I couldn’t afford to dress like a show-window mannequin.

Shortly thereafter, I began college. My wardrobe consisted of 90% MCC thrift-store items—like a ruffled ‘pirate coat’, a spangled tunic, and a never-ending supply of cardigans. I had classmates who rocked their eclectic thrift-store duds, and from them I learned that clothes were art—meant to be original and expressions of your inner self—not one size fits all. My clothes might not have fit into the prepster, hipster or sophisticate categories, but I was accepted anyway. I was accepted for being me.

I’m still learning that.

These days I work as a ‘fashion associate’ part-time, which comes with discounts that make trendy clothes affordable. I’d say I’ve found out what I would wear if I could wear anything I liked. Right now it’s purple, fish-scale pants, a wine-colored blazer, a sequined black tee, and boots that have caught my fancy (notice the reappearance of purple?). And, I’ve at last found peace in shopping in the plus-sizes. Face it, they fit me better, and they look great.

It will eventually get through to me that my clothes have never won, nor lost me any friends. Rather, it is the content of my character that attracts others. The coworkers who see me in a cerulean uniform and safety glasses like me just as well as the ones who see me in purple pants and sequins.

I can’t go back to being five years old and carefree, but maybe I’ll grow up a little more and care a little less about what people think of me.