Sunday, 2 August 2015

An Impossible Perfect

I feel like I have to present this with an explanatory note: this post is about body image. I'm well aware that some people will consider it irrelevant to them, and/or I may be seen to have harped on about this a lot lately. I also know from experience that a lot of men think this is an exclusively female subject. If you are one of the lovely people who take the time to read my blog, and you consider that you fall into one of these categories/views I've just mentioned, can I appeal to you to please be open-minded and carry on reading anyway? I know I can only write from my own perspective and experience, but this is a subject transcendent, I believe, of gender and political views. I really hope it can spark some discussion amongst those who may not have actively considered it before.

Nobody warns you how completely impossible physical perfection is. The idea of perfection you learn, through observation/osmosis, is just a complete misunderstanding of reality - there is no one 'perfect'. It doesn't exist.

You may get 'lucky' genetically, and avoid predisposition to stretch marks, cellulite, acne, 'excessive' body hair (whatever that means), weight retention, whatever else may be in our genetic code that is considered below the impossible standard. You may work incredibly hard as an athlete, dancer, something else that physically alters your body. You might not bruise or scar easily. You might not frown so much that it lines your face. You might have the perfect collagen balance in your skin. You might discipline your eating habits to improve your health. You might do or have all or none of the above.

Still nothing prepares you - well, prepared me - for waking some days, looking down at your body and wondering how the hell it ended up the way it did. Why no one ever tells you that you don't have to carry a baby to have stretch marks; that your adolescent growth spurts and then weight gain in your twenties will do that for you. That you'll have them in places that you're not strictly 'fat' - the backs of your knees, your breasts. That men get them too.

Nothing prepares you for the afternoon as a teenager that you cut your leg climbing a fence, and the nurse while she steri-strips it jokes that your modelling career will be scuppered by the scar. You're not planning on a modelling career, but it's tantamount to telling you that this mark will make you less beautiful, less desirable in the eyes of others. And because you've learned that beauty and desirability are the standard, you're ashamed of it. Some days you put make up on it to make it less obvious.

Nothing prepares you for the first out-of-place hair you find on your body, somewhere that hair apparently isn't meant to grow.

The bingo wings that won't completely disappear however many toning exercises you do.

The blue shadows under your eyes that one sleepless night bring out in the morning, however well hydrated you are, whatever creams you use.

The way your stomach folds softly when you sit, even when you're at your thinnest and fittest, in spite of all your sit-ups.

There are many things we can change about ourselves, if we want to. But there are so many we can't. And our physical selves perplex and frustrate us, because they won't conform to the perfection standard, even if we are 'lucky' or we work our hardest. I can lie in bed and try to count my marks and flaws and wonder how my skin has done this to me, but where does that leave me? Afraid? Ashamed? Insecure? And for what - for something I can't control, for a standard I can't achieve. Moreover, a standard that fails to allow for the natural differences of humanity, or the beauty of the mind and spirit.

Here's a radical idea. It's not new and it's certainly not original. And by radical I mean affecting the fundamental nature of something - I don't mean scary, off the wall and unsustainable. Let's love our bodies. Let's be grateful for them - all the things they can do; all the things they are; the living that our scars and marks represent; the fights we have won; the ones we are still fighting. Let's accept and celebrate their uniqueness, their diversity, their strength and their softness. Let's remember they are vessels for our life and not our life itself. And let's not hold onto an impossible perfect anymore.