A valentine to imperfection

On Valentine's day, coupled or not, we are inundated with images of romantic love. But another love, love of ones' self, is on my mind today.

When I watched "Oprah" while trotting on the treadmill, a certain kind of woman was a regular guest. She was a real person, articulate, nice-looking but limp, neglectful of her appearance, nutrition, spirit. 

She was not, as Oprah often said, "living her best life". Either she vowed "I'm finally taking time for myself" or sat in front of an expert who told her to do so. For her, there was an arsenal of tools: gratitude journal, cute dress and boots, and–for really hard cases–Suze Orman. It always worked; by the credits, the woman looked relieved and radiant.

I felt happy for her: There, all better. But I always wondered what happened when she got home? Home to "Did you laminate my math project?", the dog throwing up in the laundry basket, the grind of being a partner or parent. (She always had children, did Oprah think single women were exempt from being a mess?) The woman now had an additional job, that of pursuing her best life–and not in schlumpadinka sweats. 

Now that "Oprah" is gone, the story plays out in other media outlets, over and over; this 'best life' tends to involve spa visits, book clubs and finally doing something about the living room. 

I'll bet most of us have tried the quick fixes. I too have felt the blues lift while wiggling my glossy fresh pedicure. But eventually, we have to let go of the notion of perfection as the path to love (aka self-esteem): it's a Mug's Game for two reasons.

First, the ability to accept and love ones' self is not an event (especially televised), and second, it cannot be done by seeking perfection and beating on ones' self for deficiencies.

Because it was said so much better by her, so I'm posting this 4-minute clip of the late dancer Gabrielle Roth. In it, she does something remarkable: she invites us to accept every aspect of our selves, without perfecting, defending and spending energy hiding our flaws.

I keep thinking of it, so it's my Valentine to you.

"If we could accept everything and dance with it all..."
- Gabrielle Roth, 1941-2012


My blog is about my journey after 50 of learing to love myself and put me first. The journey has led to so much joy and fun...it took a wake up call to get my attention..so everyone, do not wait as long as I did...learn to take care of yourself and enjoy your life today! Life is too short to wait!
Susan B said…
I've written about this before, but I've often wondered whether women are able to sustain some of those "total makeovers," especially those that add a lot of maintenance. When it comes to self-improvement, it's a balancing act. I've found that undertaking a weight loss project also spilled over into other areas of my life (the Jump Starts) that result in payoffs greater than the efforts. But I'm accepting that keeping a neat and spotless home just isn't in the cards right now.

On the video of Roth, I love the part where she says that just accepting lets us be free. I think for those of us especially that were raised with very critical and demanding parents, the light that goes on when we realize the world won't end if we aren't perfect is like opening a window after decades spent in a dark room.
Duchesse said…
Pam: Taking care of ones'self is a good first step. I posted Roth's video because I want to explore possibilities beyond the usual self-care and attitude advice, not that they do not have a place.

Pseu: Yes, that's the moment that clicked for me, too- yet it is so against the culture of "keep working on yourself" (or your house)!
Madame Là-bas said…
I agree wholeheartedly. We are always trying to fix something about ourselves either physically or emotionally. I joke with Monsieur about seeing the world in report card language: I am progressing or needing improvement. It is a leftover from school days or teaching days. "Letting yourself go" is a negative thing in our culture but perhaps it really is part of the dance. Monsieur always says " I am who I am" but I think that women feel that we have to keep trying in order to be worthy and to deserve love.
LPC said…
I find one of the great life tasks to be negotiating a balance between surrender and attempt.
Duchesse said…
Madame: Yes, the culture prizes and promotes perfection. Even more foundational than "letting yourself go" is facing the disowned side, the part of us that we feel squeamish or embarrassed about. We can't let go of what is unacknowledged, which I think is one of Roth's most important points.

LPC.: Yes, and I so rarely hear anyone acknowledging their disowned side that I have decided attempt rules in this time and culture; Tiger Mom, Live Your Best Life, Protect & Perfect etc. Do more, be more, get more and hide any flaw- the overwhelming media script.
Anonymous said…
THANK YOU for this.

The best Valentine I have ever received. By a long shot. :)
Anonymous said…
THANK YOU for this.

The best Valentine I have ever received. By a long shot. :)
Unknown said…
This is one of the reasons I go to church. It's not for everyone, I know, and even I am not particularly religious, but I get something out of asking for forgiveness week after week. It is a moment in which I am able to see myself honestly and accept it, yet open myself up to the possibility of change.
materfamilias said…
It's a continual project, isn't it? And it takes on more meaning for me, these days, as I cradle my mother when settling her into bed with her meds, and then the next day cuddle one of my wee granddaughters. So many possibilities, so many stages, such a big and glorious dance, even in the dark corners. (I loved hearing this metaphor, as it's one I used to describe how my Dad lived so many years with cancer -- the battle/fight metaphor just never seemed so true as the notion of dancing, not celebratory dancing, necessarily, but expressive and adaptive and physically challenging and rewarding)
Kristien62 said…
I wish I could see the video- for some reason my laptop has shut down videos and needs to be fixed. I do relate to accepting oneself as you are. Although I don't like to talk about it, after my cancer surgery, I began to realize that I was enough. If that sounds strange, it simply means that I cherished all that I was and all that I had. It changed my life. It even changed how I present myself. I dress up for me. I began taking guitar lessons at 63 because I had always wanted to. I'm not perfect by any means- I need to lose weight, etc. etc. But this is what my life is and I am thrilled to be living it.
Duchesse said…
ofpinsandneedles: You're welcome and I'm happy that it spoke to you.

Susan Partian: It seems you are speaking of humility, which is another quality that has been eroded by the perfection-sellers. Humility means we witness our real selves, warts and all.

materfamilias: You are so close to both ends of life these days. I have no doubt it is a profound time.

Kristien62: Roth speaks about how much energy we waste trying to defend or cover up what we don't want to be, yet are. I have seen people come through an illness and stop doing that, and they have a clarity and lack of pretense that is startling because it's so rarely seen.
Gretchen said…
Duchesse, I like your response to Susan P: humility. That balance of recognizing we are a unique combination of greatness and flaws, accepting both, and managing to keep doing our best at what we can. Sometimes our best is less than we want or are capable of doing or being. And that's okay, too. It is the constant striving, just as much as giving up, that I find distressing. Ugh.
Viktoria Berg said…
Thank you for posting this. What an inspirational woman she is! I had to watch the video twice, just to enjoy the way she moves when she talks.

I don´t really believe in makeovers - particularly when spouses, children or friends instigate them. Ok, perhaps they want this person (a woman, most often) to be more self-appreciative, but the message comes across more like "you´re not good enough as you are". Change in how we present ourselves to the world should come from within, and be a reflection of who we are, not who we think we must be to be acceptable to others. It´s hard though. Everyone wants to be loved.
Ruthanne said…
Duchesse, I have been following your blog for several months now and I find much food for thought. Thanks so much for that. My thoughts about "a valentine to imperfection" are that I can only be who I am. I am on a journey. Accepting, changing and improving what I can when I can as long as it is part of who I am. Each day as I go along I integrate those things that I read, learn, participate in that are part of me and letting all else fall by the way side. That for me is freedom to be myself and acceptance of myself.
KSL said…
Because of my upbringing, this was an issue I had to face and deal with in a very determined way in my early 20's, and I think I did so with a fair amount of success. It's always a good subject to be conscious of though, and like most things, requires some diligence. Thanks for the lovely Valentine's post.
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: The culture rewards the striving and tries to make women feel awful when they fall short, whether it's enlarged pores or buying the wrong coffeemaker. But it's the striving that drives the economic engine.

Vicktoria: I watched "What Not to Wear" at the gym yesterday, and have to admit I had fun trying to guess what they would do. And I suspect a number of women go back to their familiar look once off-camera, and of course makeovers are only the tip of the whole woman.

And yes. loved- for who they are.

Ruthanne: The video of Roth extends your goal by diving into the totality of what one is, not just the aspiration to be more or better, and I find that so freeing. Thanks for reading.

Kathy: I've found that deep reckoning is not done once (especially in young adulthood), because we change, and life changes us. Such work happens either routinely (as Susan Partian said) or at turning points in life- decade birthdays, recovery from an illness, or other "wake up moments".

And to have begun in one's 20s prepares the base for such awareness as one moves through life. Some women don't get to it till many decades later.

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