I am a hypocrite. There, I said it. I live a double standard.
It’s early afternoon, and I’m dressing.
“I have no idea what to wear,” I say, frustrated at the pile of clothes I have just dumped on the bed after emptying my suitcase after a trip “home” to see my mom. As soon as I sweep in the front door, the cyclone devastation of clothes, shoes, and snotty tissues follows me.
“You could just wear that,” he says, hungrily eyeing my pink sports bra and my black underwear with the pink hearts.
“I hate to be naked. You know that,” I say, without a moment’s hesitation, not even looking at him. And there he is, suddenly shut down, suddenly quiet.
“I know,” he says, defeated. He tells me that it’s a real boost of his self-confidence that his opinion on the matter seems to mean so little to me. All the while, I am assuring him, “This is not about you. It has nothing to do with you.” And it doesn’t. Not really. But still. It seems to him like it does. And maybe, just maybe, he’s right. After he leaves for work, I begin thinking about what my negative self-image must do to him. What it must mean. And even moreso, what it does to me. To us. I’m the kind of girl who can hate herself, her body, what it can do, while still encouraging you to love your own. What a hypocrite. Sure, there are things I could do to make it better. I could get up earlier (“early” isn’t even a word in my vocabulary); I could get in the gym (I already have access to two free gyms); I could eat better food (there’s always tomorrow. Always.); but I don’t. I’m not what anyone would probably call “fat.” I wear my weight well. I get that from my mom. I have an hourglass figure: big breasts and hips, small waist. But I can feel my back fat like arms hugging me when I stand, sit, or drive. I hate that feeling. The feeling that someone is behind me, holding me down to the earth. The clingyness of it all.
I don’t expect perfection from others. I love the curves of other people, my mom’s, my sister’s, my best friend’s, my partner’s, and I love people for their hearts and souls without even considering their bodies at all. I simply cannot give that same love to myself. Despite all my love for human individuality, for my friends and their remarkable personalities and all the things that make them different, I still can’t help but hold up that media-presented image of ideal perfection to myself: a constant overlay like the clear plastic pages in anatomy books that show the human organ systems, one on top of the other, peeling layer by layer until nothing remains but the skeleton. No matter how much I try to look past it, there it is. And, like the skeletal system, that ideal is woven into my bones. Even though it’s the story plots and characters I watch, I can’t help but notice that no one on my favorite shows looks like me. Paunch on a man might be acceptable, but nowhere is there a woman who isn’t skinny, with taut muscles and shiny, perfect skin. Certainly not one who survives the zombie apocalypse. My favorite television show whispers quietly to me that women like me don’t survive: women with imperfect skin and wobbly bellies, lax arm muscles and crooked knees. It isn’t just that message that women like me don’t survive, but more that they shouldn’t survive: that they’re not worth saving. Even though, statistically and biologically, women like me have a much stronger chance of survival because we have more fat and more insulation and fewer muscles to feed feed feed—it still doesn’t register. The Hollywood ideal is still too firmly ingrained in me from years of watching the stories Americans tell each other on TV. I can run myself down for my lack of muscle tone or taut belly, all while loving people for who they are and willing them to survive and thrive no matter what they look like. So why can’t I accept this imperfection in myself? Why can’t I love the body that carries me and feels things and makes my heart beat and my brain think and my soul love? Why can’t I just get over it?
I return, then, to the thought of what my partner must feel every time I put myself down. I’m telling myself to get get get to the gym, to tow some weights, to run some hills. What he wants to do is cuddle down with me on the bed in front of the television, to have a delicious, fattening dinner with me, or to whisper nerdy stuff into my hair as we hold each other, wobbly bits and bubbly folds to folds. But I can’t hear him so often because of the insane buzz buzz buzz in my head telling me to be better. Telling me to do do DO. Still, I’m smart enough to know that even though I have the capability to do, certain things happen if I actually begin to do all the things I say. More time in the gym is less time spent with those I love. It’s less time spent with writing, with my friends, in conversation. And the more I bulk up and tone down, in essence, the lonelier I become: because all these things I want to do, believe I should do, are solitary things I must do alone and away from those for whom I claim I’m doing them.
Also, the “better” I get in my own mind, the more likely others are to drift away from me: to feel “left” in some way as I try to get better and better, running faster and faster, leaving them behind. Not only have I left them in my mind (because I’m busy thinking about all the things that must be done, that won’t get done unless I absolutely do them myself, and RIGHT NOW), I’ve left them emotionally, because if something is standing in the way between me and a task, I’m like a fucking bloodhound and get out of my way out of my way out of my way until I can Finish. It.
In my mind, there will always be time to hold my partner, laugh with my sister, watch terrible reality TV with my parents. But…there isn’t. We are all getting older. My parents are getting older. Eventually, they will die, and I will no longer be able to run home to mommy when things aren’t going my way. People grow apart. People leave. Things change. And already, so often, I’m stuck somewhere, alone, doing something that, in the end, doesn’t fucking matter. My sister and her husband are going to dinners and on vacations without me and my partner. We watch the same TV shows in the same house but at different times and in different rooms. My partner goes to work alone and comes home alone after hours to find me sitting at my computer working at something that I am constantly running after and never catching. I can’t slow down. I can’t stop. If I do, something will catch up to me, surpass me, bowl me over. If I stop, I’ll get behind. I’ll let someone down. Something bad will happen. But…something bad is already happening. And I’m already letting someone down. Someone very special to me. And I’m letting myself down, too.
All because I keep on chasing an ideal I’ll never reach: perfection. The thing about perfection is this: it’s deceptive. It tells you that if you are perfect, you’ll have everything you need and everything you want. You’ll have friends who love being around you because you always know what to do and look so good. They’ll bask in the glow of you and your perfection. You’ll have money because you’ll know exactly what opportunities to take and exactly how to make things happen. You’ll be a leader because you’ll be strong and even ruthless when you need to be. But…here’s the truth. Perfection is the embodiment of loneliness. To be perfect means that you will be perfect all by your little lonesome. The truth is that your perfection will make others feel bad about themselves. They’ll assume you view everyone else through a perfect lens and that they’ll never, ever, measure up. They’ll shy away from you because they don’t like standing in the mirror of your complete perfection. People will see your perfection and assume, wrongfully, that you have all the friends you need and so what would you want with them anyway? You’ll be unable to think of anyone to call for help, because, as a perfect person, you don’t need help anyway. You’ve got this. Your capability is perfect. You don’t need anyone. As a perfect leader, people will follow you, sure, but you will always be looking forward, and won’t be able to hear their whispers about you behind your back. It may be whispers of admiration, but chances are, it will be more along the lines of, “who does she think she is anyway?” In your inimitible quest for perfection, you will sacrifice. Sacrifice time with friends and family, time with your partner, time with nature. You’ll get up that extra hour early and hit the gym, maybe even while the world is sleeping, but your lover, who probably won’t feel as compelled toward perfection as you, will be sleeping alone in a different room. Possibly even dreaming of someone else. Someone who makes them feel more perfect. As a perfect writer, your writing is so perfect that everyone stops sharing their writing with you. Suddenly, nothing they could ever express could be as meaningful and as perfect as what you are currently expressing right now. And so, they will wall themselves off, refusing to share their feelings, their writing, their dreams, because their dreams are full of imperfections and vulnerabilities. You find yourself removed from the world you live in, always outside the flow of things, because you’re too perfect to put yourself in a position where there is even a remote likelihood of drowning. Perfection casts a shadow over everyone else, and because it’s something you achieve alone, it’s something you will live in…alone.
And still. Even though I know this, and tell myself this, over and over, I cannot escape the enticing promises of perfection. There is still that overlay, that desire, burning inside me to always be better…do better. No matter what I do, it’s never enough. And if I am never enough, my partner thinks, “what’s to make her think I am enough?” I have now effectively transferred my self-doubt to my partner, who, this morning, was quite happy just to be alive, just to have me home again, but now feels my weight. Not my actual weight, but the mental weight of my constant, unattainable desire for perfection at all costs. He smiles at me and says it’s okay, but there’s this deep pain there that I can never fully eradicate. Once again, I’ve broken something, because I feel I must be perfect instead of simply be. Everything I have worked to build could be crushed by my perfect hands. How does this make my partner feel? My lover? The man who tells me, “You may not be perfect, but you’re perfect for me”? I push him away, refusing to let him love me because I cannot love myself. My words say one thing, “I love you. You love me. That’s all that matters!” But my actions reveal me as a true hypocrite.
“Fine,” my actions say, “if the world doesn’t punish me for my imperfection, I will.”
And so, this morning, when my partner compliments me, I can only hear it, perceive it, through the overlay of perfection that films my eyes. He says, “I think you’re perfect, just the way you are.”
“Yes,” I say. “But…”