I’m still thinking about this born-to-be-real-not-perfect thing. One of my friends commented that one is often as difficult as the other, almost, and something in me stood up and yelled a figurative, “Amen!” just like Larry Johnston used to, not figuratively, in church.
I think we live in a culture that demands perfection. Open any magazine or watch any ad—or almost any movie–and you’ll see it staring back at you from a face with perfect skin, perfect teeth, perfect hair, and perfect eyes. Media does more than just demand perfection, though. It defines it for us in terms of chiseled abs and arms, tiny waists, long legs, and big boobs. We can’t get away from these images even if we try because they pervade every aspect of our lives. Like any toxic relationship, it’s exhausting to deal with it all of the time, but living in the world leaves us no other choice.
I’m media literate, and I teach critical engagement with media to my students and kids all of the time, so even though it’s tiring, I think I fight a good fight not to let media images define me. At least I don’t consciously swallow the poison definition our culture tries to feed me of what it means to be physically beautiful. But something I find almost as insidious as this external Barbie Doll culture (or possibly worse?) is what we do to our internal selves.
What I mean by this is that, even among people who recognize the illusion of physical perfection, it seems there persists a need to present the illusion of a perfect life—perfect marriage, perfect job, perfect kids, perfect house, perfect whatever. Maybe Americans do this because we have this historical idea of a perfect country, with perfect democracy, the American dream. Maybe Christians do it because Jesus was perfect and we want to be like Him, or somewhere along the line we developed the idea we need to be perfect to represent our faith well. I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. And when we perpetuate this lie we hurt ourselves and others.
I have an impulse to create an image of perfection for my life. I think we all do. I see it in myself almost every moment of every day. My default position is to hide my imperfections, not show any weakness, not tell the stories of my failures. Why? Because it’s scary to tell the truth—to be seen and known and sometimes judged and rejected. But I have found that the flip side of that fear is freedom. Not only for myself, but other people. Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 ESV)
Yesterday something happened that illustrates this real-versus-perfect dichotomy. It was therapeutic for me as well as my perfectionistic male offspring. Harper played in a basketball game and did a lot of good things–some might say perfect things. And I did lots of cheering. At the buzzer, he grabbed a rebound in his spectacular, muscly style. Then he went back up strong, just like he’s been working on, and scored a basket. Whoo hoo! I cheered louder than ever. The crowd went crazy. The only problem was, it the opposing team’s crowd. Harper closed his eyes and grimaced. He just scored a basket for the other team.
I bit my nails as I waited for Harper to come out of the locker room. One by one his teammates appeared, but no Harper. I felt like I’d swallowed a bucket of rocks. When he finally emerged, I searched his face for signs of stress or sadness. To my great relief, he grinned at me. He climbed up in the stands where Stone and I were sitting. “I heard you cheering, Mom. The only one as dumb as me in the whole gym was you.”
I nodded. “You know you can count on me, Harper.” He hugged me and we had a good laugh at our own expense.
For the more highly evolved than Harper and me, this may not sound funny, or like much of an accomplishment. But for people like us, who tend to place too much of our value in our ability to not make mistakes, it’s a slam dunk.
Ps. Heathcliff, in her loving way, offered me some more therapy this morning via text. I suppose I was a bit hostile in my attitude toward lemonade makers in my last post. I know they mean well and who am I to judge anyway?! I’m sorry. I want everyone to feel safe here.