Why does it bother me when I feel my thighs touch?
I don’t mean see my thighs touch. If and when that happens so that I can see it in a reflective surface, I like it. It symbolizes, for me, that I am a woman, with curves and fat and shape. I am real.
I am not nor will I ever be, perfect. And I never will be.
Neither will you. Neither will any of us
And while I often try to be inclusive in my language, today I specifically mean us as women.
This isn’t revolutionary news to you. We know that we will never be perfect, and, in large part, we present ourselves that way, especially in the blogworld. Through a community of women, we can acknowledge that we have flaws, that we struggle, that we are delightfully imperfect.
But society still tells us otherwise. Through advertisements, media, weight loss videos, “healthy” living tips, and more, we are constantly subjected to an ideal woman who has perfect skin, a thigh gap, great hair, toned abs, always looks presentable, never wears pjs to the grocery store, and is often of a certain age and ethnicity. Those images create an ideal of woman that requires perfection, and while we might know it is impossible and unrealistic (in fact, we have seen how the use of digital manipulation shows that the images we see are not even real), those images are pervasive.
As women, we constantly subject ourselves to self-surveillance, ask ourselves, “how do we look?” and measure that against how we think we should look. Our definition of perfection is defined by the most recent advertisement, news article and yes, even blog post. We have dandruff, dry skin, acne, wrinkles – HUGE problems. This is capitalism, yes, because we are told that we must buy a product to fix that, but this also goes much deeper. In defining perfection as something that someone else has but we lack, we also become of aware of ourselves in a new, critical way. Suddenly, something that was a part of our body that we may not have given much attention to before becomes a problem. And it is hard to move away from that even if you reject the commercial or recognize the “ideal” woman advertising the product as unrealistic.
I’ll provide a more tangible and personal example. Eight years ago now, before the Lululemon hullabaloo about thighs touching, I had no idea this was a bad, “imperfect” thing. But even though I recognized how wrong it was to measure myself to an ideal (as defined by one person or groups of persons), I became aware of the gap between my thighs. And even now, over five years later, I am uncomfortable in my body when I feel my thighs touch. Rationally, I know that I am the same person, runner, scholar, worker, sister, daughter, blogger, etc regardless of what my thighs are doing. But I can’t turn off the subconscious feeling that it is wrong, it is an imperfection, and society tells us that we must work to fix our imperfections.
This is clearly something that I struggle with, with roots that go deeper than lululemon leggings. But the feeling that we are imperfect and must continually strive for perfection is a feeling that I think we, women, all women, can identify with. It goes deeper than appearance too – we are told that we should have it all – motherhood, career, wonderful marriage, etc. But first, we must look a certain way to even make those things possible. If we want to be successful in our career, we are taught through magazines, commercials and even at the institutions themselves, that we must look a certain way. How we look is suddenly so much more than our appearance. As women, it is our ticket to be successful on every front. We are told that our appearance must be our first priority – and until we reach perfect, we must try every avenue, buy every product, focus on every last detail of our body, just to get there. Just thinking about it is exhausting. Imagine doing it.
Except that we already do it, at least to some degree or another.
This is problematic because it creates a cycle where we are constantly evaluating ourselves and finding ourselves lacking. This process continues as we learn new things that are imperfect, and it creates a never ending list of what needs to be fixed. As we do that, our self-hatred increases, and even when we somehow reach one goal, we find that, inexplicably, there are even more things we need to fix. Perfection is unattainable no matter how hard we try, and instead our self-confidence and self-worth suffers. This is a cycle that affects each of us to some degree, and it is time-consuming, negative, and counter-productive.
I am not suggesting that wanting to look our best, to get healthy, to lose weight, wear make up, shave, is, in itself, inherently wrong. But I hope that we can recognize how we are socialized by society to do those things – and make informed decisions about whether we choose to do them or not. Maybe I don’t need to buy anti-wrinkle cream because wrinkles, a representation of the aging process, also represents my own personal progress and developing wisdom. Or, I want to lose weight so that I am [fill in the blank here] able to go up the stairs without being out of breath, swim with the Sharks, climb Everest, etc. but not to look like x. Even more importantly, I think it is important that we consistently identify these discourses for ourselves and the other women in our lives. Celebrate and embrace the women we are right now. Dismantle, step by step, the impossible standard we’ve set for ourselves and replace it with a goal of what we want to accomplish and let that guide our personal standards.
Perfection is impossible.
And just imagine what we can do with our time when we stop, consciously or subconsciously, pursuing it.