It seems strange to write this in a culture obsessed with perfection. But what is stranger perhaps, is that perfection is as much a construction as most other things; a dynamic idea that lives in the collective imagination of a people. Whether it’s bodies or art or rhetoric, or anything you can think of, we collectively negotiate and are in conversation essentially about a standard by which to determine things. And the height of this standard is perfect. But think of anything that you love, anything or anyone you think is beautiful – a painting, a book, a person – is it perfect? Are they perfect? Notwithstanding personal religious beliefs, my answer is always no.
Beauty itself has a standard, a standard that is wrought with biases and prejudice and cultural specifications and implications. Despite knowing that our understanding of beauty is limited not only because of our humanity, but because of the diverse ways in which we are socialized, we still have this yearning for reaching this standard of perfection in the things and the people we consider beautiful. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to others? Why do we claim to want something futile and unattainable?
Perhaps if you believe as I do that there is a Creator and the Creator is perfect, and so our soul might have a predisposition to seek out perfection. But even within these theological constructs, it would be misguided to look for that perfection in ordinary beings, that I might encounter in a Supreme Being. After all, the world is fallen and if we take that for granted, then everything contains something good and beautiful. But also something tainted with the consequence of imperfection in a fallen world.
I often wonder how many people go to bed at night feeling so inadequate about who they are – from the features on their face, to the curves on their bodies; from head to spirit to soul to toe. I wonder about this because I find that all of us are so critical of ourselves, and not in way that is particularly beneficial. If you take perhaps half a day to listen to how you talk about yourself, you will realize that it’s incredibly suffocating much of the time. You are suffocating yourself in your expectations of perfection.
And of course these endless critiques are not limited to the person we see in the mirror. We transfer them to those around us, and we are often harsher than necessary. It makes sense. How can you be kind to others when you are not kind to yourself? We inflict upon each other these near impossible standards and expectations, and we are all founding wanting because of it. Ironically, it demonstrates further how we are creatures of imperfection.
Perhaps then it is in the brokenness of the things that make up our lives, that we ought to really search for beauty. Perhaps that is the only way to really find it, and to find often. Moreover, I am not sure a single perfect thing exists on this earth; I think that our constructions deceive us and limit us even more than we are already, in this state of being. I think it is better to still find beauty in the cruel, shameful, and ugly parts of life. I think that sort of beauty is resilient and mysterious and spectacular; and above all, honest. I think that sort of beauty lasts forever.
Beautiful things aren’t perfect.