‘Perfect? Me? You’ve got to be joking’.
Perfect is a word we rarely, if ever, apply to ourselves. We use it for others, as in ‘she has perfect skin’ or a ‘perfect figure’ but use it to describe ourselves? Not likely. We believe we would sound arrogant in the extreme. Similarly, we find it much, much harder to answer the question ‘what do you like about your appearance?’ than ‘what you would change about your appearance, if you could?’ We have aspirations for longer legs, flatter tummies, straighter noses, clearer skin…. You name it and we might want to change it. We know we’re not perfect.
It used to be that any less than perfect female could comfortably shrug her shoulders over her shortcomings and think something along the lines of ‘well, I might have big bum but I’ve a great smile and gorgeous hair’. Nowadays it feels like there is such a ‘pressure to be perfect’ that we are at risk of losing our sense of perspective; we can’t see past the ‘big bum’, but not because it’s any bigger than before! We seem to have lost our ability to tolerate our short-comings. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have spoken to a lovely looking woman who completely fails to see any of her own redeeming features because she is so distressed over that one thing that seems so overwhelmingly repulsive: ‘too much fat around the tops of my thighs’, ‘flab that wobbles about under my upper arms’, ‘one breast larger than the other’. Sometimes I feel like shouting at them ‘Look at you! You are gorgeous! You are amazing! Honestly no one even notices the problem that you are so upset about’ but these women can’t hear me. They are sold on perfection. They’ve been made to believe it’s achievable, if they just try hard enough, or save up enough money for the surgery. The reason they are deaf to any good news about their looks is because they have become convinced they are deeply unattractive.
Apparently it has been estimated that the average woman sees between 2,000 and 5,000 air-brushed, computer enhanced images of ‘perfection’ in female form a week. It seems to me that many women these days feel a greater pressure to ‘look good’ and a more acute sense of inadequacy over their own perceived shortcomings. I’ve recently been asking women to list the feelings that are generated by the physical feature they most dislike. Here are some of the words I’ve had back: embarrassment, guilt, shame, anger, abhorrence, disgust, frustration, misery and self-consciousness. Strong words!
Now most of us don’t like to admit that we are unduly influenced by culture or advertising but clearly none of us are immune. Maybe you are reading this thinking ‘I’m completely at home with my imperfections’ and if that’s the case, good for you! I’d still be delighted to hear from you how you manage to feel so positive in a negative world. Even if you personally are very secure about your looks, there is a woman near you, someone you love, maybe your daughter, your sister, your friend, someone whose life experiences and self-confidence is being sapped by this constant pressure to be perfect or by their constant sense of failure.
It is for these women that I am researching and writing a book to be published by Lion Hudson in Spring 2010 called How to Feel Good Naked. It will be a walk through the worlds of diet, exercise and fashion. I hope to show just how much pressure we are under as well as give some easy ways to help us feel more body-confident. Written from my perspective as a Christian, the book will conclude by looking at the power of unconditional love to bring us joy and self-confidence.
I would love to include in the book the voices, feelings and experiences of women of all shapes and ages. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire on this topic please click on the link below. Your response is completely confidential. It will only take a few minutes to complete, if you are happy for me to quote you please be sure to give me a first name (it does not have to be your real name) otherwise you can leave that question blank.