Growing up, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King was my absolute FAVORITE book. I must’ve read that giant tome a dozen times during my preteen and teen years, and even now its gorgeous prose still haunts me. White’s take on the Arthurian legends included numerous unexpected twists and bizarre plot devices, but this one was by far my favorite:
At some point in the course of the Camelotian hoo-ha, everybody decides it’s time to hunt down the Holy Grail. And the knights get all jazzed and pack up their knightly belongings in preparation for the big quest. But there’s a catch, and it’s a doozy. Not only is the Grail fairly hard to track down, but the person who actually finds it will immediately achieve total perfection … and, therefore, cease to exist.*
I LOVED THAT.
Still do, actually. We’ve all been told that aiming for perfection is a surefire way to construct a life of misery and disappointment, but this theory takes it a step further. This theory makes such unforgiving, self-defeating folly MORTALLY DANGEROUS!
I try to hold this idea in mind when I descend into body-related self-flagellation. There are many things I need to do to keep my body happy and healthy and beautiful. My body needs maintenance and care and love, exercise and nutrients and grooming, and it benefits from all of these things. But my body does NOT benefit from unproductive comparisons to idealized figures. It does not benefit from self-loathing or outright neglect. And, above all, it does not benefit from being scolded for its imperfections.
Because my body cannot be perfect, and expecting it to be perfect poisons my relationship with it. And I’d like to think that, on some level, my body knows that if it were to achieve physical perfection, it would flippin’ vanish. IT knows that its very imperfections are what make it uniquely mine and uniquely gorgeous … and that these imperfections are what root it to this earthly plane.
Now, I realize that we’ve all got different ideas of what a “perfect” body might look like. And some are celebrity-based, and some are 100% personal, and some are a mixture. But regardless of origins, the vast majority of us have cultivated some ideal, some mental image of what the perfect female form would look like … even if we’ve never seen that form in real life. And many of us, consciously or unconsciously, compare our current selves to that template of perfection on a regular basis.
And from there flows the poison.
So even if you aren’t prepared to buy into this whole perfection-as-vaporization deal, give some thought to your personal body standards. As damaging as it may be, we can’t help comparing ourselves to others, and imagining their lots as better than our own. But placing too much focus outside ourselves just leads to detachment and emptiness, especially when it comes to something as grounding and vital as a body awareness. Cultivate presence in your own body by exploring its quirks and strengths, imperfections and assets. And even if you can’t love and accept those imperfections outright, work on making a kind of peace with them. Because hating them and wishing them away won’t actually change them; It’ll just make you a bitter and angry imperfect person. Your perfection-as-vaporization mechanism functions a little differently: You never achieve perfection, yet you eradicate yourself irregardless. A lose-lose, no?
In the end, it was young, handsome, well-nigh-flawless Galahad who nabbed the Grail. And then POOF! Buh-bye. Merlyn and Arthur and Morgan Le Fay, in all their flawed glory, got to live and love and learn. With their cowlicks and potbellies, their gray hairs and zits, their brittle nails and cellulite. Their imperfections drew them together, colored their stories … even kept them alive.
Maybe yours are the only things keeping you from vanishing in a puff of smoke. Maybe not. But do you really want to test that theory?
*Perhaps this idea originated elsewhere, but I read a LOT of Arthurian stuff as a kid and I never came across it in other texts.
Originally posted 2009-07-07 05:46:00.