Thursday, February 7, 2013

Perils of Perfection

It has become a staple of our lexicon:  "Pefect!  See you then."  Or "That dress looks PERFECT on you."  Harmless enough.  We say it all the time.  Yet words are powerful and we are reinforcing the myth of perfection.  Ours is a culture of superlatives.  Just ok is not ok anymore.  I noticed last night my grocery store added a freezer section entitled "Super Premium Gourmet Ice Cream." We need at least three emphatic adjectives in any situation to get our point across.  Why?  Yes, part of this is marketing.  An irritating symptom of free enterprise.  But what we create is an extention of ourselves.  In our lives, we are being pushed to be ever faster, bigger, better, stronger, super-duper, more.  What is this doing to us?

I know I'm not alone in the great effort to attempt to stop attempting to be perfect.  Since I'm not even in the same ballpark as perfect, why do I beat my head against the wall, working to get there?  Who today doesn't agonize over things they have little control over?  Or lie in bed at night worrying that things are not the way they "should" be.  Or that in any one of a million ways they are falling short of the mark in some way.  Our world is getting meaner, more disconnected, and more results-oriented than ever before.  And more impediments to our "success" arise everyday. 

In Chinese Medicine, the goal is equanimity--always to keep the body in balance with itself and in balance with nature.  Balancing yin, the cool, calm, internal feminine principle with yang, the fast, hot, external masculine is a challenge in a culture that is so skewed in favor of yang.  Our living in a very yang society shows up in our bodies.  I notice very little striving for perfect health.  Our health often takes a backseat to how much can be achieved, how much money can be earned and how much time can be 'saved.' 

I consider this to be a health crisis. I frequently see patients who are manifesting the stress of perfection-driven overwork and long hours into "idiopathic" pain, injury, disease, and mental emotional disorders. Stress, according to both Western and Chinese medicine, contributes significantly to most every disease process.  Unfortunate for those of us who live in stress-land, USA.  It often feels like the modern world will not accept anything less than perfection.

For women it's even tougher. Women also feel the insane pressure of needing to look perfect. If you've ever picked up a copy of any fashion magazine, or watched five seconds of TV, or any movie ever, you can't but know exactly what I mean. I know a woman who is seriously concerned about the shape of her bellybutton since she gave birth. She looks fantastic. But the bellybutton just isn't sleek anymore. It's slightly hooded.  For real?? What a waste of energy. The words anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation come to mind.  And I know that as a culture we can do better.  When did looking seventeen forever seem like a good idea?  A good friend told me of a sign she saw recently that moved her.  It read, "Start a Revolution.  Stop Hating Your Body."  I worry for my 7-year-old daughter who is already showing signs of body image discontent.  My work is cut out for me to help her learn to love herself, her body, and be ok with how she shows up.

For our individual and collective health, I would like to declare a moratorium on perfection.  It's killing us. I'm not saying don't do the very best you can in every moment. That is something worth striving for.  But let's celebrate our differences.  Let's embrace what makes us unique, not how well we fit in that cookie cutter or that box.  I am convinced on many levels, that complete self-acceptance and self-love is the most important ingredient to mental health.  It is also the pressure release valve for stress, which may, in large part, be an answer to all our health challenges.

We are human.  We all trip, stumble, and fall flat on our faces.  Every single one of us.  With a fair amount of frequency.  We are also capable of amazing feats of super premium daring, beautiful super sonic acts of kindness, and gourmet expressions of insane, ginormous beauty.  But let's be ok with them not being perfect.  I guess I'll have to be ok with this article not being perfect.  And I'm going to post it anyway.

My health advice today?  Chill.

Do you have any thoughts on perfection?  How to just be ok?  Post in comments.  I want to hear how you do it!

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