The Illusion of Perfection

The go-to motto for advertisers used to be Sex Sells. Perhaps that saying still holds true-for the younger crowd. But for the over fifties advertisers are hitting a new nerve—there’s a new motto in town—Perfection Sells.

But here’s the deal, or at least what I have discovered to be true for me: Perfection is just an illusion and attempting to achieve it is wickedly unhealthy, creating feelings of failure and inadequacy.

Maybe this idea of perfection is nothing new. I recall my mother meeting other mothers at the grocery store and everyone waxing poetic about their successful, perfect children. Just once I longed to hear some mother say something, anything, totally honest. “My kid sucks,” for example. But mostly, in my teenage years, I thought the bragging was funny. It’s as if I was immune to perfection from my teens through my forties. (Maybe I could go to the doctor for a booster shot).

I’m now in my fifties, and to be honest, I have never been a particularly tidy person. And one of my favorite ideas, stolen from a woman who had twelve children, was to leave a vacuum in the middle of the living room this way if unexpected company popped in you could claim to be “in the middle of vacuuming!”

In my house, we live among piles of mail, trails of shoes, tossed backpacks, and a variety of colorful water bottles. Sips and Swells and those that are BPA friendly. That has, for the last 25 years, been my “normal.” But suddenly, or what feels like suddenly to me, there are a plethora of home renovation shows on television and magazines on display at the grocery store, creating fantasy living space I am not immune to coveting. And I’m not talking about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous where the homes are so unattainable they’re funny, I mean 3-bedroom 2 ½ bath homes over, under and in my price range. I drool at finished mud rooms; the kind with bead board, ship lap, and cubbies for every person. Laundry rooms the size of a master bedroom with granite counters and built in drying racks turn me green with envy. And kitchens? The kind with cleared countertops with nary but a silver tray of green apples? I want to live there. Badly. But the concept of that sleek, smart, styled look is making me sick, mostly because I want it so badly, but it is entirely unrealistic. We live in our house. We eat those green apples, so by day’s end that beautiful silver tray filled with shiny green apples is empty.

This is when I must remind myself. The silver tray with the green apples is not real. It is a decoration. Nothing more than a prop on a movie set.

My family, eating the green apples, is real.

And the mail, dumped on the tray, where the green apples used to be, is real.

And the fact that there are bills, in the mail, dumped on the tray, where the green apples used to be is real.

And the job I must go to every day to pay the bills, in the mail, dumped on the tray, where the green apples used to be, is real.

And the breakfast dishes left on the counter, so I won’t be late for the job I must go to every day, to pay the bills, in the mail, dumped on the tray, where the green apples used to be, is real.

Illusions are pretty, desirable even, but not practical. Illusions can make us sick. It is exhausting trying to sustain a look that’s not real, creating feelings of anxiety. Perhaps some people can live that way, replacing the shiny green apples every morning. I can’t. And more importantly, I don’t want to. I thought I wanted to because I let myself get swept up by the pictures and the motto. Why? Because Perfection Sells. And I can achieve that perfect look for one shiny moment, but alas, with the bite of a green apple, the moment is gone. But what’s left is even better. My family. My real, imperfect, apple eating family.

Perfection doesn’t exist. Not on Facebook, where the shiny happy people live. Not on television where the houses are renovated in a 30-minute show. Not in glossy magazines where the models, from plus sized to petite, have perfect hair, curves and makeup. Perfection is merely and illusion.

I have decided to give up on perfection and give in to what’s real. As I ready myself to bite into a shiny green apple, I realize I am healthier for it.

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