I’m being told, by individual mouths as well as much of my culture, that I should be upset and/or ashamed that my body is, at age 38, no longer “perfect”.
Well, it wasn’t perfect before. Or rather, if I looked at my 20-year-old body now I might say, “Perfect!”, but I never felt nor was allowed to feel like it was perfect then; and in strict terms it was never true — I’ve always had the uneven breasts, thick legs and most of the scars, for starters. And I was obsessed with that inch of belly-fat back then; I hated it and myself, because I was told to, every day. It was awful, and my body and I had such a terrible relationship for a while because of it. Even though it looked “perfect”, or so I’m told now.
So it’s hard to grieve for this “perfection” that never felt like mine to begin with. Perfection seems like something that’s only designed to be appreciated from afar — i.e. when you have it, you can’t enjoy it; and once you lose it you’re supposed to feel sad. …I smell bullshit.
If, however, “perfect” is a designation relative to a thing’s use, or the zeitgeist it’s in, then my body is undeniably MORE perfect now than it ever was in my numerical youth. I’ve found parts of life to occupy where my breast-evenness doesn’t matter at all (or is interesting, or even “cute” and exciting to people), and where most of the people around me love my leg-muscles and sure as hell don’t mind scars. This body is also flexible, has great endurance, and is usually pain-free — things that might have also been true before, but which I was in no position to appreciate. I’ve taught it to dance, and do kungfu, and swim and climb — all in the last decade. Every day it gives me new opportunities to play with and learn balance, strength, relaxation, and a host of other amazing skills that a) I couldn’t gain without a body, one that has limits and challenges; and b) a perfect-looking body wouldn’t help me obtain one whit.
I feel joy and appreciation for my body daily, now, partly because it has taught me how to seek and find and experience so many wonderful things. Is that not what having a perfect body is like? Daily joy and appreciation?
“OK, so you’re lucky,” they say, “but as time goes on, your body’s going to fall apart.” Yes, thank you; I knew that. I’ve actually had it fall apart already, several times in several ways. I know what it is to be unperfect in the sense that you can’t walk because you have 250 stitches in your gut, and to use crutches because the damn knee is acting up again, and other such things. (I’ve also gotten to re-learn walking and then for good measure learn to do plank push-ups, which I never could before the gut-surgery; and I’ve gotten to grit my teeth and train like crazy until the bum knee never lands me in crutches anymore — all wonderful, brilliant gifts that my body gave me by failing to be flaw-free.)
“But you won’t be able to look attractive when naked anymore.” I love when people say this, because thank you for holding up a giant sign that says “I’M BAD AT SEX, DON’T BOTHER” — I’ve got a long list of potential lovers, and I appreciate the administrative help identifying the ones who aren’t worth the effort. The more years of experience I rack up with attraction, sex, and love — all things I was a flailing newb at, at 20 — the more important it becomes to me to have partners who are good at it: And people who think that judging someone’s looks against preconceived models is any part of foreplay are, I can say with confidence, terrible lovers 100% of the time. (People who are *not* my potential partners who judge what they think I look like naked and whether it would be “good enough” for them to fuck are not just bad at sex, they’re gross and inappropriate, and they can rest assured that this body is way more likely to punch them than get in their beds. Perhaps they should be looking at its form and strength more than its scars and skin, because it might help them to know that I throw one hell of a punch — way harder now than when I was 20. And I like punching almost as much as I like sex, so it’s all good by me. ;)
When we say that something is “perfect”, are we calling it immortal, unchangeable? If so, then “perfect” is a simply meaningless word. If not, then no breakage, aging, or failure of any part of my body makes it less perfect. It just makes it a perfect, mortal, changing thing, that yes, will eventually give out entirely. Exactly the same can be said for a perfect flower, a perfect animal, a perfect forest or a perfect star.
And if you ask me today, with a few more inches of belly-fat and a few more scars, to imagine and name off the perfect things in this world, well. This body, that’s driven me all around the planet for all these years, that’s taught me brilliant lessons and brought me amazing pleasure in a thousand ways, is one of the first things that leaps to mind.