Emotional Health

Accepting Imperfection by Embracing Flaws

For older women, learning how to balance our wish to look as good as we can with the exigencies of aging, including weight gain, is a challenge. Scientists are increasingly learning how hard it is to approach weight control in a healthy way, with the dangers of persistent failure on one side and eating disorders on the other.

If you judge yourself through the lens of perfectionism, you will always come up short. No one is good at everything and demanding that of yourself is a form of cruelty—you don’t demand it of your loved ones or your friends. When we demand it of politicians, celebrities, and sports stars we are always disappointed. Lack of self-love makes you more aware of your flaws than you need to be, because they have no place in a perfect picture. And yet, like the Japanese, you can learn to see the good in imperfections, and accept them as parts of the whole that enhance rather than detract from beauty and originality.

In the realm of physical beauty, consider the case of Actress Jennifer Grey. A few years after her smash hit movie “Dirty Dancing,” she chose to have her nose made smaller. “I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous,” she said. “It was the nose job from hell. I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody recognizes because of a nose job.”

However, I don’t think it was the lack of recognition that wrecked her career. Before the procedure, Grey had a distinctive nose—irregular and different from the average actress, but it was part of her beauty and what made her so extremely appealing. After the surgery, she looked like every other pretty young actress in Hollywood. She looked good, no doubt, but not nearly as good as she had when her face was so distinctly and uniquely attractive.

I have never heard anyone complain about Robert Redford’s large jaw, outsized head, or the two prominent moles on his face. It all works together to make him one of the most attractive actors of his generation. If he were any more perfect looking he might be too bland to be appealing. Movie stars, in contrast to models, are often successful because of their unique and distinctive looks. Being flawless is not as good as being attractive in a personal, arresting way. Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis might never have been famous had they tried to be less “imperfect.” Imagine if Katharine Hepburn had taken elocution lessons to modify her voice or accent, or if Mae West had gone on a crash diet? If Clark Gable had his big ears fixed he might still have been great looking, but I’m not sure I would love him quite as much.

Of course, all these people have great strengths and talents and their imperfections are not serious. But self-love entails loving the person you are, and as we will learn in part three, it gives you the compassion to accept your flaws, and, equally important, become the person you can be by maximizing your strengths.

As more and more women embrace the idea that it is OK to accept the body you have, things may get easier. We have to be aware that as 21st century women, we are especially vulnerable to the distortions of our digital culture emphasizing that a woman is only as valuable as she is pretty. Health, vibrancy, and wellness can be worthy goals at any age and any weight. By focusing on the positive reasons for caring for your body (“I want to be well and healthy”), rather than the negative (“I’m fat, I look terrible, etc.”) attention to eating and exercise can be transformed from a punishment to an active act of self-care. And possibly even an act of rebellion.




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