Lessons in Imperfection
In years gone by, I’ve often started a new year with a resolutions post (if that’s your bag – check out some old ones here), but this year I felt like it would be more apt to start the year on a different note.
I touched on what being a perfectionist really means here, and I thought the first week of January was maybe the best time to spill all I’ve learnt about what ‘perfect’ really means. Hint, there’s no such thing… Learning that life isn’t perfect and neither are you or the people you love, is easy in theory but incredibly hard in actuality. I love how many lovely comments I get on instagram and on this blog but so many of them contain the word ‘perfect’. I get it, I use that word all the time too. But with news that the Western world is more depressed than ever and social media potentially has a lot to do with that, I felt like I wanted to break down this whole idea of perfection that seems to secretly haunt us all, myself included. Lot’s of this is about body image but sadly as women, I do think that is something we all still battle with and it’s often the outside bits of ourselves we find the hardest to make peace with. But we can often be hard on the inside of us too… From whether you said something stupid, whether that person likes you, did you talk too much or not enough… These internal negative voices can be hard to turn off and seem to hold us accountable to every single supposed weakness of ours. And that’s before we’ve even started on our thighs…
So let’s make 2017 the year we stop striving for perfection and start embracing the ups and down of life and ourselves.
For Every Picture You See, There Are Dozens You Don’t
I know from experience that from every trip or any shoot, there are dozens of photos I wouldn’t put on social media compared to the handful I would. Lighting, angles and just general luck makes the difference between a flattering shot and something you’d rather forget and I would hazard a guess that maybe even Victoria Secret girls have outtakes from shoots where there’s a dimple or a roll they choose not to share. Ok, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but genuinely I really believe that while we are lulled into believing all these girls on instagram look effortlessly fantastic all day everyday, we are all human at the end of the day. And if they do look damn amazing all day, so what? That’s one tiny part of who they are and they probably work damn hard on that part of themselves. I’m not in any way saying we should look for the bad bits of people, exactly the opposite in fact. But what we need to do is stop believing we are somehow unworthy because we have cellulite or stretch marks or rolls on our stomach when we sit down. That’s normal kids. I loved Leandra’s piece on learning to love her ‘resting belly face’ and it’s so true; we all have our ‘stuff’ and it’s about reframing our view of it to go from hate to love.
Hard On Yourself, Hard On Others
Maya Angelou once cited an African proverb of ‘be careful of the naked man who offers you a shirt’ and the same is true with love. If we’re inwardly hard on ourselves, holding up our every flaw and failing for contempt, even if only inwardly, we’re probably going to be really hard and down on the people around us. So if you’re keen to be kinder and less critical to your significant other or family, the first step is learning to accept your own flaws and be kind to yourself. Often the parts of our boyfriends/girlfriends we like the least (or drive us CRAZY) are the parts we ourselves mirror and dislike in ourselves. My new favourite mantra is to hold up a mirror before you hold up a magnifying glass and go from there.
Behind What’s Online
No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and that’s never been truer than the online world we create for ourselves. I’m a natural sharer and love posting things I’m into online, but I definitely don’t share everything, and I’ve realised so much of what we see online is a curated, edited glimpse of someone’s life and far from the whole story. I’m as guilty as the next person of looking at others and thinking they have nothing to worry about and their lives are free of stress, problems and anguish. And maybe they are which would be amazing wouldn’t it? But the main thing to know is that for the most part, all that’s really important in life goes on behind the ‘grams and behind every seemingly perfect relationship, perfect body and perfect life, there’s other stuff going on that is just as much a part of a successful life as all the good stuff. Know that everyone has bad weeks, even if their online persona is consistently sunny. In that sense, we should all have compassion online. I had a tough few months in 2016 and when I got a few negative comments here and there, even something super simple like ‘I’m sorry Lucy but I really don’t like this outfit’ it touched a nerve far more than it would have done if I’d been feeling strong and happy. It made me realise that even the smallest slight can have a huge impact on someone’s day and none of us know what kind of day someone is having, so it’s up to us to think before we act and realise there is a human behind every instagram account. If you don’t like it, unfollow it. Unless you want to troll Trump or Katie Hopkins on twitter and then by all means go ahead… Kidding. Kind of.
Beware of the Compare
Hands up if you’ve ever felt shit about yourself thanks to instagram/pinterest/facebook/tumblr? I have my hand in the air right now too. Comparison is the route of all evil in my mind and also a completely fruitless exercise in many ways. I really believe that making positive changes that last, both to your body and mind, comes from a positive place, not a place of hating yourself for not having abs like Candice Swanapoel or a CV like Emily Weiss or Lena Dunham. Brene Brown’s wise mantra of ‘I am enough’, because the opposite of scarcity is in fact ‘enough’ not an overflowing amount, is a really useful thing to remember if ‘I want what she’s got’ is ruining how you see yourself. We are all enough and while it’s good to strive for better in some departments, holding yourself up for comparison and feeling like you come out second every time is the route to unhappiness. Know you’re enough even if someone else, in your eyes at least, feels like a lot and if you want to make changes, do it for you and no one else.
Side note, you might have noticed on instagram lately that I’ve been caring a lot less about whether my feed all ties perfectly together. I’ve finally accepted that try as I might, I will never have a feed like Oracle Fox (AKA beautiful, synchronised and refined) and that’s ok. Instead, can only post what I like when I feel like it and just go with that. It’s weird how such a tiny thing can make me feel instantly less sub-standard and happier, but ridding myself of the idea of ‘perfect’ in that tiny way has felt really liberating for me.
Know Who You Are And Be OK With That
This time of year, our feeds, tv screens and indeed coffee breaks at work are fuelled by chat about workout regimes, new diets and juice concoctions. It’s so very easy to feel like a sub par human being because you’re quite happy eating a bowel of fairly regular cereal for breakfast rather than a chia pot you prepared the night before, or feel bad you’re not boxing five times a week. It’s good to have a goal but know who you are and work with what you’re about. I’ve never been a salad person (it’s a side not a main people) and used to feel bad when I was the only person in the office eating a wrap or pasta when everyone else was eating some amazing rainbow superfood salad. But you know, it works for me so I’ve given up trying to convert myself. Just like I’ve given up on the idea of running, sleeping in barely-there silk slips and not watching TV in bed (it’s my happy place). I will always buy green juice, forget to go to the gym and never, ever give up sugar. Find exercise that works for you and your personality type rather than what all your friends are doing and eat what works for you and not for others. Likewise, if you hated that film everyone else is obsessed with, say so and have a conversation about it. If everyone else says something is ‘over’ and you still rather enjoy it, don’t give it up just because you think you should. Try new things, push yourself and stay true to you, but if you want fish fingers and baked beans instead of kale occasionally, never ever apologise for that.
Becky With The Good Hair
This is a weird one and might seem counterintuitive to what I’m been talking about. But I think it’s a great way of understanding imperfections and what they really mean. I’m going to use myself as an example for this which I hope you won’t mind… So I’ve always had a weird relationship with my hair. It’s fine, thin and easily breakable, and after a year of travelling aged 19, it started falling out. I had the thinnest hair I’d ever had, it was breaking off at my ears giving me layers I didn’t want and I felt like I couldn’t meet anyone without comparing my hair to theirs and feeling gross as a result. I spent a fortune on treatments and products to no avail. What eventually worked was growing my bright blonde out for a year or two and letting it recover, which is the story behind my ‘dip-dyed’ hair I had a few years ago. Nowadays, I’ve made peace with my thin, wiry locks that will never be flowing and luscious and will always be a little bit ratty and beachy which I’ve embraced rather than bemoaning. I get so many lovely compliments on here and on my instagram about my hair now which to this day, still feels weird as I’ve always felt like everyone else was Becky with the good hair, not me. I’m not trying to big myself up and am so grateful when people say that, it’s just taught me that the very thing you battle with, others are out there loving it. The hair that bugs you, the boobs you wish were bigger/smaller or the laugh you worry is really annoying… The grass is always greener and someone out there loves what you have even if you don’t.
It’s Always Sunniest After A Storm
I like to think that we all need the crummy bits of life to relish the good. If life really was perfect, would we even be happy? Read any book or any Ted talk about happiness and the majority of people believe it comes down to gratitude. And, ironically, to stop looking for happiness. If none of us had imperfections or the crap bits of life to deal with, how would we be appreciate what we really have? I’m not wishing bad stuff on anyone but even tiny set backs we all encounter in life help shape who we are and ultimately lessons rather than mistakes or flaws. From that job you didn’t get to the broken heart you’re not sure will ever heal (it will), that stuff makes the good stuff feel even better and brighter when it finally happens. Don’t let the bad define you but appreciate it in its own weird, twisted way for shaping you and try and be grateful that life hasn’t always been rosy so that when it is, you can see it in all its glory.
According to our social media feeds, everyone is brunching, at the beach or being proposed to while we are still in our pyjamas with a mountain of washing to do and a bathroom to clean. Or is that just me. It’s easy to start thinking we should be attending farmers markets and fancy restaurants every single weekend to be a validated, successful human being but what if you don’t really like artisanal meats and would rather go to Byron and the cinema? I’ve spoken about the detrimental effect of the word ‘should’ and it’s never more prominent than with social media. We should all think about others and make an effort in life, but we can also go easy on ourselves sometimes and know that real life is not an endless array of glamorous parties and events. Plus, I for one would hate it if it was. Also, the reality of many people that are pushing ahead with burgeoning freelance careers and young businesses is that weekends will involve an element of work. Before I took this blog full time, I worked most evenings and weekends to sustain this blog and my day job. Now, I want more of a balance but working when others aren’t is a reality of being your own boss and one that people won’t always understand. My friend Katherine has just launched an amazing new site called Work Work Work that celebrates just that and everything that goes into being a success in every sense, the good, the bad and the downright ugly. I love how she uses hard work as the backbone to talk about everything in life and breaks down what goes on behind the images and stories we are all fed online. To me, as long as you’re not cowering under a duvet everyday, JOMO (the joy of missing out) is something to relish not lament. Go back to favourite local places rather than that ‘it’ place everyone is talking about, stay in on a Friday night out of choice, work on a Sunday if you need to and hang out with people that leave you buzzing rather than those people you just feel you ‘should’ see.
Waiting for Perfection
Lastly, if you’re out there and deep down thinking “I’ll be happy when…”, you might just be waiting forever. Putting your own happiness on hold or believing you would enjoy life more if your body was different or you had more money or a new relationship, you could be waiting forever. I believe looking after yourself and going after things could indeed make you happier, but happiness is not a destination that only comes about once everything in life is perfect. I’m so guilty of seeing the flaws in things only to look back at a later date and realise how great that situation was. Don’t wait till all your ducks are in a row because I don’t think they ever are; there’s always something else to want or to feel you don’t have. All we really have, is now. That might sound super self-helpy and OTT but isn’t it true? Plan for the future, think ahead but don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for something you did today or appreciate the tiny things that make day to day life tick over.
Equally, if you want something in life or believe something is missing, please go after it in an active way. As Elizabeth Gilbert said in Eat Pray Love; “There’s a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son, please, please, please… buy a ticket.”
Let me know in the comments what imperfections you’re embracing this year and any alternative resolutions you have in place for 2017.