After almost 35 years on this planet, almost 35 years of different hairstyles, questionable and not-so-questionable fashion choices, interesting friends and schools, different reasons to love myself and a heck of a lot more reasons not to, if I could write a love letter to myself, it would read:
You are perfectly imperfect. And thank goodness for that. Because what makes you imperfect is what makes you interesting. So go on being the beautifully imperfect being that you are, and shine your light for all the world to see.
If I could write a love letter to my daughter, it would read:
You are perfect.
And if I were to give my daughter that love letter, I would be doing her a great disservice. Because by defining her as perfect, I am unwittingly telling her to strive for some fictional state that will leave her constantly trying to be something other than what she actually is: perfectly imperfect.
We’ve arguably been sending this message of perfection since the dawn of time (or since the first mother said, “Sweetie, you would look so much prettier if you wore your hair this way!”). I do believe, as was the case with my own mother, that this message we’ve been sending has been done from the goodness of our hearts and with the absolute best of intentions. Because now that I am a mom, I understand that lens: we really do see our children as perfect little beings, as the miracles that they are.
But in my humble opinion, when we tell them that they are perfect, we inevitably set them up for a life of disappointment. We set the bar so high that they could never possibly reach it. Because perfection is a very subjective, and thus entirely fictional state that could never possibly be reached. That weight is placed ever-so-innocently on the shoulders of our children, and it’s simply too much for anyone to bare, child or adult alike (and aren’t we all just adult children anyway?).
It is the reason why the beautiful woman you think has everything is secretly depressed. She’s constantly striving to be perfect, but to her dismay, perfect is a moving target. She was told she would be happy when, but when never seems to come. Because she has the guy, she has the car, she has the body, she has the family, she has the house, she has the social life, she has the life.
So why does she look in the mirror and only see what’s wrong?
I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, the other day, when I came across this passage:
Now I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves – and we are the only ones who can break it. We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it (there are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud!).
Everything in this paragraph resonates with me. It is the reason I torture myself on social media comparing myself to others in stature, beauty, material possessions, level of success, and everything. It is the reason I play small, why I play down the fact that I published a freakin’ cookbook (which, in case you were curious, is a pretty huge deal)!
And though I’ve said this before, I keep having to remind myself, so I’ll keep reminding you: logically I know how amazing my life is. To compare myself to anyone else and feel like I am lacking is incredibly ungrateful. I know I lead a remarkably fortunate life. But that’s how deep this drive for perfectionism runs, my friends. It’s like a poison. It’s in our cells. Our heads logically understand how silly it is, but we have to reprogram the setting on a cellular level so that we can end the cycle.
It’s going to take a minute for us adults to reprogram ourselves, but if we are fortunate enough to be the role models for little ones who are still looking to us to help them with their life programming, we have to lead the charge. We have to send a better message to our children. We have to tell them not that they are perfect, but rather, that they are imperfect. And we have to tell them why that matters. Because like it or not, your child is going to go out in the world. She is going to be judged by her peers, good or bad. She is going to get onto social media. She is going to be subject to the idealistic views of beauty, success, love and life. And her only defense is to have role models who taught her to see through the cracks, who taught her to love herself for her faults, not despite them. Who taught her that interesting is far more attractive than perfect.
So though I look at my daughter and I see perfection with every curl of her hair, every speck of almond butter that’s smeared across her face, and every perfect, tiny little toe, I can’t give her that letter. I can’t send her that message. Because her peers aren’t going to find the same things that I do cute. Her peers may very well see the things that I think are perfect and make them mean something terrible about herself, so terrible that she may internalize it and make it mean that she’s less than.
So I would write this instead:
You are perfectly imperfect, and that is perfectly beautiful. All of your imperfections are what make you interesting. I hope that you take those into the world and soar, and create a life that lights you up from the inside out. This is what you are and more:
You are curious.
You are joy.
You are inquisitive.
You are stubborn.
You are compassionate.
You are kind.
You are gentle.
You are firm.
You are tough.
You are lovable.
You are smart.
You are wise.
You are the only you.
You are determined.
You are all heart.
You care deeply.
You live in the present moment.
You are willing to learn by falling down.
You are funny.
You are a trickster.
You crack yourself up.
You light up my world.
I love you – all of you – and my hope for you is that you do too.
Now it’s your turn:
Write yourself a love letter. And then, please write one for your child. And don’t skip yours and go straight to the one(s) for your child/children. Because unless you love yourself, you won’t be able to help your child love themselves either. It starts with you.
Beautiful, imperfect, wonderful you.