Tag Archives: perfection

Come on, grab your paper bag of granulated sugar and your metal spoon and let’s stand in my kitchen so you can force feed me the keys to happiness, tell me I’m doing it all wrong.

I am the girl who smiles at you from across the hallway, head bent toward the floor, cheeks pink from the cold air outside and the red flush running through my veins. I am the girl who knows sorry better than “so what?”, who knows not what she apologizes for, who does not take a second step into the deep abyss of trouble without a battery-operated flashlight and a group of equally-terrified best friends.

I am the girl who once believed a smile would be enough. But it is not.

__

Tea drinkers might tell you they’re addicted to caffeine. They probably won’t say it’s the warmth from inside that spreads to their toes on an unseasonable October afternoon. They probably won’t tell you it’s the sound of a clinking spoon against a handspun ceramic mug. They probably won’t tell you it’s the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Because a spoonful of sugar is not so sweet.

For weeks, I’ve felt like someone is shoving a spoonful of sugar into my mouth and making me swallow it. Like he or she is grabbing hold of me, duct-tapping my butt to the swivel chair in front of my desk, and demanding I read accounts of girls who struggled with something and overcame it, who said “no thank you” when it came to what they wanted because to say yes would be a sin.

And I spent one, two, seventeen years going to church every Sunday. I ran away for the same reason I’m feeling sick to my stomach now: I felt overwhelmed, almost nauseated, by the intensity of it all. By the idea that I had to be perfect always always always. Stand on the tips of my toes and reach upward and hope I might be better tomorrow because today I am still imperfect.

Today, I am still imperfect. Tomorrow, too, I’ll rise from my bed and begin the two-week trek to the end of this semester. I’ll screw up, get mad, spend money when I shouldn’t. I’ll eat dessert and lounge on the couch all afternoon and let the people in my life do the same without feeling like it all comes back to God.

Let it come back to Him. Let it. Let me here you tell me something about why I’ve felt like I’ve been through the ringer these last four years. Come on, grab your paper bag of granulated sugar and your metal spoon and let’s stand in my kitchen so you can force feed me the keys to happiness, tell me I’m doing it all wrong, that I’m being punished for not stretching myself thin.

Victoria wrote a post two weeks ago that I just got around to reading, and I could not stop scanning the page in awe. She has guts. She laid it out for anyone willing to listen. And I just wanted to thank her.

For what?

Reminding me that there is no perfect Christian. That I’m allowed to sleep at night. To live with myself. To drink my tea sweetened. To cross the line that so many have told me, again and again, I should be ashamed for crossing. I am not. I cannot be.

I’ll do what is right by me and I’ll vow to never shove a scoop of religion down someone’s throat. Because the only way to steer me from it is to push a plateful in front of me and make me eat every last morsel Matilda style. 

[Photo credit]

We need an army of imperfect girls, nourished daughters.

She stares at the legs she knows so well in the bathroom mirror and wonders when the divots on her hamstrings became permanent fixtures. Admitting this on a tired Sunday night, she leans against the wall for moral support.

This is the evil voice inside her head.

I tell her it’s normal to stand there for a beat too long and analyze how the image in front of her changed from a person she recognized to someone who wants to skip dessert altogether.

It is normal. Nor-mal. But nothing about normal is right. I try to beam signals into her brain that all of this is OK. More than OK. The world was not built on numbers alone, but little fragments of ideas and miniature light bulbs even before light bulbs existed and none of that centered on weight.

“When is the last time you read an encyclopedia entry about a famous mathematician or explorer? Tell me the fast facts box included not just birth and death dates, city of residence, but also, much like stats on a college football player, height and weight. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s just toss his BMI into the mix.

I do not have the guts to ask her this, but I wish I did. Unfortunately, I can already hear the counter-argument forming in her head.

“But boys don’t worry about that kind of stuff. Boys are sculpted like Michelangelo’s statue of David.”

“Yeah,” I’ll tell her. “They are beyond that whole body image thing. So that’s why they spend ten hours a week at the gym, right? Did I get that correct?”

She might forget how to see both sides. I always forget how to see both sides. Society forgets there is even a second gender, sometimes. We’re not graceful with our painted portrait of the issue, but that doesn’t mean don’t try.

I don’t remember which of us said something first to precipitate a forty-minute discussion. She might’ve made an offhand comment about moving a baked good somewhere less visible from her spot on the sofa. Or mentioned the competition to one-up the others with talks about carrots and celery.

It doesn’t matter, just that the conversation always falls into this same ditch. We haven’t yet been given the tools to climb back out. The water’s eroding the walls and they’re caving in and we’re soaked in silt and mud and panicking.

“Perfect girls, starving daughters,” Courtney Martin says. She repeats the mantra several hundred times in different alterations throughout her book, grinding it into our heads that we are taught to abide by this dichotomous lifestyle.

You are never enough, but you must always whittle your body away to become more. Growing stronger by withholding. Gaining power by losing weight.

And so we wait for the solution. For someone to tell us that perfect with a capital P is boring. It is, isn’t it? But I can only be in one kitchen at a time, telling a girl that. I need so much help. We need an army of reality checkers, of imperfect girls, nourished daughters. 

[Photo Credit]

Education might start in the classroom but it ends in the streets.

girl studying math homework

my sister doing math homework


Last spring, I got a 4.0. I’m not telling you this to brag or even to suggest to you that it’s possible. In fact, I’m telling you for the exact opposite reason.

For six semesters, it’s been the only number worth memorizing. And at the expense of my sanity and well being.

I was the girl who spent Sunday afternoons in a study corral at the library. Hunched over a statistics textbook, redoing problems until my answer matched the one in the back of the book.

Someone needed to stop that girl. Grab her pencil and textbook. Take them hostage.

Because a spoken word poem about a 9-year-old boy with cancer stopped me dead in my tracks Monday night. And I realized that education is not two numbers separated by a period on my official transcript.

Education is the realization that getting an A-minus is not the end of the world. Because I’m alive and my heart is pumping and there are hundreds of injustices in this world. And I work this hard for what? For a number that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Tears streamed down my face as I watched the video. Because the girl in the study corral, she missed out on the sun shining outside that day. She missed out on the hundreds of other people in this world with a story to tell and pain in their hearts and nobody put that girl’s actions into perspective.

I used to think education was a classroom full of kids, all in ruler-straight lines of desks, perfect posture and hands folded over hands in laps. Waiting with eager eyes and antsy feet tap-tap-tapping until the bell rang and then silence for 46 minutes.

Education equated to discipline. To perfectly written five-paragraph essays and math tests with no red lines scribbled on them. Grades with three digits.

I want you to know that it’s not true. I have two semesters left. One year. I’ve been in school since I was five years old. That’s 16 years of believing one silly little thing. And it’s not true.

That poem I watched was just the first of a whole stampede of experiences and ideas and insights that I’d sheltered myself from. I didn’t know how to save the world or raise my voice above the cacophony of sounds radiating from the universities around the world, filled with people who all wanted to help and be heard and volunteer and give back.

I didn’t realize that the only thing I had to do was start by breaking the mold. Start by being honest with myself and then spreading that honesty like peanut butter. Letting that gooeyness stick into all the crevices.

You’d be amazed how people can relate to honesty.

There’s a world outside the box, outside the doors of the library, outside the entrance to the university. Education might start in a classroom but it ends in the streets where kids are playing and getting caught up in violence and parents are sitting them down at the kitchen table to impart life lessons. And those parents go to bed praying they’re doing something right.

The first thing they can do? Tell their kids to break the mold. To find balance between school and everything else. To give themselves a break.

My seventh grade history teacher ruined my childhood dream.

gymnastics hershey beam awards medal

my first year of competitive gymnastics

When I was thirteen, perfection was just a misspelled word on a t-shirt from a gymnastics catalogue. Perfec10n, the shirt read.

Perfect 10.

I was obsessed with the way the phrase rolled off my tongue so easily. Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Now those were girls who knew how to work hard.

I thought that if I pointed my toes hard enough and stayed at the gym extra hours, working on stretches until my arms and legs were sore for at least two days straight, I could make it to the Olympics.

But then I went to seventh grade and my history teacher told this other girl that she was too old to be an Olympic gymnastic. And since we shared a birthday, I knew what that meant.

It didn’t matter anymore if I was short and skinny and ready to dedicate my whole life to being America’s next Shannon Miller. I was already too old.

I remember looking at her from across the classroom, my pulse skyrocketing as I thought quickly before he reached my desk in the back corner. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t know. I didn’t even remember what I’d packed for lunch.

From then on, perfect was unattainable. Out of my control. Sure, I could spend 20 hours a week caked in chalk and sweat until I literally couldn’t smell myself anymore. But that wouldn’t be enough.

And so began the pattern of always being perpetually behind.

My coach would make us do five perfect beam routines in a row. No falls, not even a wobble. For some of the girls, cleaning up minor missteps on a dismount or over-rotations on a front tuck was easy. They’d focus and knock all five routines out in no time.

Me? I’d do one or two then fall. Two more and another fall.

And then, of course, I’d be late to the next event — uneven bars — which was, consequently, my worst event.

It was a cycle that drove me crazy. And I watched the rest of the girls master it, so why couldn’t I?

What I know now is that perfect’s just the accumulation of mistakes we make leading up to a self-determined ‘final destination.’ I was so busy being paranoid over the notion of “5 perfect beam routines in a row” that I couldn’t focus on the block of wood under my toes.

When USAG stopped handing out 10.0’s like candy, I’d already quit. Not because I wasn’t perfect, but because I couldn’t accept that fact. I drove myself (and my parents) crazy when I played mental games, reverting back to basic skill levels like a child forgetting how to walk and talk.

On those nights, I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, because at least I didn’t have to think about how to wash my hair. But the truth was that all I needed — and all most of us need at one point or another — was to be shaken and reminded that perfect’s boring.

And really, perfect is a lie. USAG decided that for me. Not long after my seventh grade history teacher.