Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Perfection

Please note: the link I'm about to share will take you to a site on which the cover of Redbook magazine is featured. The magazine's article titles are not all child-safe, so don't click if curious little readers are in the vicinity.

The website itself is actually a gossip site, which I only found because someone else shared the link to two rather interesting photos. The subject of the photo is Faith Hill, and on the left you will see the photo in its altered state on the aforementioned magazine cover, while on the right you will see the original and unaltered photo, which clearly shows Ms. Hill's slight arm flab, somewhat bulgy hips, face wrinkles, laugh lines et al.

Okay. Here it is.

Now, if you've seen it, your first reaction might be like mine (so what? She still looks a heckuvalot better than I do, especially following two family visits involving copious quantities of cake in the last month). But then you stop and think--or at least I did. Small as the bulge of skin above the waistline of her low-cut sun dress was, somebody erased it. Toned as her arms already were, somebody shrank them significantly. Natural as the roundedness of her hip area was, somebody lengthened and minimized it. And her human, real face, which might even be the face of an interesting woman, became a parody in plastic, with a smaller nose, shorter, more rounded chin, and more widely set eyes, making her look less like herself and more like this.

We live in a culture in which young women will routinely and calculatedly starve themselves in order to look like the women on the magazine covers--and even the women on the magazine covers don't look like the magazine covers. We live in a culture where young men are tantalized with images of sculpted female perfection, not realizing that the modern-day Pygmalion sits at a computer on the staff of a fashion magazine, turning images of living women into ideals of beauty which don't exist anywhere outside the graphic artist's brain. We live in a society that all but encourages people to go under the knife to achieve these impossible standards of beauty, avoiding the inconvenient fact that even the beautiful aren't this beautiful. And we live amongst people who think it's merely humorous, and not utterly ridiculous, for a presidential candidate to spend so much time and money on his hair.

The cult of superficiality is growing. Unfortunately, its quest for physical perfection ends up bleeding into other areas of our lives, beyond mere physical beauty.

We are tempted to want perfection in everyone and everything that touches our lives. We are tempted to want the best food, the best clothing, the best home, the best car, the best school, or the best homeschool curriculum, the best Montessori products, the best teacher's materials.

We struggle with our shortcomings, seeing them as frustrating lapses from the perfection we are tempted to seek. If the mirror reveals a few pounds too many, we are depressed; but we can be equally depressed about the state of the living room carpet, or the eaves that need painting.

We bring our quest for perfection into church with us on Sunday. We expect those around us to be as sensitive to issues of dress, reverence, and right liturgy as we are, and become irritated or annoyed if they are not.

We turn our search for perfection on to our families, too, sometimes. We can become critical. We can become nags, because our husbands or our children don't "measure up" to our mythical standards of flawlessness.

In the end, we have to remember that our ideas of perfection are as unfounded in reality as Faith Hill's hip line in the Redbook photo. We can always manipulate ourselves into believing that earthly perfection is a possibility; but it is an interesting paradox that the closer the saints became to perfect holiness, the more blindingly obvious the tiniest of their faults and imperfections became to them, since they were no longer seeking a shallow, unattainable earthly perfection, but seeing their own flaws magnified against their growing awareness of the perfect Love which is God.

3 comments:

Jennifer F. said...

Great post!! I love the last paragraph especially. I'm glad to have discovered your site, I'll definitely be back.

Personally, I think that the widespread acceptance of contraception also has something to do with the utter obsession our society has with women looking "perfect". I'm a Catholic convert, and I couldn't believe how much my self-image changed after I came to agree with Church teaching on the purpose of sex (I wrote about it here).

Thanks for the great post!

Red Cardigan said...

Jennifer, welcome! What a tremendous insight that is, the role that contraception plays in our distorted image of female perfection.

I remember reading your post before, and being really impressed with what you wrote! :)

Muddy Mama said...

Thank you so much for your post and the link. My daughter and I looked at the pictures together and it sparked a really interesting conversation.