Recently I wrote an article about men in their 30s and their search for the “perfect woman.”
As you can imagine, I got a range of reactions, from “Not all men,” to “I did find the perfect woman,” to “What about a woman’s relationship with the perfect woman?”
It’s that last question that grabbed my attention. (And for those #NotAllMen-ers out there, yes, we know not all men are doing all the things we’re talking about, just like not all women wear dresses and bake cakes. If I am ever talking about “all” men, I will be sure to let you know.)
The reason this last question grabbed my attention is that a woman’s relationship with “the perfect woman” is something I am very familiar with. As someone who has survived both bulimia and anorexia, I have spent many years of my life trying to be the perfect woman—which, in this case, meant the “thinnest” woman. But, of course, this fictitious “perfect” woman has many other qualities aside from being thin.
She can be spiritual—present and wise, and yet quick and smart. She is accomplished, of course, but is modest about it. She smiles and laughs and dances with her friends—and only humbly posts pictures of these things on social media. She is confident, bold, and sexually expressive. She is as open with her mind as she is with her heart, and she doesn’t care about silly things like cellulite.
She meditates every morning and can touch her toes to her nose in a handstand backbend. She is so many women you see in yoga class; she peers at you from glossy magazine covers; she laughs and smiles from the screen of your phone; and she never feels lonely, or not enough.
This woman, of course, is not real.
So then why do men seem to be seeking her? And why do we keep trying to be her?
I’m no expert, but as someone, you know, with eyes, it’s pretty clear to me that this “perfect” woman is the product of many things: unrealistic beauty standards set by the fashion industry, Hollywood culture, video games, pornography, and social media. This is all easy to see, and it’s even easier to see that this ideal female is not real. But it has seeped into us for so many years, we still behave as though she is real, and she is attainable, and we can be her. Even while saying we know better.
One of the most obvious examples of this happening is the alarming number of women with eating disorders. As I briefly mentioned earlier, when I was growing up, I was bulimic, and when I got help for this, my disorder swiftly morphed into another: anorexia. Of course, there are so many things that go into an eating disorder—striving for control, emotional coping, numbing, and addiction. But a big component here is wanting to be “perfect.”
And as the media constantly tells us, perfect, right now, is thin.
I also see women striving to be this perfect woman by pushing themselves into situations they might not necessarily be comfortable with. I can speak to this. In my most recent relationship, my partner wanted to explore sexuality with other people. I kept thinking: I should want this. I should be on board. What is wrong with me, that I don’t want this too?
So I tried. I wanted to be the perfect woman for him. I wanted to be cool; I wanted to be open. And I didn’t want to lose him to this idea of a perfect woman who was “somewhere out there.” So I tried to become her, and in doing so, lost a little bit of myself.
I see this so often within the conscious community. Women wanting to be it all: centered, mindful, adventurous, sexually exploratory, master yogis, awake, aware, funny, light, serious, dark. It is so sneaky within this sort of community, as well, because it is a growth-focused community and way of living. So it is sometimes hard to tell when we’re actually striving to grow and better ourselves, or when we’re actually ignoring our own boundaries, our own wants and needs, in order to fit the mold of someone else’s idea of “perfect.”
So…how can we tell?
The best advice I can give here is to listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Do you really want to go to that yoga workshop for three hours this weekend? Is that really you? If so, have at it—sounds awesome. But if there’s a hint of trying to be something other than yourself—be it skinnier, more “zen,” or whatever, do an experiment, and ask yourself: what do I really want to do? Close your eyes and play out different scenarios in your head, and see how your body feels. If it feels lighter and happier with a different option, you’re on the right track. If you tense up, or have a “bad feeling,” go with your gut.
This little tool can be used for so many things, not just yoga, obviously. Do you want to eat that piece of chocolate? Are you not eating it for fear of being fat and not being “the perfect woman?” Eat the damn chocolate! Life is too short.
Do you feel genuine in the way you act around the people in your life?
Do you want to open up your relationship?
Do you really want this?
There is always a little feeling—for me, it feels a bit like panic or a tightening in my solar plexus—when something isn’t quite right; when I am doing something disingenuous to myself. When I am trying to be that woman.
I urge you all to listen to that little feeling. This “perfect woman” has been ruling and ruining too many lives for too long. We need to show up as our imperfect selves and let her go. In doing so, maybe we get a little fatter. Maybe we don’t spend an hour trying to get the perfect selfie of our Halloween costume. Maybe we stop pretending to be anything other than exactly who we are. And maybe that means relationships will shift and change.
But at least we will know that we’re being ourselves—perfect already, in all of our flaws. Find the people who love this person—the real you—rather than someone you hope to become.
Author: Natalie Grigson
Image: Author’s Own; Nicolee Camacho/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Travis May