Category Archives: Seeking Perfection
Yes, it happened: I discovered the secret to perfection.
Tempted by “mindless” reading, I recently bought a women’s lifestyle magazine to occupy myself plane-side (and to keep my mind off the person next to me coughing the Plague into my Diet Coke). Who would decline to enrich their appearance, career, and relationships just by skimming a few pages? Dahmer party included, everyone is seeking the latest diet that will make them live forever… or at least look good in the process.
Ironically, however, choosing my “mindless” reading wasn’t easy, as each magazine professes similar go-to tips. I stood in front of the kiosk for ten minutes, feeling awkward as Creepy Jones next to me fawned over Maxim’s bare-butt women, until I viscerally settled on an issue with Hayden Panettiere gracing the cover. At least within the celebrity world, she’s relatively “real” (a.k.a she hasn’t renamed herself something like Snookie or Lady Gaga). She must have some worldly tricks up her sleeve that none of us lackeys have. Right?
So here I was, nestled in Gate D4 between Chili’s and a pack of kids coaxing me towards alcoholism, when I opened the magazine that would transform my life from head-to-toe. Here’s what I learned:
- Apparently, all I have to do to achieve the physique of a Victoria’s Secret Angel is 15-minutes of squats, three times per week. In 17 days, I will have washboard abs and a derriere that would rival Beyoncé’s. Guaranteed. (Warning: nothing was mentioned about controlling my diet, so I’ll safely assume that ice cream can be included in my eating plan.)
- I, or someone I know, will get breast cancer. And the solution to early detection is, of course, to throw a shower party, in which everyone is invited to climb into the shower and feel their goodies for lumps. No, this isn’t just the wet-dream of a pimpled thirteen-year-old boy—this is the 21st century and the new key to prevention. So get down to your skivvies.
- It is of utmost importance to eat grapes, blueberries, and pomegranates to get all of my antioxidants. I also need spinach for Vitamin K, Salmon for Omega-3 Fatty Acids, oranges for Vitamin C, whole grains for Fiber, and beans for Folic Acid. In other words I should quit my job, because if I want to live a long and healthy life, I don’t have time to think about anything else. And I should probably put down my sugary latté—at best, I’m getting a tablespoon of Vitamin D. At worst, I’m wasting an opportunity to fill-up on food that doesn’t contribute to organ deterioration and an early death.
- I should refrain from spending my time and money buying department store creams and Retinols. Hayden apparently gets her gorgeous glow compliments of Neutrogena. Dermatologists, facials, and access to the healthiest organic foods have nothing to do with it.
- The new flavour combo is walnuts, beets, and garlic. I will already look hot with my washboard abs and glowing skin, so a little constipation, stinky breath, and red urine can’t hurt, right?
So besides unbridled optimism, why do we poison our minds with empty promises and faulty information? Even if the writers of my magazine were telling the truth—and generous enough to divulge life’s untold secrets—what am I to do next month? This issue was the unveiling of the perfect, total-body transformation and the sex-tips that will revolutionize my relationship. So perhaps next month I should only expect sub-par tips for leading a mediocre life.
Or, of course, I could take off my rose-colored glasses and concede that these magazines add nothing substantial to my life.
So next time you’re tempted by promises that you, too, could look like an Angel in 17 days, remember that exercise, a moderate diet, and finding internal happiness are still the keys to uncovering your best you—no matter how loudly the headlines declare to have unearthed Marty McFly’s secrets from the future. There aren’t shortcuts to anything.
There’s no way to predict whether or not you’ll survive adulthood. Or, in the least, get through it with minimal psychological damage and self-loathing.
Through our adult lives, we move through a cycle of making mistakes, fixing them, and learning our lesson before making new mistakes. But it turns out that all of these lessons wear out faster than Danny DeVito competing in the Hurdles. Once you learn something new with which to defend yourself against the next challenge, you find out that everything is different, the rules have changed, and the tidbits you’ve learned no longer apply. Life is transient and so are its lessons.
Fortunately, this isn’t all bad news. And you will still be able to swaddle yourself in a plush blanket of every-mistake-I-make-is-justifyable-because-it-will-arm-me-for-the-next-situation. The only way in which you can learn from your, or others’, mistakes is to eventually build those experiences into a compass that will alert you when you start to spiral south. While lessons are transient, experience is not, so it’s never a bad idea to expand your reservoir of knowledge with folks who have lived through Smallpox and war-with-bayonets. Of course, despite what many people think, good advice is not an inoculation against mistakes. You’ll still make them. But your compass will start to form, and in the future your worldly experience will keep you from traveling down detrimental roads, like deciding to bring fannie-packs and mismatched socks back into style.
Yet alas, even experience only goes so far, and our compasses can only point us in the right director for so long (aka: if you find yourself having a conversation about Xenu with Tom Cruise, you need to realign your needle). I’ve never known any adults who have woken up one morning and thought: gee, now I know the secret to life. There is no secret. So for those of us just beginning adulthood and eager for the day when life is normal or steady or no longer a rollercoaster ride: save your eagerness for the Spice Girls revival tour, because a normal life is never going to happen. No one holds the key to life and everyone just pretends to know what the heck their supposed to do—which basically means you can (re)invent yourself as many times as you want. As long as you, too, slap on a little confidence and poise. There isn’t a right way, there isn’t a wrong way…there’s just the way you choose to make it through, with relative sanity and a whole lot of the happiness that most adults forget to hang onto along the journey.
It’s Monday night and you’re showering your friends with a torrential downpour of the frustrations about your adult life, which week-after-week fails to appear as glamorous as Paula Abdul’s sequined bras. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s never easy—it won’t get easier and it won’t get less chaotic. But it will get more fun, more exhilarating, and way wilder than you could have imagined.
There may not be a manual for surviving adulthood—but there is a lot of wine and a whole world full of adults who will polish off the bottle with you.
Negativity drags us down like a midnight rendezvous with a dirty martini at an empty bar. And the worst part? We don’t even realize we’ve been intoxicated by it. This isn’t just blatant negativity, like griping about a co-worker who swears she has Lupus every time she sneezes—this is the culture of negativity that seems to have seeped in under our doors while we we’re sleeping, essentially re-setting our “normal” button to a steady level of self-deprecation.
As with many life lessons I’ve learned in the past two years, I realized just how gripping this new-age pessimism was during an elevator ride at my apartment building. As I came home on a Friday (after a long week of work) I slipped into the elevator with a tall, crop-pant wearing woman, roughly the age of a seasoned mom. We stood in silence for three floors. Then in a sweet voice the woman asked me how I was doing, to which I replied with a groan and an explanation that the week just dragged. And what did she say back to me, with her cheery voice and a smile that rivaled a kid at Disney World? “Well, congratulations—you did it!” At first I thought she was being sarcastic, but as she continued to sincerely smile at me, I realized that she was completely serious. What? What is this verbal pat on the back that threw me back to grade school? It felt like someone had just stuck a Great Work! sticker on my shirt and gave me a round of applause. Here I was reveling in the misery of week, and this woman had the nerve to come along and turn my frown upside down!
And this wasn’t the only elevator ride that jolted me from my clouded mind. Another day, on my way home from work, I was asked the same question—this time from a gentleman. Of course I replied that I was really happy the work day was over, that I was bored from sitting in an office, and glad that the misery was coming to an end. And what did this guy have the gall to say? “Oh that’s a shame. You really should enjoy what you do.” My equilibrium was completely thrown. Why was he not following the social convention of complaining about the weather or your job when engaged in small-talk? And what was this work-enjoyment thing he was trying to press on me? Keep it to yourself, man.
So when did negativity become the norm? At some point we stopped praising all the great things we do, like getting through a tough work-week, and instead began criticizing our missteps. Our bosses don’t send us emails telling us we’re fantastic and hardworking employees—they walk over to our desks and criticize us for incorrectly filling out the TPS report. And they certainly aren’t going to say You did it! at the end of the week; they’re going to assume you did, or fire you on Monday if you didn’t.
How much more successful and happy would we be if we re-implemented positivity in our lives? What would happen if I brushed off my co-worker’s hypochondriac behavior and make thought-space for something more valuable? What about if we looked in the mirror and congratulated ourselves for our toned triceps, instead of thinking about yesterday’s doughnut that went straight to our thighs? And what if—brace yourself—we told elevator strangers that we are actually doing really well and had a good week at work?
Maybe the key to shifting the paradigm of negativity lies in the policy of “fake it ‘till you make it,” until eventually we push the “normal” button back to a steady stream of happiness. Will this permanently alter the current aura that’s hanging over modern society?
And most importantly, what will become the future of elevator small-talk?
I’m pretty certain my future self is a manifestation of New Girl’s Jess Day. In two years, I completely plan to be a chilled teacher with effortlessly fantastic hair and the perfect group of friends waiting for me when I get home. Oh, and of course I’ll have a seemingly coy and nerdy look that everyone actually sees as really rockin’.
This is the future I choose to see, rather than the future I hear about in the newspapers: overworked teachers shifting through unachievable curriculum in unsafe neighbourhoods, only to come home to their tiny studio apartments, because (once again) their salaries have been slashed. Yes, I made the choice to believe that life will be rosier than that—because of what I see on the screen. And I know I’m not the only one. I mean, who hasn’t briefly considered becoming a doctor since the on-call-room sex and thrilling surgeries on Grey’s Anatomy? (Granted, this is no longer an aspiration as I’ve watched the whole cast die-off from unusually catastrophic events.) But is it actually bad to have a more idealistic view of our realities? Does living the illusion mean you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, or does the illusion slowly alter how you perceive your reality…maybe enough to permanently change it?
When Top Gun came to theatres in 1986, the Navy reported increased numbers of recruits wanting to join the Aviation Officers Training School and become part of the famous teams of fly-boys. This, of course, was not a coincidence. But these eager young men who watched Maverick triumph in the skies, enlivened by the memory of his beloved wingman, and then return to the arms of his blond-bombshell former teacher, must have known that being part of the Navy is not actually like that. Unfortunately. But even though they probably knew that signing up would not allow them to have a job quite this lofty, what they did gain by seeing their futures through “Hollywood glasses,” is a vision of excellence and distinction. And this is something that they could make a reality with or without Kelly McGillis.
So to have the same vision as these future Navy-men, means you would have to prescribe to the old adage that “perception is reality.” The way you view your future self is actually who you are. And even though the “reality” might only be in your mind, if you begin to live the life you wish to have, that reality will magically creep into sight. In other words, if you walk, talk, and act like a duck (which I don’t recommend you to do), you will get pretty close to being a duck. Living the illusion helps bring your illusion to reality, so maybe letting TV alter your view of it is not such a bad thing.
Remember that when you bring your kids into my classroom and mistake me for Jess Day.
Let’s be honest: all of us savvy shoppers aren’t scouring our cities for bargain deals because we love itchy synthetics and crooked seams. Or because we love the sport of racing other espresso-crazed women to the last pair of AG jeans marked down at The Rack. We do it because we’re committed to looking like a million bucks—even though we know we’ll never see that much in our bank accounts.
We don’t skip to the “look for less” pages of our magazines because we’re not interested in the perfectly-pleated, dry-clean only, oh-so-soft designer pieces. We do it because copying Victoria Beckham’s wardrobe would cost us six months’ rent (on a diet of Lucky Charms). And while I’m being perfectly honest (and somewhat winey) let me say this: it’s just downright depressing that we have to work this hard to copy our dream wardrobe with less-than-satisfying substitutes.
And it’s just not our fashion horizons that the sun keeps setting on. It’s our home décor too. Sure, finding vintage, hand-painted tea cups at a quaint Maryland antique store seems like a great find. But not when you take them home and put them on the used vinyl kitchen table you bought on Craig’s List. All of a sudden the teacups aren’t vintage—they’re just old. And while you’re thinking about it, you never should have painted your walls bright blue to match Carrie Bradshaw’s trendy Manhattan apartment. It’s just not as glamorous when you live in a first-floor studio apartment in Kansas…and you used a hue that eerily resembles your college colours.
So obviously “looks for less” are pretty useless if you don’t have a few nicer pieces to pair with them. It’s the difference between this: “I just thought this vintage scarf from the thrift store…I really think it will compliment my Dooney and Bourke bag” and this: “I found these great bangles—all ten for 25 cents! And I still have enough money left to buy five Cup-o-Noodles for my lunches this week!”
There’s a very obvious difference between these statements.
And don’t get me wrong—I don’t think you have to buy shopping carts full of designer outfits to look good either (Shopping carts? Do they use those at Burberry, or is that just a Target thing?). But not every store we walk into has to be decorated with red and yellow clearance signs, either. There has to be variety in our wardrobes. So here are a few tips to get you started on your next shopping excursion:
- Look through a celebrity’s garbage. Over time they’ve accumulated lots of free clothes and not enough time to wear it all. Of course, you would have to be okay with eventually trading in that $200 dollar romper for an orange state-funded jumpsuit. So perhaps this is ill advised.
- If their garbage isn’t accessible (or orange isn’t in this year), just follow the news to see what they’re shopping for. When your favourite celebrity picks up that Spring Collection Coach purse, you march right over and pick up the matching key-chain. Your Superstore skirt will look much more sophisticated the second you pull out your house keys.
- Give up something else you typically pay for in the name of fashion. Do you really need to have someone come fix your air-conditioning unit? Be hard-core and tough it out for the summer (disclaimer: not recommended if you live in Phoenix).
But seriously, get out there and pair those clever finds with some of your more polished and sophisticated looks from home. Vintage is in. But don’t do yourself a disservice by turning shabby-chic into just shabby. Your discount, sunflower-yellow belt will look much better with a carefully tailored A-line dress than one that is half the cost and balloons out at the waist from poor stitching (Big Bird, anyone?). Bottom line: it’s about making smart choices and not imprisoning yourself only in cheap finds. And as an added benefit of paying more for that dress, it won’t unravel as you walk down the street like its cheaper counterpart might. This isn’t Hansel and Gretel—you don’t need to leave a trail to find your way home.
Now get out there and shop until your heart’s content, because all of us women deserve to feel like the princesses we are. And most importantly, remember this: no matter how much you love the finer things in life, you are beautiful no matter what you wear. Or, as the old adage goes: it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
After all, you wouldn’t buy that Hermes purse if it didn’t have a gorgeous silk lining, right?