The myth of perfection: being authentic in a photoshopped world

chris-hemsworth-thorAnyone who knows me, knows that I have a bit of a crush on Chris Hemsworth (a bit creepy I suppose being that I’m 40, but hey, we can all imagine, right?!). Blonds are actually not my typical type, but I make exceptions for the long-haired viking type. There is just something so ruggedly male about them. It’s that same quality that has me crushing on Clay Matthews from the GreenBay Packers and the vampire Erick from the Sookie Stackhouse books (something that did not carry over into the tv series sadly–no offense Alexander Skarsgard–perhaps if you were to grow your hair out it would help…). Nothing screams strong alpha male quite like a viking.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to see the new Thor movie, as much to gaze at Chris Hemsworth as for what I anticipated to be a great hero flick.

You can imagine my surprise when, for the first time, I did not find Hemsworth quite as drool worthy. It was not due to the fact that he was often portrayed unwashed and disheveled–something that can just heighten that maleness in my book. Nope, when I assessed my reaction, I realized that I found him too ripped. Yep, he had crossed over into meathead territory.

gym ratNow don’t get me wrong, I love a good representation of the male physique as much as the next girl, and some nice muscle definition is downright hot, but, there is this threshold, this crossing into the ridiculous–trying too hard category that, at least for me, makes a man far less appealing. And sadly, my crush has crossed over into that land of the unreal, fake looking land of the gym rats.

This made me think about society and our expectations of unreality in terms of ourselves and our significant others. When did we stop wanting to be, and to be with, someone who looks like a real-life human being and instead to be with a photoshopped, airbrushed, image of perfection straight off the pages of a comic book?

As a psychology professor, I often have to teach things such as self image and eating disorders. A number of years ago, I had done quite a bit of research on female self-image and eating disorders, but in prepping for a new course last year, I decided I needed to update my research and what I found surprised me.

In our modern culture, boys and men are struggling with their body image almost as much as women. The media is driving men to the same sense of being not enough as women. And the expectations are most often unrealistic and unattainable.

No where do you see it quite so obviously as the online dating world. Being a newb in terms of this new and not-so-improved dating culture, it has been quite a learning curve for me.

dating_checklistAt first I just found it very odd that so many men led with their height and weight statistics.

Then I started to find it a bit creepy how many made a point of listing just how frequently they went to the gym and for how long…

And then it started to get just downright icky as they listed their point by point preferences for a female as if they were placing an online custom order with Amazon. And of course, this always included an athletic and fit or slender woman who also wants to live in the gym and only eat healthy.

But she’s also supposed to be intelligent, independent, and have her own established career…

Hmmm…most women who hit that “intelligent, independent and established” mark are in their late thirties to early forties, and no longer have the ripped 20 year old body that so many of these men seem to expect. I think these men should maybe get really comfortable with the companionship of their Maxim magazines because last I knew, women were real and far too busy to spend the hours a day in the gym that are required to look like the airbrushed and photoshopped images found in those magazines. And if they’re not, well, they are likely as shallow and empty-headed as the hours spent in a gym would imply–or they are more interested in a sugar daddy than a real and authentic relationship.

As a woman with a more curvalicious physique, despite the societal messages trying to eat away at my sense of self, I typically feel pretty good in my own skin. Though, I have to admit, the dating scene did shake my confidence for a bit, that is, until I started to realize that, the bravado and the unrealistic expectations were often just a mask for a deep seeded insecurity.

When-youre-comfortable-in-your-own-skin...youre-beautiful.-Confidence-is-the-best-makeup-you-could-ever-wear.Yeah sure, there are some meatheads who just want some arm candy, but, most people are craving a real and authentic relationship with a real and authentic human being.

When it really comes down to it, Chris Hemsworth’s unnatural physique is far less appealing than a real man who works hard and doesn’t have the luxury of hours per day spent in the gym.

The media feeds us unreality, and when we buy what it is selling, we become dissatisfied with what is real and beautiful.

It’s time we started recognizing that authenticity is far more attractive than an unattainable perfection only achieved at the end of a plastic surgeon’s knife.

Be healthy and be you. You are unique and you are beautiful.

 

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From one sometimes screwup to another…(come on, admit it, you know that includes you!)

Sometimes I feel like crap, complete and utter crap.

Screwed upSometimes, I feel lonely, so lonely, that I wonder if, when my children grow up and leave me, I’ll be alone forever–the crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

Sometimes, I feel like the biggest failure in the history of failures, the epic underachiever, the cautionary tale of who not to become.

Sometimes, I feel so angry at my ex-husband for what he did to me and my family that I nearly simmer with repressed emotion: anger, rage, bitterness…the all too cliche’ stereotype of the wronged, “victim,” cheated on wife.

Sometimes, I feel not good enough in every single way–not pretty enough, not thin enough, not special enough, not anything enough…

Holy crap! Did she just admit all that?!

Yep, I sure did. Because that’s the truth. Sometimes, I feel all those things.

But most of the time, I don’t.

Most of the time, I don’t feel those things at all–but sometimes I do.

consumer-confidenceMost of the time I feel strong and confident. Most of the time, I am happy in my messed up little life. Most of the time I don’t feel lonely because I know I have family and friends who love and support me. Most of the time I know that I’m not a failure, but rather a survivor, and that failure isn’t a badge of defeat, but a chance to overcome. Most of the time, I can extend grace and forgiveness to me ex–despite the pain I sometimes still feel. And most of the time I know I’m enough–a work in progress–but enough. And in those moments, I feel beautiful, and strong, and confident.

But not always.

Sometimes, I just don’t.

And I don’t believe that makes me less. In fact, I think that makes me exactly normal, because I don’t think I’m alone.

I think even the strongest, and seemingly most confident, of us feel all those things at times–but we hide it. We pretend.

We think that strength is never feeling fear, never feeling doubt, and never, ever admitting failure.

pretendingSo we pretend. Because, we can’t admit that sometimes we’re terrified, and sometimes we’re so insecure that we can’t believe the whole world doesn’t notice, and that sometimes, we feel like an absolute failure at absolutely everything.

But, we all feel all of those things…sometimes.

So let’s help each other out, and stop pretending.

It is time to stop hiding, to stop window-dressing our lives, and to stop competing with something that has never been nor ever will be.

It is time to start getting real with one another.

Which means, it’s time to get vulnerable.

There is nothing I admire more than vulnerability.

I think nothing is more misunderstood than vulnerability. So often, vulnerability is portrayed as weakness. Or an excess of emotion. Or as a liability.

I view vulnerability as the height of courage and strength.

Vulnerability means admitting that I have wounds. It means bearing my battle scars. It means giving a window into my private struggles, my moments of shame, and my weaknesses.

That is strength, not weakness. That is not a liability.

It takes great fortitude, a strong sense of self, and true bravery to lower the mask to our greatest failures and wounds. It leaves our most personal moments and struggles open to attack, to ridicule, and to judgement. That doesn’t sound like weakness to me.

Vulnerability_Brene-Brown2I have very slowly been making my way through Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” (Slowly, because it is filled with so much truth and food for thought.) One of her topics is shame and vulnerability. She talks about the “double bind” that we find ourselves in as women in modern society.

According to Brown and her extensive research, we, as women, feel that we are expected to be perfect, and to be it effortlessly. That we are supposed to be ourselves (well, unless you’re an introvert, then you’re supposed to pretend, because people prefer the outgoing, fun types). That we’re always supposed to be confident (no one likes insecurity), and that we’re supposed to walk this line between not being too emotional (because that is a lack of control), but not too detached either (what a cold-hearted bitch!). In sum, we’re supposed to be this perfectly balanced, confident (but not too confident because no-one likes the arrogant), version of ourselves (well, if, remember, we’re outgoing and fun) that is, of course, gorgeous, because how we look is really the defining standard of our worth…

And since none of us are all that all the time…

We believe we have to hide. Hide our struggles. Hide our weaknesses. Hide our insecurities. Hide our true selves.

And so we feel alone in these struggles. We feel ashamed of who we really know ourselves to be, believing that we should have it all together like her…or her…or her…

But no one has it all together. NO ONE.

And I, for one, have no interest in pretending.

Authenticity-Quote-2I do not have it all together (in case you haven’t already figured that out).

Sometimes I lose my temper with my children. Sometimes, I choose to binge watch netflix and let the dirty dishes pile up in my kitchen sink. Sometimes, even when my makeup is freshly applied, and I’m all decked out in trendy fashion, I feel woefully short of our modern standard of beauty. Sometimes, despite two degrees and one of them being psychology, I have absolutely no idea how to handle my son. Sometimes, all I want to do is give in to cynicism, become a hermit, and not find the bloody bright-side. Screw the bright-side!

But that doesn’t make me a bad mother, a bad woman, or a bad human being.

It just makes me normal. No better and no worse than anybody else.

So how about giving me a break?

And giving yourself one too while you’re at it.

Let’s stop trying to impress, trying to pretend, and get down to the business of admitting that none of us have it all together all of the time.