Perfection lost (and found)

‘[I]f you’ve got a body that works and does what it’s supposed to do please look after it, and use it, and make the most of it, because it’s an incredible luxury and privilege.’

Last week I watched the first vlog from friend and fellow blogger, Ruth Chesworth. Regular readers may be familiar with Ruth’s blog Dez’s Demise, or may have read the guest post she wrote for me on ‘Exercise, eating and chemotherapy‘, (if not, get reading!)

As with all of her posts, I found this short video totally compelling and I would urge you to watch it; in particular, I wanted to pull out the above quoted sentence for discussion.

So often we find ourselves feeling negatively towards our bodies, picking out faults and obsessing over our flaws. I am as guilty as anyone for doing this and I mentally chastise myself every time I do.

It is so easy when we are fit and healthy to take our bodies so completely for granted and fail to appreciate that the ability to walk, run, swim and climb, or even to perform everyday tasks without pain or hindrance, is such a blessing. Given the incredible complexities of the human body, the number of cells and the capacity of any of those cells to mutate or to replicate or respond in an abnormal fashion, we really should regard physical wellness much more highly, rather than to take it as a given and direct focus on the most trivial, shallow and cosmetic concerns. Given the constant bombardment of images of the ‘perfect’ body this is perhaps unsurprising, ultimately however, it is important to recognise that such anxieties pertaining to aesthetics are largely frivolous frets.

A film installation at the Wellcome Collection’s Superhuman exhibition in 2012 had a lasting impression on me in this regard.

It showed a seemingly perfect woman stood naked while a plastic surgeon took a pen and circled on her body every line, lump, bump or blemish that he could nip, tuck or remove with his scalpel.

This film has stayed with me as a constant reminder that if we are looking for imperfections we can find them, even in the most perfect of bodies. It also presented the decision to butcher our bodies for cosmetic gain as grotesque; reducing the human form to a marionette, without soul or agency, shaped by an aspiration for a social perception of beauty.

This decision to accept our bodies based on an aesthetic framework often skews our assessment of how remarkable the human body is – blemishes, squidgy bits and all. While we readily abuse our bodies with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, fad diets, stress and inactivity, we often fail to appreciate its resilience, at least until disease or injury come to the fore, when we are reminded how fragile and fallible the body can be.

I do not want to dwell on disease here as it seems to be taking up a lot of space in my mind at present, so instead I will end on a lighter note:

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reminded that there is no model of beauty but that perfection is a composite of every imperfection; that we all see beauty in different shapes, forms and idiosyncrasies and that no amount of surgery can sculpt perfection, nor any number of perceived flaws disguise it. I have come to appreciate health as a blessing, not a given, and to respect my body for what it can achieve, rather than resent it for its shortcomings.

I will finish as I started:

‘[I]f you’ve got a body that works and does what it’s supposed to do please look after it, and use it, and make the most of it, because it’s an incredible luxury and privilege.’

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