Girls weren’t so perfect when I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong. I went through the yearbook and put stars next to the girls I crushed on and even wrote ‘mint’ next to the two Kelly’s, both two years older then me and friends with my brothers. They were more then perfect in my eyes. They were better looking and just as unattainable as the starlets on the screen. They were fantasies that I lived and breathed with. Perfect, beyond perfect, in my eyes. But nothing like they are today.
Boys too, but it’s different I think. The perfect of today is pristine, calculated and ultimately sad. On the bright side, these bright, emotional and soulful people dressing up like plastics, yearning and striving to out perfect the next girl in line are unable to outrun their humanity and as a result, if they are able to learn to love and respect themselves they will find something that developed in the sadness, in the yearning, in the very straw that broke their backs and set in motion their will and determination to be seen as perfect, beautiful and flawless. It’s the same drive we had as children, a thing society forgets about teens, they are children. Its falling off of perfect that makes you human.
When I was about 27 years old or so I learned that if I kept telling myself that I was gross and awful it motivated me to eat only pears, and I mean only pears, for a whole summer while working out harder and harder and working round the clock at a camp for individuals with great needs for support. I ultimately lost about 60 pounds. I’ve lost the photos because whatever perverse pride I took when I was living like that was offset by disgust at the lollipop-head that I saw in those pictures. When people would ask, ‘How’d you do it?’ my response was always a simple joke that diffused any further probing. It had the added benefit of being not at all a joke in the ‘its not true’ sense, though I was able to laugh it off that way.
‘It’s easy.’ I’d say. ‘The trick is to just hate yourself. It’s a great motivator at the gym and the only way to get a six-pack.’ Genetics are funny and I’ve had personal friends that couldn’t avoid the six-packification of the midsection, but for me this wasn’t the case. To have a six pack I had to feel I didn’t deserve food. I had to punish myself daily with workouts that were painful. Worst part, it felt freaking great physically. Being long and lean when you are naturally stocky is buzzingly awesome. It feels good in your organs and your bones. It feels terrible in terms of your human relationships, but inside your own vessel, just freaking awesome. It creates its own momentum until it doesn’t. The same way drinking and gorging myself on crap and alcohol as a 19 year old had reinforcing factors on the way to gaining the the freshman 80. That’s not a typo. I went from 185 upon entering college, to 265 upon returning after my freshman year.
Nobody ever thinks about, or even thinks to think about the underlying emotional issues that might be affecting a male, a young male at that, who chooses to maintain a slide for so long that they are simply begging to be noticed. Truth is I’m an outlier to some degree. Don’t get me wrong. There are a gazillion outliers like me, men who react this way to some external stimulus. In my case my best guess is that I was trying to find a sense of control on the one side of the coin and on the other I was engaged in avoiding all responsibility. But this came mostly from within. I didn’t have to deal with what it seems like young women have to confront on their journey through the minefield that is the process of going from girl to woman. It’s a transition that is confusing enough without the terrifying landscape they seem to confront.
The act of becoming is fraught with self doubt, harsh self-criticism, misunderstanding and missteps. It always has been. But in this new day when we are constantly exposed and constantly watching everything and everyone, I fear we’ve come to a place that is harder to navigate. I can’t for the life of me think of a more terrifying thing then being a 14 year old girl in this world where every flaw, every natural and beautiful imperfection is multiplied a million times by the microscope of ever present marketers deeply invested in exacerbating every insecurity of every fragile adolescent for the purposes of selling a thousand cures. The devils have even discovered that they can get these girls to do their work for them by training them through constant and ever present shaming images and ideas that result in a culture of competition that tricks sisters into believing that sisterhood is not a support but a competition to be won or lost. In every interaction. It’s a brutal world they’ve created and feed constantly in order to sell product. It’s an evil landscape that they have no choice but to navigate and there is virtually no path through that can’t be obscured and camouflaged by the game makers constantly scanning the landscape to ensure that no passage be readily available to their prey.
These young girls are trained, constantly, on the strive to an unreachable perfection. Its unreachable ever. In fact the message they are responding to, the one that so convinces them that they cannot rest until perfection is obtained is a lie. Any perfection found on this path is just another vantage point from where you are taught to look further down the road, where even greater perfection lies. Keeping you always underwhelmed, overworked, too perfect and further and further from acceptance and happiness.
It’s hard enough to find without the game being rigged against you.
This post originally appeared on Developing Dad. It has been reprinted with permission.
Joe Medler is a classic underachiever which makes his ongoing marriage to his smart, beautiful wife Karen who is far too good for him wife Karen all the more surprising. They live in New Jersey with their 2 toddler boys who are both remarkably big. Like really big. His work has been featured on Scary Mommy, Sammiches & Psych Meds, The Good Men Project, Mamalode and other sites. You can keep up with him on Facebook and read more at his blog, developing dad