I have Morton’s Syndrome, a fairly common feature in which the second (and in my case, third) toe is longer than the big toe. My toes are so long that I regularly joke that I am most three generations away from being able to hang from a tree branch by my feet.
I’m not particularly bothered by my monkey toes, to be honest. We live in peace. They are my toes, my toes are me. They can be found on my mental list of “things that are perhaps imperfect about Erika but which don’t really bother her,” as opposed to either the “things Erika likes about herself” or the “things Erika loathes about herself” cousin lists.
Two weeks ago, I wasn’t really conscious that such lists existed, not until my stepmother reacted with unabated horror when I rejected a pair of peep-toe sandals on the grounds that it was my second toe that was doing the peeping. Again, there was no self-loathing to my logic - just, as I saw it, pure fact.
“Why do you care?!?” she wailed at me the next afternoon. “Why does it matter?!?”
And it doesn’t matter (not my toes at least) in as much as my toes are concerned. I swear it doesn’t.
But there is an underlying horrible truth her: I am aware of my TOES. My toes! And not just my toes, but my entire body, at all times, and my job and my social life and my relative success in the game of life. My brain is the synaptic equivalent of a room full of pre-schoolers hopped up on candy necklaces. If I could harness the energy I spend on micro analysis in a typical day and direct it elsewhere, I could cure cancer and the Middle East crisis by Friday.
I am a massive overthinker. “But!” as I told Lorna that afternoon, “I’m better than most of my friends!”
Which is also true, and very very sad.
An exceptionally beautiful friend was in town this weekend, and, like in some reliable social chemistry experiment, the addition of one female to one female produced a four-day gluttonous rampage of our – and everyone else’s – imperfections. Bushy hair, limp hair, wide calves, soft stomachs, grey hair, neck folds, inner things, jagged toes, aging hands, saggy breasts, cellulite, bad tans, body hair, uncut fingernails, dandruff, bad teeth, yellow teeth, crooked teeth, bad plastic surgery, good plastic surgery, too many muscles, broad shoulders, red bumps, dry skin, under-eye shadows, veins, clothes clothes clothes.
And dearie me, people, but this is one stunning girl spewing out this tirade of self-hate. Conventionally and uniquely beautiful all at once: creamy skin, brilliant blue eyes, all slender curves and radiant youth and health.
I got sensitive at one point: when she pointed out that one girl’s calves were a bit too wide for her legs to be considered “gorgeous,” I whipped out my mental tape measure and did a loop around my calves, falling silent and sad for most of the rest of the night. My calves moved from “not bothered”, to “things Erika loathes about herself” – I hadn’t previously thought of them as anything other than slightly-wide calves that fit relatively well with the rest of my frame, but now they stood in the way of my having gorgeous legs.
The agenda of crippling narcissism currently plaguing Western womenfolk (and, increasingly, menfolk) is serious stuff, and is not to be underestimated. You can find it discussed in women’s magazines, flanked by an advertisement for skin cream and an article on Scarlett Johansson’s breasts. We buy bathing suits because they flatter our figures, and shampoo because it makes our hair shiny. Sex and the City based six seasons and two movies on dissecting the daily minutia of women’s lives, in groups, over martinis. We are not allowed to be perfect yet we are not allowed to be imperfect, and always always always must we THINK ABOUT IT.
If we could harness the energy spent on micro-analysis by all women worldwide in a typical day and direct it elsewhere, we would learn how to fly.
In the first chapter of the book that, simplified and glossed over, produced the magic that is the movie The Princess Bride
, William Goldman discusses Princess Buttercup’s efforts to become the most beautiful woman in the world. At the beginning of the chapter, she is perhaps sixth, but, with such polishings as slimming down one elbow and fattening up the other, she finds herself at the top of the ranks.
Goldman was being facetious when he wrote this, reflecting on the culture of ridiculousness that is the eternal question for feminine perfection. That beautiful Buttercup should feel held back by one slightly pudgy elbow is hilarious, truly – as delicious as the six-fingered man and the Rodents of Unusual Size.
Last night, I made note of soft, tiny folds above my elbows. Another jot on my “imperfect but not bothered” list.
I am sad for myself, for my beautiful friend, for the women I know, that we wade through the world with such enormous albatrosses on our backs, forever doing penance for crimes against industry-created ideals of perfection. And if that bird weighs too much, if that bird holds us back, if that bird keeps us down, well, we have no one to blame but our own brainwashed, trapped, crippled selves. We buy into this, we perpetuate it, we allow it to consume us whole.
We can stop hurting ourselves and each other.
We must stop hurting ourselves and each other.
We are in control, damn it.
We are in control.