It’s rapidly spreading across America, across all people groups and is not gender specific. It haunts all people of all social statuses and finds itself infecting people of all ages in all stages and in all places of life. This infection kills slowly and hides secretively in deep dark places. It is contagious and has a slow onset often beginning in childhood. If we don’t stop this epidemic by diagnosing, quarantining, and treating it, this infection will eventually take over you, your household, your social, professional and geographical sphere of influences and will become the “norm” of life which is a “norm” of sickness.
What is this epidemic I am referring to and are you susceptible to it? It’s the perfection infection. In all seriousness, please don’t write yourself off saying that you are immune to this infection. I’ve become more and more aware of this disease and am now recognizing it in all of it’s forms. This recognition started by first finding it in myself and then hearing about different “strains” of it in my family and friends. I’ll describe some scenerios and you see if any of them sound familiar.
The mom who wakes exhausted because she was up so late the night before creating the most beautiful treats for her daughter’s classroom party. She stumbles into the bathroom and fixes her hair and make up before taking the kids to school because it’s often, that she sees her neighbors and friends there and doesn’t want them to see her exhaustion. Her house is chaotic in the morning as the kids get ready for school and she stresses about what her kids picked out to wear. She hates when they wear holey jeans or wrinkly shirts to school. And no, they are not allowed to go to school with messy hair. No chance. She fixes a perfectly balanced meal for her kids using all organic fruits and veggies, local farm eggs, and dairy free, gluten free, GMO free, preservative free, high fructose corn syrup free, sugar free, chemical free, pesticide free… This same mom often yawns, sighs and cries because she is overwhelmed and stressed about her life. She never feels like she is a “good enough” mom. She never feels “fun enough”, “organized enough”, “involved enough”, “patient enough”, “disciplined enough”, “loving enough”…She could name someone else that is fun, organized, involved, patient, disciplined and loving. In conversation, she’d say she “loves being a stay at home mom”. You’d never guess that she often feels trapped. Do you know her?
The dad who works two jobs so that he can provide his wife with the SUV she wants and “needs” to drive their kids around in. He is often working late or very early and looks for ways he can make more money to support his kids’ activities and give them “opportunities” that he didn’t have and give them a fair chance in this competitive world. He notices when his co-worker gets a new vehicle or new motorized “toy”. He senses a bit of ache when someone else talks about the great family vacation they are taking their crew on this year. His ache stems from a wondering whether or not he’ll make enough to give his family those kinds of experiences. When he feels stifled in his work and doesn’t see hope in any forward momentum, he feels discouraged and calls himself a failure. People that know him think he’s incredibly successful because that’s how he walks and talks, but inside, he often feels worthless. He hears his kids say, “Why are working so much?” ”Will you please play with me? You never play with me.” ”Are you coming to my game or are you working again?” Do you know him?
The young professional woman who appears to have it all together. She dresses with impeccable taste, carries herself with confidence and everything she does is with excellence. She eats incredibly healthy, works out daily, her house is spotless and she is always posting pictures on Facebook of her newest Pinterest DIY project. Where does she find time for all of this? She is always smiling, has so many friends and is one of the most beautiful, successful people you know. Or so you think. She often cries herself to sleep at night because she is lonely. She feels like she will never be pretty enough, skinny enough, or attractive enough for someone to love her. She hates herself for eating a cookie and strategizes how she will burn it off. When she looks in the mirror, her eyes well with tears because even though she has the best skin care line, has eyelash extensions, has beautiful thick hair, does her nails, etc… she still has visible fat that she hides by using spanx and other tricks of the trade. She weighs herself incessantly because she fears that she will be fat or fatter. Do you know her?
He’s 13 years old. He’s intelligent and uniquely gifted. He has messy hair, sloppy clothes, and appears to his teachers as though he doesn’t care about his work. This boy was told by his dad (described above) that his grades were unacceptable and that he had not done good enough. This boy has never told his parents that when he tries to focus on his work, he gets headaches and his heart beats really fast. This boy has anxiety because he is afraid of not getting good grades. He has given up on himself because he doesn’t think he’ll ever be as good as his older brother or his dad. He has decided he hates school because it makes him sick to his stomach. You may not know this boy because he wouldn’t verbalize his feelings because that’s not manly or mature. He would feel stupid speaking up.
If you are still saying, “I know those people, but they aren’t me” then answer the following questions honestly:
- Have you ever said any of these things: I am worthless. I have no purpose. I always fail.
- Have you ever felt like your friends seem to do things better than you?
- Have you ever wondered if there is anything likable about you?
- If someone dropped over to your house RIGHT NOW, would you be embarrassed to invite them in?
- If your new friend found out that you yell at your kids, would you feel mortified?
- If your co-worker knew you were fired from your last job, would you want to avoid them forever?
- If the person you are dating found out that you were married before, would you feel less valuable or desirable?
- Do you write yourself off as not desirable because you have a child and you’re a single parent?
- Do you feel like your friends might look at you differently if they found out that you are on anti-depressants and go to counseling?
- Do you think the guys think you’re a failure if your wife had an affair and your marriage is falling apart so instead, you tell them things are great?
- Have you ever done something just because “everyone else” is doing it? Let your kids get a cell phone earlier than you thought, buy a bigger vehicle than your budget allows, go on that vacation even though you didn’t really have the money?
- Been embarrassed to invite people over because your house is messy, or unorganized, or small?
- Not answered the door because you’re in sweats or haven’t “gotten ready”?
- Been embarrassed by “grow out” or gray hairs?
- Eaten in private because you don’t want people to know what you’re eating?
- Said, “I’m good” in response to your good friend asking how you are doing just because you don’t want to tell her how you’re really feeling?
- Hate getting into a swimsuit in public?
- Hate taking off your shirt around the guys because you are white, fat and hairy?
- Tell your kids to be quiet and stop playing because in public, they appear to be “out of control” and you’ll look like a bad parent?
- Feel embarrassed when your 2 year old is freaking out in the grocery store?
- Feel embarrassed to exercise in front of other people?
- Get dressed behind closed doors and in private?
- Don’t have people over for dinner because your dishes are mismatched and you aren’t a “good cook”?
- Fibbed about your weight or your age?
Is that enough? Do you get the point? Are you understanding this infection? It can start small and you may not even have much emotion about it, but it grows I’m telling you. Pretty soon, our focus, time, money and attention center around these things above. We are always striving and how valuable we are gets wrapped up in how much we do and how good we are at it. If we don’t stand out in some way, we feel average…and that’s bad.
You know where this leads? Anxiety, depression, self-hate, divorce, loneliness, anger, bad habits, sickness, stress, and even suicide. I’m telling you, we have to address it and address it even at it’s smallest form. Is it bad to color your hair? Of course not. I do it. But, when we become so attached to it that we cry when it’s not what we wanted or we are embarrassed that we haven’t gotten it done lately or we tell ourselves we look ugly because we’re having a bad hair day…we’ve let the infection take over.
What’s the solution? How do we get rid of it once it’s diagnosed? Expose it. Get real and acknowledge it. It starts with acknowledging it to yourself and then telling God. Giving it to God is just acknowledging the need for change and admitting weakness. This allows a place for his greatness to show up in your weakness. But then getting real with your closest family and friends is next and that may be the hardest part.
This series is called “Gettin’ Naked” because it’s a play on words for a couple of things. I have been posting pictures of myself in a swimsuit after having a baby and it’s putting me in a “naked” or vulnerable place. It was a hard choice for me to make. Why? Because I’ll admit. I’ve been infected. I can say “yes” to at least a half a dozen of those questions above and I worry about how people will feel about me if they knew exactly how imperfect I really am. Will they think that I am not a good trainer then? Will they think my writing has no validity any longer? Will I lose friends? Maybe, but does the opinion of others (who are also surprisingly imperfect) make me who I am? Does it decide whether I am good enough or not? Of course not! That’s silly! But we let popular opinion drive us…sometimes inadvertently because “perfection” has become a part of our culture and that’s sick.
Just the other day, I was telling a friend that I have cried more in the last year than I have collectively cried in my entire life (apart from my baby days possibly She was surprised because she said, “you always seem like you have it all together.” False. It may seem like it, but then I come home cry because it feels like I’m falling apart and I’d be too embarrassed to admit that I don’t love my life right now. I don’t want to wallow in my sadness or talk about my problems all of the time. I prefer to try and speak hope even if I don’t feel it. I won’t change that because I think it’s proper perspective, but I even struggle with wanting to “get real” with my family and friends. No one but my husband knows that sometimes, in the middle of the night, I get so frustrated with my life and being exhausted that I refuse to walk around with our baby who won’t sleep. I hand him over and say “I’m done.” No one but my husband and kids know that I yell when I’m frustrated and even when the kids are just being kids only because I feel out of control when my life is spinning in circles. It’s not their fault. Do I think everyone needs to know those things? No, but the feeling of being mortified if anyone knew is what I want to address. The feeling that I might lose friends if they “really knew how I parented” or the feeling that people might judge me and think I’m not good at what I do if I struggle with “fat days” or eating too much when I shouldn’t is what I want to deal with. Where does that come from? I think I’ve been a bit like that (just in different ways) since I was little. I think I was “infected” sometime in elementary school. I have two vivid memories on the school bus. One is when a boy pointed out I had hairy legs when the sun shown on my legs. I can remember being so embarrassed and thinking that my hairy legs made me ugly. The second memory is sitting next to a friend on the bus and watching my thigh jiggle with the rumble of the big bus engine. I can remember looking at her leg and then back at mine and I was thinking I was fat. Another memory was in junior high. I was an “A” student, cheerleader captain and played basketball, volleyball and track and “started” on each of those teams. I had lots of friends and a boyfriend who was a grade older than me. I can remember when he said in front of his friends that I was “flat” that I felt mortified. Ahh…junior high.
In junior high, the pressure I put on myself increased. I wanted to be the best at everything I did and I wanted everyone to like me. If someone didn’t like me, I was crushed. I would NEVER allow myself to get a “B”, God forbid. I wanted to be a “good girl” at home and have my parents be proud of me. This “perfection infection” lead me to overdose on all kinds of pills because I was a disappointment. I wasn’t perfect.
Things changed for me when I met God who told me He liked me in my imperfect state. I had to do nothing more for His approval and I didn’t have to earn a thing from Him…He’d give it to me because He loved me…and he LIKED me. While I was freed from the infection, it’s as though it lays stagnant in my bloodstream and if exposed by our culture, it wants to flair up. I feel like I know it’s symptoms all too well and it leaves me with a hatred for it in all of it’s forms. That’s why I am writing this post. I hate that it causes junior high girls to be depressed, I hate that it causes mommies to feel like ashamed and I hate that it causes dads to feel like failures.
I know this post is ultra long. I feel like I could keep writing, addressing this issue from all angles. It shows up everywhere on a daily basis. How about the current controversy about Rachel, the current Biggest Loser winner? Yes, that show is about losing weight, but how about finding some things? How about being the Biggest Loser by being the Biggest Finder? I hope that Rachel found out what she is capable of and it’s not because she’s skinny now. She found courage, discipline and perserverence when she was “fat”. I hope she found that her value does not come from the size of her shell, but from who she is as a young woman. I hope she doesn’t crumble by the judgements of the world around her as her story spreads across the media. I hope she doesn’t feel pressure to look a certain way now that she’s shown her weight loss journey to the world.
I hope you have allowed yourself to “get real” as you’ve read this and identified some areas you have let the “infection” infiltrate. Diagnose it, acknowledge it, quarantine it and treat it before it grows and spreads. You might just save your daughter’s life.
This post was inspired by a post I read by Single Dad Laughing. He has just an honest look at life and the popularity of his posts come from his willingness to be “real”. I love that. We’re always drawn to people who are “real”.