Perfection: The Myth

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What is perfection? What does it mean to be perfect?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines perfect as ‘the state of being complete and correct in every way’.

The Oxford Dictionary defines perfect as ‘Free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless.’

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Adam Levin – photo courtesy of Twitter

‘Free from flaws’, an interesting phrase considering that dimples, which are considered widely in many countries and cultures as attractive, are in fact muscle defects. They are caused by a fault in the tissue situated under the skin, or a shortened muscle, while the embryo develops. Medically registered as ‘genetic defaults’ and imperfections, it is ironic that this is one of the main attributes women find attractive in men. Famous celebrities such as Cheryl Cole, Cameron Diaz and even the Duchess of Cambridge, all present beautiful smiles enhanced by dimples and let’s not forget about the men: Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, and even Maroon 5’s own Adam Levine.

Body modifications have jumped onto this popular defect with dimple piercings which according to Piercing Models, is the ‘most talked about modification’ due to ‘how it accentuates a feature beautifully.’ Models such as Iska Ithil rock this modification, instantly eye-catching and highlighting her facial features. Piercings such as this, attempt to capture the natural beauty of a defect because, despite its medical imperfections, dimples are attractive and beautiful.

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist… without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” – Stephen Hawking

We aren’t born perfect because perfect is not human. As humans, it is one of our shared traits as a race to be subjected to human error. Unlike certain animal species that are so perfectly adapted to their environments, they have been around since the dinosaurs (aka the resilient crocodiles), we are a relatively new species on this earth that is ever-changing and ever learning. The Marcgravia evenia plant has only recently been discovered to have evolved a new leaf that creates an acoustic echo beacon. This allows bats to find it more easily to increase pollination. Like this plant, we evolve constantly with changing believes, opinions and perceptions that help us adapt. Filled with flaws we adapt through trial and error, better fitting our environments and constantly remolding society.

Imperfections are natural in our birth, unique to each different human being and in our flaws, we create our fingerprint of identity. Yet our society is founded upon perceived beauty and perfection that is unnatural, photoshopped and airbrushed. Free of wrinkles, freckles and tight, fat-free synthetic bodies is the image society depicts as their perfect, an image that is imposed on women and men alike. This leads to many spending the rest of their lives trying to achieve a look of perceived beauty and perfection. Especially susceptible to peer pressure and media, young girls are constantly attempting to emulate these size zero models. Vulnerable in how they view themselves; young girls misguidedly think that starving themselves is natural to achieve the body they desire. Detrimental not only to their physical health but mental as well, this has irreparable effects.

Who has the right to say what perfection is? Perhaps this is for celebrities to decide, they often start trends and end them, or perhaps media holds this power; shaping views, beauty don’ts and dos. Maybe family, friends or even your partner, but whether this is one or all, the underlining fact is that perfect is a myth.  The image of perfect changes from person to person, culture to country and century to century. The 18th century presented a chic look of dead white, porcelain skin attractive due to the social connotations of being pale equalling being rich. Only servants or laborers had any colour from working outside. Lead-based cosmetics were the trend, applied to the skin in the pursuit of the perfect ghost complexions. The deader the better. Only death was the result in many cases including Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry, who at the age of twenty-eight died due to her ‘fashionable lead-based makeup’ as the National Trust quotes.  Now, our own 21st century Western trend has flipped this completely with tanned skin being the desired appearance which has resulted in many Oompa Loompa wannabes.

What is your ideal image of perfect? Everyone has a different view no matter how small. Is it tall, dark-haired, tanned skin and tight bodied? Or perhaps a fair-skinned, blonde hair, blue eyes Adonis? Sound familiar? This Aryan race was one man’s ideal view of a perfect world, a perfect race populated only with perfect people, a vision that leads to mass genocide. In the name of perfection Hitler killed and tortured millions: the elderly, women, children, disabled, Jew and just about anyone with a difference of opinion fell into that category. None of them fitted into Hitler’s distorted image of perfection. ‘I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race’, in the book Hitler Speak, this is quoted. What gives one man the right to murder all in the name of his own personal image of perfect?

We, as a race, have become obsessed with the image of perfect. Only recently has Vogue featured an article celebrating ‘sun-kissed’ women full of constellations of freckles. Titled as ‘13 Rule-Breaking Beauties Who Made Freckles Iconic, From Twiggy to Penelope Cruz’, these women are considered ‘rule-breaking’ for throwing away the socially imposed image of perfection and embracing their freckle flaw. In doing so they demonstrated the beauty of this flaw, a beauty that has now changed a perception of society so dramatically, that freckled models are ‘in season’ with the demand for them being immense.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all judge someone on their appearance, much like the judging of a book by its cover. A taboo in literature, yet one of the main selling points of books is their bright covers and interesting designs that make them stand out from the rest. But have we considered that our imperfect little flaws act in the same way? Bright, interesting covers that shine inner beauty and self-acceptance, being more interesting than the hundreds of others: all the same shade, all the same style and trend. We each have unique personalities, unique styles, unique quirks and flaws that create the individuals that we are.

I by no means claim to be confident in my own skin. I could not walk out the door with no makeup and feel confident, self-assured and ready for the day. Some days a little battle makeup is required in tackling a particular activity or event, and makeup can be a wonderful tool to enhance a natural feature. However, I have an immense amount of respect for those women that can walk out the door barefaced and beautiful in whom they are.

“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” – Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

So much of how we are expected to look is all subliminal and specially made to target our subconscious selves. Embedded into magazines, trends and television adverts, this perfect image of men and women starts as young as children; as a study by Johnson and Young in 2002 shows. However, if we are all one shade of perfect, then everyone on earth would look the same, act the same, dress the same, even talk the same. So are we all expected to become Stepford robots: mindless, submissive, docile with no lives of our own but perceived as perfect? What a boringly dull world that would be. It’s our imperfections, our little quirks, birthmarks, dimples, personalities and so much more that make us who we are. We aren’t perfect and I’m okay with that.

Maybe, one day as a united human race we’ll rise up above media and unrealistic expectations to be ourselves. Already we have taken a step in the right direction with France joining Spain, Italy, and Israel in banning underweight models. They have also added a law that any photos which have digitally retouched a model’s appearance have to mark this with photographie retouchée (that’s retouched photograph to you and me).  Slowly, we are continuing to evolve in our thinking and accept that being who you are is not only okay but beautiful. When we finish this Elysian evolution of thought, we will change the definition of perfect. Perfection will mean being who you are and no one else; because we live in a world where everyone is born a single, magnificent shade of imperfect perfection.

So why cheapen yourself to be a copy when the original is worth so much more?

 

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Language Barriers

Language is an important tool that we all take for granted. It is only when you are deprived of your ability to speak and still have to convey information, that the usually effortless task become a battle. Having recently experienced this to a lesser degree, it was eye-opening.

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A workshop warm-up exercise designed precisely for the purpose of allowing us to experience the frustration and helplessness at the lack of someone understanding. We were assigned a seemingly simple task: in pairs, one person was turned from the screen and had a page to draw on, the other: acting as the eyes. The looker had to communicate an image from the screen to their partner non-verbally. Not a sound to be made by either person. The scene? A black and white, simple beach scene with multiple subjects to be drawn by our partners. Sounds easy? It wasn’t.

Some aspects – such as the birds – didn’t cause much trouble and holding up the correct number (three) was simple too. The sea caused a problem: one pair found that what she assumed to be sea waves that she was making with her fingers, her partner assumed was a piano. Confused is an understatement.

That was lesson number one – what we personally assume something to be is not what everyone else will perceive, no matter how apparent it seems to us. Unlike bees, sadly we do not have a hive mind.

The sea took some time, after that a swimmer (with some exaggerated facial moments and wild arm actions) was added along with three fish. The ice cream kiosk proved to be the next obstacle, licking evolved into a lollipop, ice cream, ice cream seller, ice cream eating, to ice cream truck but kiosk or stall, was just too hard to convey. Our partners similarly could not speak to guess or say anything, had to gesture back themselves or draw. Growing more and more frustrated trying to understand each other, our movements became frantic and as a result: the message gets obscured in our arduous struggle.

Guessing the boat was mere luck and the boathouse that was… agonizing. Irked, impatient and irritated we admitted defeat.

The sheer amount of time and effort it took to convey a beach scene was shocking. Language is so fundamentally crucial in all aspects of our lives, that when cut off from it, life becomes a struggle. According to the British Deaf Association, there is an estimated 9 million deaf or of hard hearing people in the UK alone. A huge figure of the population that finds everyday life hard to express, limited and constricted by the language barrier in place. Nonetheless, don’t presume life ends for them: they don’t sit at home isolated. Many live completely normal lives, working, raising families and enjoying themselves. However, a little help, a simple sign of ‘good morning’ could make their day and make them feel less isolated.

This exercise was the most effective method of showing us the importance of how words are formed from sounds, strung together and create sentences that can describe the simplest action to the most complex philological concept. It was our starting point in introducing Makaton: a language programme using symbols and signs designed for the support of communication. Unlike BSL (British Sign Language), it follows the natural speech pattern. ‘I went to work’, in BSL would start with ‘work’ and follow backward, while Makaton is designed to enhance the spoken word and therefore the sentence is portrayed in the same order, leaving filter words such as ‘to, or, and’ out.

More universal by using iconic symbols that are simplistic and easier to understand, Makaton is wonderful for helping young children with difficulties learn how to communicate. Containing different stages of vocabulary, it allows the language to grow with the user and provides a straightforward, effective training method.

Image result for makaton sign for brotherLearning Makaton through a workshop is not only satisfying, when you manage to correctly communicate with someone else and get an answer in reply, it is fun to learn. Finding out that the sign for ‘brother’ is rubbing knuckles together, which is symbolic of fighting and, evidently as we all know, brothers often fight amongst each other. This caused laughter throughout the whole class and made the sign memorable. ‘Sister’ – that one was even better, making a hooked finger and tapping it twice on your nose because sisters are nosy. As a sister myself, I have to reluctantly agree.

Having had my first workshop, I would not only highly recommend, but also profoundly encourage people to attend and learn for themselves. It’s a wonderful, transferable skill in not only helping other Makaton users or children but in how to manage body language, facial expressions, and interactions with others. Practical and exciting: our three-hour introduction workshop flew in!

Break down language barriers by learning something new, whether that is Makaton, BSL, Spanish, French or Mandarin, challenge yourself and stick with it. The rewards are wonderful and worth your efforts.

 

Feature photo was taken from Lead with Languages website.

 

Belonging to a Place

Nationality

Self-definition can come from the notion of nationality. It draws people together into a unit and creates a feeling of belonging among perfect strangers, simply by the idea of nationality.

Nationality is a wonderful concept and vital to the running of the world, placing an individual within international law. Wide and diverse, the very word can encompass everything from history, art, ethnicity, and religion; it is not limiting to or excluding, any other aspects that make up personal identity. Yet, now as David Miller explains, the word ‘is often dismissed today as an irrational political creed with disastrous consequences.’ Why is this our 21st-century image of such an important essence of human identity?

The negativity revolves around our brutal times: unpleasant and unsafe in many instance, the rising unease means that when publicising these criminals, nationality is the first identification used. This does not mean that this whole nation is made-up of like-minded people. However, here the problem arises. Everyone has a right to a nationality and this applies to all humans, good or bad.

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Image from NMSU website

With rising globalization and inter-connectivity of nationality to citizenship, the meaning often gets lost or pushed away. These two could not be further apart. Miller states how citizenship ‘is a legal status, which means that an individual has been registered with the government in some country.’ Something that can be applied for, controlled and is your choice in the matter. American, British, French, Australia – take your pick. Of course, some may be harder than others to acquire and each one takes work, after all, while being a choice, it is a fairly big one. Nationality, on the other hand, is ‘through inheritance of his [or her] parents’ for the country that the individual was born in. Being born is not something any of us can control nor which parents or country. Let’s face it, if we could, we’d all probably live very different lives – I’d pick some badass, rock loving, parents who understand that pink really isn’t my colour.

So, knowing that nationality unites not only people but so many different aspects of human being – do we have to be limited to one?

What if you were born in one place, lived there, felt that pride of culture, native tongue and common people and then, suddenly, moved again. Different country, different area, different people, different tongue. How does that affect someone?

Carol Ann Duffy’s Originally questions the origins of a person, a place and the birthright of a people. Home, the place they fled is heavily autobiographical for Carol herself, who was in the same position. ‘[O]ur own country’ rings loud with belonging and yearning, of a childhood uprooted. Yet, ‘all childhood is an emigration’, a metaphor for our inevitable journeys from childhood to adulthood. A strikingly beautiful poem in which Duffy shows paragraph by paragraph the transition that occurs when the nationality of a person is displaced.

‘Your accent wrong’, a negativity by the collectivity that you don’t belong to. That something as simple as your pronunciation might set us apart, that the loss of our roots means the loss of our tongue. As in the case of most children, with time their tongues adapt, and accents change, but borderline some always stay a stranger. Too neutral for the regional, colloquial dialect and too foreign for their own mother tongue. Must we completely lose one to adapt to the other?

I was one of those children, uprooted early enough to adapt my tongue but too old to forget the essence of my nationality. Even now, though my thoughts circle in English and more than two-thirds of my life have been lived in Northern Ireland, the ghostly impression has never left.

My mother, older and concrete in her roots of belonging, like the Nefertiti mother in Swing Time, she does not compromise or adapt in the same way. Perhaps, already full of what nationality meant to her, she did not need to embrace another. Ironically, her own roots are split equally between two other nationalities.

Children are smart, they pick things up much quicker than their parents. The roots of belonging aren’t as deep, the loyalty of a nationality not as strong. A new place can become a home, it’s easy to ‘forget, or don’t recall, or change’ and a new language becomes your own. If you’re young enough, the embracing of a new country can be entire, consuming and the memories of a distant, far away birthplace becomes a dream, a passing wisp of a long-forgotten race. The tongue might accept a new language and the only foreign aspect left is the weird pronunciation of a last name adapted to fit the crowds.

Nonetheless, deep down in the corners of the mind, an imprint of a country is left strong. A ghost town once played in, among the ruins we were all warriors and rebels, hunters and seekers; we ran through the fields with grass to our knees. Memories like these don’t fade even with time, instead, they ignite a unity with the people of my parents, my ancestors and their countries of birth. Holding a family line that has long since been displaced and dispersed, we seem to each embrace our nationalities of the countries we were born into, but also form connections with the roots our new individualities and origins.

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Even now, after reading the words five or six dozen times, the last two lines ring loudly, as if created by Duffy to express my own situation. ‘Where do you come from? Strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.’ I do hesitate, not because of shame or fear of telling strangers my birthplace but considering that both places signify just as much. Both countries molded my personality and every aspect of who I was and am.

There is not one that dominates over the other – perhaps for some – but for others belonging and self-identification comes from more than just the incidental place of our births. It is in the combined essence that grows and shapes us, nationality being one of them, citizenship another. Dual countries can be just as important as the other, after all, we all have a nationality of Earth.