being perfect

I read a blog post yesterday where the author talked about how slightly jealous but mostly sorry she felt for the perfect women who surrounded her at the school pick-up, how much more tyrannical and less joyful their lives must be because they are so polished seeming.

As I read this, I felt a little up in arms. I’m hardly a picture of suburban pressed perfection, but I’m a pretty together person. I wear a bra and shave my legs; I generally try to brush everyone’s hair, including my own. I like to wear clean clothes. My house is super super neat and tidy. But I don’t participate in grooming activities because I feel pressure to appear perfect, I do it because I don’t LIKE the breeze blowing through the tiny hairs above my lip. I shave my legs because cotton sheets feel like silk on smooth legs. I brush my children’s hair because it gets tangly and I’m not sure that tangled hair and food on one’s mouth is the best way to present to the world. And maybe that’s a presentation issue, but you know? At nearly-four and six? They need to learn how to care for themselves, so they can then choose to reject or embrace hair-brushing at 18 or 24 or 40.

My writing group has talked about this too: more in the context of how we present ourselves as authors. Do we get less honest because we are concerned about appearances? Is that manifested in our daily lives through guilt over dusty houses or a concern that people won’t like us if we are not wearing posh shoes?

I’ve taken feminist lit classes and women’s studies courses. I’ve heard all about the cult of domesticity, the pressure on women to do it all. I’ve read mommy blogs, articles about mommy wars, and stories on mothers vs. non-mothers. I understand patriarchal oppression and colonialization.

What I do not understand is the assumption that the appearance of perfection is predicated on artifice. That people who have clean houses and relatively tidy children are somehow less authentically themselves that women whose children are unkempt in the late afternoon or who don’t have razor-cut layers or wear flip-flops.

I’m by no means perfect. I feel like I have zero ability to dress myself, although thanks to friends and magazines and so forth, I am getting to a place where I get dressed and feel happy with how I look in an outfit, comfortable that I am representing my soul and flattering my figure. I don’t think it’s oppression to play up one’s better features, nor is it artificial of me to want to wear things that I feel comfortable in. If you like wearing sweatpants, then so be it. But don’t assume I’m less myself because my shirt & skirt match.

My house is unbearably tidy to some, and ridiculously clean to others. That’s how both Husband and I like it. We like being neat. We feel oppressed by clutter; it makes breathing harder for both of us. I feel like I can’t work surrounded by stacks. I need to organize, to catalog, to create checkboxes and lists. I like it that way. The children are expected to clear away their toys, most days, because I think that, again, learning to care for your belongings is the pathway to rejecting that. Or deciding that you are okay with stacks.

But in my house? We tidy. We brush our hair. We brush our teeth. We get dressed sometimes, and other times we don’t. We remain ourselves: boisterous, argumentative, chatty, catty, lushy, crafty, writerly, and orderly.

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