Vital Imperfections

quotes about perfection

Growing up, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King was my absolute FAVORITE book. I must’ve read that giant tome a dozen times during my preteen and teen years, and even now its gorgeous prose still haunts me. White’s take on the Arthurian legends included numerous unexpected twists and bizarre plot devices, but this one was by far my favorite:

At some point in the course of the Camelotian hoo-ha, everybody decides it’s time to hunt down the Holy Grail. And the knights get all jazzed and pack up their knightly belongings in preparation for the big quest. But there’s a catch, and it’s a doozy. Not only is the Grail fairly hard to track down, but the person who actually finds it will immediately achieve total perfection … and, therefore, cease to exist.*


Still do, actually. We’ve all been told that aiming for perfection is a surefire way to construct a life of misery and disappointment, but this theory takes it a step further. This theory makes such unforgiving, self-defeating folly MORTALLY DANGEROUS!

I try to hold this idea in mind when I descend into body-related self-flagellation. There are many things I need to do to keep my body happy and healthy and beautiful. My body needs maintenance and care and love, exercise and nutrients and grooming, and it benefits from all of these things. But my body does NOT benefit from unproductive comparisons to idealized figures. It does not benefit from self-loathing or outright neglect. And, above all, it does not benefit from being scolded for its imperfections.

Because my body cannot be perfect, and expecting it to be perfect poisons my relationship with it. And I’d like to think that, on some level, my body knows that if it were to achieve physical perfection, it would flippin’ vanish. IT knows that its very imperfections are what make it uniquely mine and uniquely gorgeous … and that these imperfections are what root it to this earthly plane.

Now, I realize that we’ve all got different ideas of what a “perfect” body might look like. And some are celebrity-based, and some are 100% personal, and some are a mixture. But regardless of origins, the vast majority of us have cultivated some ideal, some mental image of what the perfect female form would look like … even if we’ve never seen that form in real life. And many of us, consciously or unconsciously, compare our current selves to that template of perfection on a regular basis.

And from there flows the poison.

So even if you aren’t prepared to buy into this whole perfection-as-vaporization deal, give some thought to your personal body standards. As damaging as it may be, we can’t help comparing ourselves to others, and imagining their lots as better than our own. But placing too much focus outside ourselves just leads to detachment and emptiness, especially when it comes to something as grounding and vital as a body awareness. Cultivate presence in your own body by exploring its quirks and strengths, imperfections and assets. And even if you can’t love and accept those imperfections outright, work on making a kind of peace with them. Because hating them and wishing them away won’t actually change them; It’ll just make you a bitter and angry imperfect person. Your perfection-as-vaporization mechanism functions a little differently: You never achieve perfection, yet you eradicate yourself irregardless. A lose-lose, no?

In the end, it was young, handsome, well-nigh-flawless Galahad who nabbed the Grail. And then POOF! Buh-bye. Merlyn and Arthur and Morgan Le Fay, in all their flawed glory, got to live and love and learn. With their cowlicks and potbellies, their gray hairs and zits, their brittle nails and cellulite. Their imperfections drew them together, colored their stories … even kept them alive.

Maybe yours are the only things keeping you from vanishing in a puff of smoke. Maybe not. But do you really want to test that theory?

*Perhaps this idea originated elsewhere, but I read a LOT of Arthurian stuff as a kid and I never came across it in other texts.

Image source

Originally posted 2009-07-07 05:46:00.

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25 Responses to “Vital Imperfections”

  1. ohhoneyno

    i'm pretty sure you have the legend right – i LOVED that book myself and read it OVER AND OVER! plus, doesn't legend say that galahad eventually found the grail and then was taken up to the heavens, or something? i may be wrong…

    yes, this is a comment entirely on the literary portion of your post and nothing else :\ i got excited by the mention of one of my most-beloved books, haha.

  2. Aimee Bumgarner

    What a brilliant post! I agree absolutely. Aiming for perfection can be so destructive and dangerous and I love the connection to Aruthurian legend. I loved The Once and Future King as a kid as well, but it's been so long since I've read it. Thank you for bringing it back to my attention. It's really important to realize that perfection cannot exist. No matter how much we tweeze, tuck, or tone, there will always be something else to "fix." And that's okay, because I'd much rather go through life with thunder thighs than disappear with sublime perfection into the vapors. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. fortressofeden

    I have nothing brillant to say but your post inspired me to write a comment, which is something I rarely do.
    Your post is so positive and supporting it with such beautiful text just tops it off. Truly.
    I will continue to read your blog because I really see it as something worth bringing into my life… so thank you and please continue with such great posts. 🙂

  4. Tina Z.

    Yes, seeking perfection amounts to a self-defeating endeavor that swallows everything meaningful in your life in its path. I see it all the time, empty women that look like statues of their former selves working themselves to death at my local gym. Too bad I can't remember that when I'm in a class with them, the jealousy sometimes creeps up out of nowhere and is sometimes overwhelming. My battle sounds like yours.

    I'm now reading "Mommy Dressing", a memoir written by Jo Copeland's daughter (a mid-century NYC fashion designer who sought perfection always). I highly recommend this book, pertains to this issue.

  5. Rosie Unknown

    I'd never heard of that, but it makes total sense. The purpose of, well, everything, is to become a better version of itself, so when you achieve perfection, you have stopped having a purpose, therefor, you can no longer exist. Personally, I don't even try to aim for perfection, because I know that I enjoy dessert far to much, instead I aim for health. Cause healthy people are as close to perfection as anything can get without being perfect.

  6. Jess

    Amazing post. Very ironic because I wrote on a similiar topic yesterday.

  7. Bridget

    Anyone see Disney's Sword and the Stone? It's based on The Once and Future King, but let me tell you…TH White's version is much funnier. Seriously. Also, Robin Hood makes an appearance.

    Trying to achieve eternal perfection means that you totally miss the moment. Or, rather, lots of moments. No one said it is easy to just look the other way. But looking to make improvements will always be okay, especially in comparison to trying to be perfect…and it's a bit less lethal, too! 🙂

  8. Laura.

    oh, this is so interesting! i never read arthurian stuff as a kid, but this reminds me of christian spiritual tradition that talks endlessly of new bodies in the new heaven/earth (i.e. post death), and also about human encounters with god being pretty hard to handle (as in, we can't even look at him directly without dying). in this approach, we are always encouraged that someday we will have the perfect bodies (although there is frustratingly little information on exactly what that means!), but that until then, we have these imperfect human bodies that limit us and at the same time allow us to experience so much. ah, it's a tricky, mysterious, wonderful (and kind of mind-blowing) concept. . .
    oh, and i haven't forgotten about your present! i will figure out how to get it to you soon!

  9. Christina Lee

    oooh love that!! perfect!- never read it but now want to….

  10. Sheila

    I love that you've tied in body image to the Arthurian legends, Sal! Awesome post.

  11. jennine

    i love it… we don't like perfect people anyway… i can't think of one near perfect person that doesn't get the eye-roll… imperfection is what makes you human… or perhaps its imperfection that makes you perfect

  12. Clare

    I love this story! And I love how you've used it to comment on one of humankind's biggest shortcomings.

    I totally appreciate when people say that "you're perfect, just the way you are". However, I think it's healthy and important and NECESSARY to recognize that we are NOT perfect. We are uniquely yet uniformly imperfect, and it is that imperfection that gives us the drive to embrace ourselves as we are, and strive to be better. Better but never perfect.

    LOVE this post.

  13. The Budget Babe

    a very insightful post, i'm not sure i've ever heard these ideas presented in quite this manner. i guess i've just understood the biblical notion that to achieve perfection is to become god-like, hence our imperfections are what make us human. and twilight ain't great literature but its interesting how the vampires seem so perfect to humans and yet they crave to be human, to be fallible, to be destructible…such a great topic, sal!

  14. Audi

    You've floored me yet again with another amazing post. You reminded me of a conversation I had with a dentist several years ago; I was getting a tooth capped, and the dentist wanted to 'fix' it so that it wasn't crooked anymore, but I insisted that the cap look exactly the way the real tooth did. He was really taken aback that I didn't want to have perfect teeth, but frankly I think perfect teeth are a bit creepy. We should all be pround of our imperfections and embrace them as the things that make us individuals. Awesome topic, Sal.

  15. Gina

    I found you through Venus vision and am so glad I did. As I work with women with eating disorders and find the search for perfection becomes their constant companion and ultimate foe. Your fresh approach and shine will do much for this population. I look forward to more!
    Aloha~ Gina

  16. Kate Coveny Hood

    I think THAT'S perfect. The only way to achieve perfection is to not exist at all. I always tell myself that I wouldn't have any friends if I was perfect. No one can relate to perfection…

  17. H. Brown

    totally moving idea. thank you. the title is especially killing me: counterintuition overload! i stagger to think of ALL the areas in which i strive for perfection, not even realizing that i'm basically wishing my entire life out of existence; leaving myself with nothing!


    striving for perfection can be so destructive…Loving the concept of imperfectly perfect! Great post Sal! …wish could write more like you instead of my usual errr-s & hee-s…bahhh! ~XO*

  19. Marie Lemondrop

    Wow! What an interesting link to great literature- one of my favorites too. I also have the Book of Merlyn which I think was published posthumously. I have read several other Arthurian legends/books and the finding of the grail isn't as important in many of those stories. My other favorite is the Mists of Avalon (the book is fabulous, the movie not so much in comparison). One reason I loved it (other than it's told from a woman's point of view) is that Morgaine always felt small and ugly next to glamorous tall Guinevere. Being very height challenged myself I could relate and admire her courage and tenacity to win Lancelot knowing his feelings for Guinevere.
    It's been hard for me to come to terms with aging – but I am learning to see that I will never be 16 again and its far more interesting to be someone with varied experience than to be the skinny teen who can eat ANYTHING! Though I miss eating queso daily. :)Thanks for reminding us to appreciate what we have.

  20. Kelsey

    I love how you wrote a post about this book when I just picked it up and started reading it again! Are you a fan of the tv show Merlin by any chance? That's what made me start reading it again.

  21. ula dee

    This is a lovely and inspiring post, thank you for using my image in conjunction with such a wonderful blog post. xo

  22. Nadine

    So, I have now read The Sword in the Stone because of THIS POST. Thank you! It's excellent (you knew that). And by great good fortune I have two sons aged 10 and 7 who are going to get it read to them – mwahahaha!

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