How to Be Perfect: A Guide for Girls
Now that you’re here, I’m going to tell you a secret: I don’t actually know how to be perfect. But before you leave, I would like to share some wisdom with you about why that’s okay—perfect, even. Perhaps this sentiment is better phrased in the words of former rockstar Hannah Montana who, in all her teenage glory, spoke this timeless, proverbial phrase: “Nobody’s perfect.”
Above is a collage I made for a culminating RVF zine project. I hadn't worked on the collage enough before the deadline due to school demands and, after working on it quickly the night before the due date, I did not want to submit it with my name because it is not up to my collaging caliber. I was fine with the page on the left—not so much with the page on the right—but I couldn't submit only the left side as I had made the collage a double-page spread. This is an example of something that I did well, but just not as well as I was and am capable of. This is something that is imperfect but still good.
The thing is, girls are more likely to see this imperfection as frustrating, as we have been taught that we are either good at something, or we are not. This is why, despite spending hours on the collage, I didn’t want to submit it. Perfect or nothing were the only two options. Showing something failed is worse than showing nothing, because at least if you give nothing people assume you just didn’t try, right? G-d forbid the other girls in my program think I’m a mediocre collager when I’m not, especially since it’s my fault they would think that because I did not manage my time correctly. If they never see what I can do, they’ll never know if I am good or bad at it. This skewed thinking shows that it’s not really about being better than I was before; it’s that I don’t want to showcase the fact that I am not actually superwoman.
Perfection is the goal and trying is the consequence. If somebody sees work that is unfinished or imperfect in the place of a completed version of that work, what will they think of you? Is that really the best you can do?
How clever of the patriarchy! Teaching girls that our abilities are fixed and that it’s better to show nothing of yourself than be flawed. This notion can exhibit itself in toxic ways, leading girls not to try anything because we might be told we are not good at it. How are we supposed to try anything at all if we are scared of our own flaws? Something that must either be accepted or changed has been weaponized against us to keep us from trying and failing. But failing is part of success, and weakness shows we are human.
I am and will always be imperfect, and I can think of that as a curse or a blessing: either way, it is fact. By our very nature, we will never be perfect. Through this experience, and many, many others, I’ve learned that in trying to be perfect and always inevitably falling short, I end up hurting myself more than if I had just prioritized and stopped holding myself to the most ridiculous standard.
Alas, this is the source of both great beauty and frustration in my human life. But I can excel in the areas I put effort into, and though I will never be perfect at anything, with effort comes progress, and therein lies the reward. I mean, anybody can make a collage if they have the time and the right materials. Although this might be more true in creative pursuits, what might seem terrible to you might be amazing to somebody else (and vice versa). In fact, I got multiple comments from others telling me how I was a “collaging queen” despite the fact that I was embarrassed of the imperfect creation I’d made. But it doesn’t matter how many compliments you receive if you are not satisfied with yourself.
I, like other girls, forget that perfection is a trap. Many times I forget that the part of me that has internalized it as something worth reaching for actually shortens my reach instead. We need to ask ourselves if we’re pushing to be perfect because it’s an ideal goal that inspires us to be our best selves or if it is a lie we cling to because we are scared of failure. Is making a messy collage going to ruin my life? Probably not. Do I still think things like that sometimes? Yes. Do I sacrifice time and joy to be “perfect” at something else? Yes. And some things must always be sacrificed for others. But we as girls need to stop sacrificing important things like the chance to enjoy the messes we make along the way in the futile chase of perfection. If we only appreciate ourselves when we do our best, we are ignoring everything that has brought us to where we are now. And for what? An inhuman ideal? We do not need to be perfect 24/7 in order to improve or prove we can achieve what we set our minds to. Just because I can doesn’t mean I need to (just because you can doesn’t mean you need to, Hannah). There simply is, as I have found out (and you can take my word for it), not enough time in a day.
So, remind yourself, you are not perfect, and nor will you ever be. But, nor should you want to be. But if you still don’t believe the words of Hannah Montana, maybe you’ll listen to Miley Cyrus, the girl underneath: “It ain’t about how fast I get there, it ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side: It’s the climb.” Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, but I think she has a point: how can I, a rockstar in my own right, experience the best of both worlds if I don’t embrace the whole of who I am?
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Landau, Hannah. "How to Be Perfect: A Guide for Girls." 9 September 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 4, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/how-be-perfect-guide-girls>.