‘Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.’
–Anne Wilson Schaef
A few days, during a lull period at work, I was tempted to run a rather unique Google search using the catchphrase ‘The perfect woman’. I was intrigued to see what would come up and hoped against hope that the results would reflect maturity and generosity in the way women are perceived by modern society. Instead, I found listings of several articles which recommended the ideal physical characteristics and personality traits, ‘a perfect woman should possess’. I even found some open Quora conversations, in which both men and women were frankly discussing the kind of woman, they think is perfect.
The phrases used by them while describing this apparition of a woman will stay with me for a long time. Let me list a few of the descriptions, I found, and you’ll understand why I was shocked!
‘Shiny hair’, ‘Hourglass figure’, ‘Smooth skin’, ‘Even-keeled’, ‘Intelligent’
Some of the participants in these online forums had also gone to the extent of suggesting what they felt was the ideal height and weight, a woman should possess.
Keen to cover all bases, I now ran a similar Google search, but this time the catchphrase I used was ‘the perfect man’. The results of this search told a rather different story. I won’t deny that Google did bring up an article or two discussing their vision of a perfect man, but the number was far less than what I found for the female gender.
Though it can be argued that a random search like this may not be a true reflection of society’s attitude towards woman, but if you really attempt to introspect, you will realise that we are still far from embracing the perceived flaws or shortcomings that make every woman ‘beautiful and perfect, the way she is.’
Earlier, we lived in a predominantly patriarchal society that envisioned the perfect woman to be someone who looked after her family’s daily needs, unflinchingly supported her husband in every decision, and had little interest in commentating on societal or political matters. Many of you might say that we have come a long way from those times and yes, we surely have!
Today, women form a large percentage of India’s workforce, they are well-educated, adept at managing their finances, and quick to voices their opinions on matters of concern.
So, does this mean that women have shed the shackles of perfectionism?
No, because when you scratch the surface you will realise that society has just traded one ideal of a woman for another! In fact, presently it has become nigh impossible for any woman to meet societal standards!
How so? Well, in the past it was the working woman who was criticised for spending time away from family responsibilities to pursue career dreams. Now, it’s the stay-at-home mother, who is looked down upon as being someone who isn’t just driven and ambitious enough.
Previously, young women who wore clothes such as jeans and dresses were called out for mindlessly aping the west. In contrast, today women choosing to wear the staid salwar-kameez daily at workplaces are considered to be too traditional for anyone’s liking.
If you get married early, you are considered to not have a vision or a dream of your own; but alas! If you marry late or not at all, then you are probably extremely opinionated or career-minded and thus, can’t manage a relationship.
The societal standard which perhaps has remained the same overall this time is that real beauty requires you to be the owner of a mane of perfectly set, straight long hair. So deeply entrenched is this concept in both Indian and Western societies, that most curly-haired women will honestly confess that it took them years to embrace their curls with abandon.
Whatever she might do, a woman just can’t get it right, can she?
Perhaps the only thing that has really changed over the years is that,
Society is now engaged in looking for ‘the perfect modern-day woman!’
In that respect, society’s expectations that a woman should perfectly fulfil the criteria set in their minds have not changed at all.
The negative repercussions of this kind of mindset are that most women are compelled to go through life feeling incomplete and inadequate. They are forced to feel their unique qualities are actually imperfections or flaws.
So, this Woman’s Day the best gift we can aspire to give a woman is to accept that whether she is short, tall, curvy, thin, working or not, shy or bold, modern or traditional; however, she is, she’s already perfect!
She is, how she is meant to be!
Let us no longer force any woman to be our kind of perfect, instead, let us appreciate the perfection they already are!