Perfectly Imperfect is my post for CreakyJoints this week
What is the value of a person? Does a chronic illness detract from that value? Is there such a thing as perfect health?
About a month ago, Ms. Meniscus answered a question from a woman with RA whose future mother-in-law had offered her $25,000 to not marry her son. And it got me to thinking. Not about Ms. Meniscus’ answer — which, as usual, was excellent — but about the situation that prompted the letter. I was astonished that such offers actually happen outside of trashy romances and soap operas. And yet… Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. This rude and ruthless mother merely had the cojones to say out loud what so many people think.
That a chronic illness makes you damaged goods.
This thought runs through our lives, like a quiet fuse waiting to ignite. It’s there someone newly diagnosed wonders if they'll ever find love. It’s there when we bow down to being treated unfairly at work, just grateful to have a job. And it’s there in an actor’s reluctance to tell the world about their RA, due to fear of losing their career.
Human beings value perfection. The search for the sublimely perfect has ever motivated us to fine-tune artistic expression such as painting and sculpture. The beautiful soothes our souls, inspires awe and admiration, and gives us something to which we can aspire. Throughout history, appearance has been used to symbolize inner life. Fairytales and literature has used the non-beautiful, as well as disability, to symbolize an inner, rotten core. If you're beautiful, you must be a good person. If you're not, you're the bad guy. If you're beautiful, you're worth more than someone who isn't.
A couple of weeks ago, Angelina Jolie wrote about choosing to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. Her actions were courageous, especially going public. When you're a famous actor and an icon of sexy femininity, coming out about not being perfect takes a lot of guts. In my last post for HealthCentral, I asked for a celebrity to be the Angelina Jolie of inflammatory arthritis. I hope that some day, someone will respond to that call, but it is a hard road to take. Shannon Ragland has RA and used to make her living modeling and acting. She told me that she "was advised to keep my disease a secret." She sums it up nicely, saying, "your body is your vehicle." And this is why famous women who live with RA are afraid to go public. Because when your career is grounded and being an icon of physical perfection, showing that you aren't can so easily cost you your livelihood.
The fear of going public also affects those of us who are less-than-famous. People don't tell their employer or their colleagues about their disease from fear of losing their jobs. Others worry about coming out to someone they’re dating, afraid the other person will run screaming for the hills. But here's the thing… We are not alone. Not only do we share this state of non-perfection with every other person who lives with inflammatory arthritis, we share it, too, with every person in the world.
Perfection is an illusion. There is no such thing. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder — someone who loves you will see all your good parts and think your "bad" ones are nothing but charming. Health is an illusion. So many live with various medical conditions, ranging from serious to mild. The ones who don't currently, will eventually. It is the nature of being human. At some point, we will all have something "wrong" with us. Sooner or later, the perfection starts becoming less so.
And after all, isn't that what makes a person interesting? The lines in your face show that you've lived and felt strongly. The slight hitch in your step adds a certain something to your walk. Stretch marks after pregnancy shows you’ve grown another person. And for those of us who live with inflammatory arthritis, scars and deformities are badges of honor, showing that we have lived through hardship and are still standing.
Maybe the biggest favor we can do for each other — and for that celebrity who is trapped in silence and alone — is to reject the idea that perfection is beautiful. Maybe we should start seeing beauty in strength, in resilience and in those imperfections that set us apart and make us unique. Slavoi Zizek, a modern philosopher, suggests love is about just that:
“Love is not idealization. A true Lover knows that if you really love a woman or a man, that you do not idealize him or her. Loves means that you accept a person, with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points and nonetheless the person is absolute for you, everything that makes life worth living, that you see perfection in imperfection itself. And that is how we should learn to love the world.”
Each of us is as valuable as the other. Each of us is perfect — not in spite of our imperfections, but because of them.