The Joys of Imperfection

Laurie and Debbie say:

Over on Alas, A Blog, Blue provides a superb piece on (yes, really!) the sensual pleasures and delights of being disabled.

“Of course a body that can do more tricks is physically superior, better, handier to have. And for past generations and people in different locations then and now, a tricksier body has been advantageous to survival. I don’t disagree with that, so far as it goes.

But often the added implication is that there can’t possibly be anything good about a body with impairments, and that isn’t necessarily true.”

This got us thinking about the myth of perfection and perfectibility. Blue is so right that this ability-centered, independence-myth-saturated culture can’t see anything good about being disabled. Thus, the impossible pressure to have a perfect body–one that can do everything, never hurts, never wears out.

What’s wrong with this? Well, first of all, it’s yet another impossible goal, so those of us caught in it have yet another reason to be beating ourselves up all the time because we can’t achieve it. (Where have we heard that before?)

Next, it’s yet another way to keep our minds and hearts off real problems, keep our energy and effort spinning in a tiny circle around ourselves, and not be able to look up and see what needs to be changed. (Another familiar song.)

Third, and maybe most interesting, it keeps everyone in the rat race, from the disabled folks through all of us 99% of ordinarily able-bodied people all the way to Olympic silver-medal winners, from noticing–let alone enjoying–the immediate sensual and physical pleasures of our own imperfect bodies.

Here’s Blue again:

It’d be easy for a nondisabled person to say these little joys I mention are really sour grapes about what my life is missing. Or that I’ve stirred up a bit too much lemonade from my supply of lemons. Fruit metaphors aside, I inherited my optimism and always find that here and there life is sweet. But the point is, there are aspects of this specific, highly-flawed body that are uniquely enjoyable, and I’m not the only disabled person to make that claim.

Here and there, life is sweet. Here and there, our bodies give us sexual pleasure, sensual pleasure, physical pleasure, active pleasure. Here and there, and everywhere, that’s worth noticing.

disability, perfection, body image, wheelchair, Body Impolitic

9 thoughts on “The Joys of Imperfection

  1. Oh, wow. That hit me hard and I feel much the same way. I wrote a response. But I could go on – especially about pacing and speed and time and distance. Though I am no longer in a wheelchair my knees phase in and out of functioning and pain so that distances can suddenly become very big. And every step becomes this weird heroic endurance effort like climbing mount everest. Even if i don’t show it. One block becomes non-trivial, or a flight of stairs, or a curb, and then as I get better again I can treat it as trivial but I still walk around with the dual awareness, as if part of me is underwater. Which is a gift.

    Then, if you think of the sort of cliche of an old person sitting in the sun just feeling the goodness of it… Well, that. It is pretty much a religious experience – warmth in the painful joints.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. It is something I need to read, an important part of my own journey to full self-love & acceptance of my natural body in its real state, aging, changing, etc. I have been disabled since birth, but of course the aging process brings weakening & complications & living in my body has to be renegotiated every day, as my left side (home of my hemiplegic cerebral palsy) weakens more & things happen such as my foot often threatening to buckle & collapse under me & it becomes necessary to have a walking staff with me on my daily walks to give added stability. As I celebrate my 57th birthday, I am glad to be reminded that my disability is as much a gift as a burden, that it helps to form the person I am & make me stronger in many ways, & that I do not have to meet ANY standards of perfection in order to be good, worthy, & deserving of a rich & joyful life. We ALL need these reminders, for NO ONE is perfect or perfectible & we are all mortal & very vulnerable, sometimes those who would deny it most of all.

  3. I think I get Blue’s point, and I can relate to what Badgerbag and Patsy’s comments.

    I have to start by shushing my rebellious side that I always gets a little ticked off when I hear people talk about the gift of a bad experience or a physical limitation.

    “Oh my, a gift! Uh, it’s physical disability–just what I always wanted! Thanks so much. I’m sure this is going to build character and do wonders for my spiritual awareness.”

    On one hand our bodies are our way of being in this world, and we need to respect whatever physical reality we live in. I totally believe that.

    I also get that limitations are a way to learn–sometimes the ONLY way we can get our minds to pay attention to the here and now and take more care in the business of living.

    But the embracing of limitations idea triggers a kind of irritation at being blindly optimistic, even living in denial in the face of trauma, as if inviting it. I know that isn’t really true, it just seems like it’s trivializing the suffering, and giving people who observe it from the outside a reason to ignore it. I can tell this is pressing my buttons enough that I can’t find the words–my deep gut level reaction to embracing limitation is a kind of primal scream.

    It’s not so much being sidelined by society–as a fat woman I have learned to cope with that. Being an older fat woman, walking painfully with a cane is really not all that different, just a bit more extreme.

    I guess the best way to express how I feel is that we should nurture our bodies as they are and celebrate our physical being in the world, while coping with and hopefully lessening whatever limitations we have (and everyone’s got limitations of some sort).

  4. I guess I feel a little insulted that you seem to think that I should properly rail against & fight my physical being for the rest of my life, Lynne, as I have indeed fought it for most of my life. And if I am reading your reaction incorrectly, I do apologize. I know that we all have issues with aging & losing strength & we all have things which push our buttons, as your reaction has indeed pushed mine. This is who I am, I was born with a birth defect, cerebral palsy, it doesn’t get better or go away, I am developing arthritis now as I age, & gradually weakening, as all flesh does, & it is likely that I will be more disabled as time goes on rather than less so. We talk here about body love, fat acceptance, embracing ourselves as we are, & I believe that, in order to develop a truly positive body image & genuine self-love, I have to fully accept & yes, love, all of myself…the signs of aging, the fat, &, yes, the disability too. I have pushed my body to the point of collapse in my life, for most of my life, trying to make it do everything other, stronger & more agile, bodies were doing, damn near killing myself & in some cases actually injuring myself, trying to prove that I was not, as I yelled at someone once, “a fucking cripple”. And I am not. I have lived & do live a very full, active, “normal” life, what the hell ever normal is. I have borne & raised two sons, I exercise every day, I am independent “as a hog on ice”, to quote a local expression, I love & am deeply loved, ironically enough by a very strong & able-bodied ex-athlete.

    I have come late in life to my education about disability rights & disability pride, later even than I came to fat rights. I think most of us live as well & fully as we can & we are indeed more than our disability, but, for most us, “lessening” the disability just ain’t gonna happen. We adjust, we cope, we learn to do things in different ways, we sometimes learn our limitations (& often very stubbornly push those limitations), & learn to say when we need help, which may be the most difficult thing of all. One thing I have learned is that I am whole & valuable & good & beautiful just as I am, not some defective “thing” to be pitied, hated, feared, or “fixed.” Would I have preferred to have been born able-bodied? Hell, yes! But I was not, & I am not going to go on yelling words of hatred at my body, beating myself up, because I cannot do the things with my body which Michael Jordan can do with his…or which my lover can do with his. I am NOT “Jerry’s kid” & I do not appreciate his condescending, unctuous pity of those whom he considers to be “less than.” I am not a half a person, as he has said publicly about disabled people, I do not feel as if I might as well put a gun in my mouth & pull the trigger, as he once suggested severely disabled people should, nor, if I should ever need to use a wheelchair, do I appreciate his sentiment that if I don’t want pity (&, yes, I have been greeted on public streets by pity, as well as fear, disgust, ridicule), that I should stay in the house. My choice is to live as fully as I can in the body I have, to enjoy life as much as I can & embrace & celebrate my unique beauty & celebrate what I have & what I am able to do. I work every day to know that I am beautiful & good enough, & I have to know that about all of myself…my heart, my soul, my brain, my fat body, &, yes, my physical limitations.

    I don’t believe that any of us is thankful to be disabled & glad that it happened to him or her, but I do believe that we can be & should be proud of the people we are & what we can do & what we accomplish, that we can & should love ourselves & our bodies & celebrate all the gifts our life brings to us. And, yes, some of those gifts, some of the lessons we learn, some of what we experience, comes because we have disabilities, not in spite of them.

  5. Now trying a third time to post this comment,sigh. More apologies if the 1st two times showed up. L

    This comment is an example of one of the problems that brings me to tears (speaking of disability) in that I made a lengthy comment, did something with my numb hands and the mouse that vaporized it totally, and now I’m back to a blank screen again, reinventing the wheel. This is not just a physical thing, I could have made the same mistake due to a momentary mental lapse.

    I apologize, Patsy, if I seemed to suggest you “should” do or have done physically impossible things. I was kind of trying to say the opposite. When I used the word “lessen” in regards to disability, I didn’t mean to suggest changing what can’t be changed or any particular course of action you (or anyone) should do. Telling someone else what to do (or being told what to do by someone else) is a major hot button for me–to the point of ending dialogs if someone persists. When I was younger I didn’t end the dialogs, I kept going and I didn’t like the feeling of that kind of conflict, so now if I disagree, I really try to just say so and let it go. Sometimes my inner pitbull grabs something and I continue past the point of sanity trying to explain. But I don’t think that’s the case here. In this case, I actually think we agree, though I could be wrong!

    Words are slippery and when we talk about physical bodies they get slipperier.

    Your experience is way different than mine, and from all indications you have built a tremendously positive life for yourself and those close to you.

    I have a strange attitude toward what is called “normal” but I think that’s because I’m always curious about what’s on the edges of things, and that’s how I define myself and make my life choices. Normal always reminds me of Lake Woebegon where “all the children are above average.”

    I totally admire your achievement in exercising every day. I have a couple of friends who do that too, whereas I am capable of sitting for hours without moving in front of a book or computer screen and going for long periods of time with minimal exercise. One of my writer friends told me she is so incapable of this sort of immobility that she literally can’t sit still for long, and had to do jumping jacks between classes at school, to work off nervous energy. Clearly we’re wired differently and I refuse to make judgments about it. That’s how she is and that’s how I am.

    However this quirk in my physical/mental make up has had a major negative impact on my health–making carpal tunnel, RSI, arthritis, etc. much worse. On the positive side, being able to go into my own world and daydream–brings me to the root of all fiction. Sometimes my dysfunction has become hyper function. Sometimes it has just damaged me.

    My friends who exercise know better than to tell me what to do. My usual response to that sort of advice is “Screw you, don’t tell me what to do.” Occasionally they venture suggestions, which I rarely (um, never) follow. As you can see, another one of my disabilities is mental–pure cussedness!

    In the past year or so I’ve found some at-home, physical therapy type exercises that I can do, without advice, equipment or witnesses–encouraged only by marking it on the calendar, the same way I note my writing project word counts.

    So I think we may actually be on, not the same, but similar pages of different books here–doing what we need to do for ourselves. Or I could be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time!

    Take care,

  6. We are in the same book, Lynne, & I think nearly the same page. I did misunderstand your meaning to some extent & I am sorry for that. As for losing posts, oh, God, I am the expert on that, partially because my poor computer is so old & slow that it is a miracle that it works at all & partly because I never know what my hands will or won’t do.

    I feel no superiority about my exercising, though in the past, when I was more steeped in accepting all the bullshit about healthism, I sometimes did (see, I am taking care of myself…that kind of thinking). I move because, like your friend, I must. Whether it is my nervous system, the CP, being, as my son with the benefit of his two semesters of psychology tells me, “a trauma survivor”, or all of the above, I am in nearly perpetual motion…rocking in straight chairs, wiggling arms & legs, getting up frequently to walk around or do small chores even while reading or watching tv. I have, as I have mentioned here before, gone through periods of compulsive exercise of up to 3-4 hours daily in an attempt to “perfect” my body, which I expect has caused the arthritis & general achiness of my body to progress faster than it might have had I not been so determined. I try to exercise like a normal human being & not a demon these days. From the arthritis & the CP, I tend to get very stiff after sitting for awhile, so that if someone takes me on a long car trip, it is necessary to make a rest stop every hour or so for me to walk for 5 minutes. As more than one person has asked me in my life, “Why aren’t you thin?” Well, because I am not, is the only answer I can find.

    I personally think “normal” may be an overused word in our culture. I kind of like the t-shirt which asks, “Why be normal?” I like thinking we are all extraordinary & unique.

    I appreciate your persistence in posting a reply, Lynne. I know the experience of losing posts & emails & wanting to chew off my own leg in frustration because of it. It turns out that we do pretty much agree, so I am sure that we can continue to exchange ideas in mutual respect.

  7. Yeah I would have preferred not to have been disabled and I appreciate not having to make those adjustments every day. It is not about going “oh fluffy bunny rabbits and rainbows, my knees don’t work! what a gift!” It is about appreciating the different strengths necessary, that I developed because of it. People seem not to understand having moments of joy and not always being grieving, angry, or freaking when you ARE in that situation.

    Strangers would walk up to me every day and say “I would just KILL myself if I had to be in a wheelchair.” Now, obviously there’s a lot of things wrong with that statement! One thing it revealed was that they could not imagine a process where they would come out of grief and anger and just live, as I was doing.

  8. Amen, Badgerbag. You also kind of get the impression that they are wondering why YOU don’t kill yourself & put yourself out of your misery & (so it has often seemed to me) spare these poor souls the trauma of looking at anyone who is less than perfect.

    That is indeed what people need to understand. Being disabled is not a choice, it is not something to jump up & down & celebrate because we are so fortunate to have been chosen. It IS a reality, however, one which affects many of us & will affect many more at some point during their lives. It is vital that WE know & that we communicate to others that being less than perfect, having to deal with pain, limitations, inconveniences, does not make a person less than human & it also does not mean that life cannot be full, joyous, rewarding, that we cannot be happy, loved, loving, creative, & fully alive, or that we do or should spend our entire lives being angry or sad or mournful. I have seen people such as that, & they are bitter, miserable human beings, a travail to themselves & everyone they meet. I prefer to not rail against fight or moan about what MIGHT have been had I been born in a different life, but to accept what IS, find my strengths, see & celebrate my beauty, & get on with life. It’s short & precious & should not be wasted.

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