Imperfections and Meryl Streep, Among Other Notables

In early April I had the privilege of seeing Meryl Streep being interviewed by well-known author Andre Dubus III at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell campus. When a student asked how she, an aspiring actress, could cope with expectations of certain standards of beauty in the industry Streep admitted that her own perceived imperfections—her body size and a certain long, crooked nose, for example—have at times presented issues for either herself or others.

“Your difference—your thing that’s unique to you—is the most valuable thing you have,” said Streep.

Even more recently Streep received an honorary doctorate from Indiana University, at which time she reportedly stated similar sentiments—years ago she thought she was “too ugly” to go into acting. Obviously, her fears were proven unfounded.

Another popular star, singer John Legend, is currently wowing many with the recurring theme in his “All of Me” lyrics: ‘Cause all of me/Loves all of you/Love your curves and all your edges/All your perfect imperfections.

All your perfect imperfections. Who doesn’t want to hear that someone feels that way about you? And what about feeling that way about ourselves?

A couple observations below reflect the importance of acknowledging and appreciating our own imperfections:

Edgar Allan Poe: There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion. 

Martin Lindstrom, marketer: Nothing is ever perfect; even when it appears so, we are subconsciously looking for the flaw.

The Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi comes to mind as an attitude that can be applicable not only to one’s immediate environment but also to self-regard. As described by Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Utne, wabi-sabi is “the art of imperfection,” or “the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.”

In brief, says Lawrence, “To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.”

Wabi-sabi is a difficult concept to fully understand, even among the Japanese. But an excellent source is Leonard Koren‘s book Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers-a small volume that was once gifted to me by a friend after I first learned about wabi-sabi and became somewhat enamored.

Part of Koren’s description of wabi-sabi: “…a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of natural processes.”

On his site Global Oneness Project, Koren says wabi-sabi resonates with those weary with the usual emphases around us:

Wabi-sabi is the antithesis of the Classical Western idea of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and/or monumental. In other words, wabi-sabi is the exact opposite of what slick, seamless, massively marketed objects, like the latest handheld wireless digital devices, aesthetically represent.
…(S)omewhere buried in our psyches is the realization that being human fundamentally implies being imperfect. So when someone suggests that imperfection may be just as beautiful—just as valuable—as perfection, it is a welcome acknowledgement.

If the idea of owning your own personal imperfections appeals to you but you don’t know how to accomplish this, Nicole Franco at Tiny Buddha has some suggestions. Four ways to “embrace imperfections”:

  1. Accept that we are human and humans are messy.
  2. Use your weaknesses as strengths.
  3. Be sure of your direction. (Stay true to who you are and what feels intrinsically right to you.)
  4. Learn to laugh at yourself.

Tomorrow’s post takes on the highly related subject of learning to cultivate self-acceptance

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