The Perfect Everything and the Luxury of Choice


Is it just me, or have you also been noticing recent blog posts like “The Perfect Spring Wardrobe”, “The Perfect Day at the Beach”, or even “The Perfect Messy Bun”? The seasons change, or we get a little bored, and we are gripped with a sudden need to become our perfect selves, with the perfect body, the perfect sandals, the perfectly effortless perfect life.

The obsession takes us over, and it’s not (only) because we’re fashion-conscious and a little vain, it’s because for so many of us, deciding what we will wear is deciding who we will be. And each of us can’t wait to find out, will today be the day that I finally become my perfect self?

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Magazines know this and trot out the obligatory Perfect Trench Coat, or Perfect Floaty Dress For Summer Weddings. You’ll be marketed ten versions of the same Perfect Red Lipstick before spring is over. We spend hours scouring the web for the item that will catapult us from our same old selves to the woman we see in our mind’s eye.

About five summers ago I was visiting Israel with Birthright and stopped by a pharmacy to grab a bottle of nail polish for a DIY pedicure in our hotel that night. Now, Israel is a very modern, high-tech place, but the smaller shops off the beaten path just don’t have the same selection as we’re used to in America. I was given five choices of nail color, picked the best pink, and was on my way. Picture the store displays in the States: hundreds of polishes, so many shades that you can browse for hours. On one hand, that’s great– you can always find something new and exciting!– but it also leads to choice paralysis and a nagging feeling like you might miss what suits you best. The pursuit of perfection can be an exhausting endeavor.

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I loved that late-night pedicure at a moshav in the beautiful north of Israel. I felt pampered, beautiful. It was a little effortless. I wasn’t second guessing, I wasn’t wasting time comparison shopping. I was glowing from hiking all day, from trying new foods and making new friends, and I was happy to spoil myself for a few lovely moments. I wasn’t looking for perfect, I wasn’t hoping for luxury, and found that “good enough” was very freeing indeed.

So many of us have the luxury of choice. And it is a luxury; proportionately few people in our country are privileged enough to have the time and money to care about their “spring look”. The ability to choose what we wear and shop for something new is a great luxury, and one that we often take for granted. It is when we get swept away in our indulgences, obsessed with the perfect thing that we hope will make us our perfect selves (at last!), that’s when our privilege starts controlling us. That’s when nothing seems good enough, and we are paralyzed by choice.

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So what do we do? We still have to get dressed, we still want to feel like our best selves. We just want to be easier, more natural, less grabby and panicky. Here are a few things I’m going to try.

Get that glow somewhere else

Maybe we don’t need to look perfect to feel like our best selves. Remember me in Israel, hiking all day and sparkling, feeling alive? When do you feel that way? Maybe after a day at the sea, with salt in your hair. Maybe when you go dancing, or when you finish a tough tractate of Talmud. What brings you that deep, purposeful satisfaction?

Trust what you love

Where did the joy go? Remember when you were a child and immediately knew what you LOVED? We bury that visceral reaction as we grow older, in favor of logic, tact, and anticipatory anxiety. Go to a store and see what attracts you. What colors make your heart leap? What textures feel good on your skin? Find what makes you happy and trust it. Don’t make it hard, don’t make it into work.

The truth is that no one else cares if your capsule wardrobe is a perfect austere blend of blue, oatmeal, and gray. No one else is as invested as you are in your Perfect Leather Sandal or Perfect Diamond Studs.These things only have value insofar as the happiness they bring you. That is what people will notice. They will see that you dress in a way that brings you happiness, that makes your day better. They’ll see your glow. And you can use the rest of your precious time and energy living your juicy life.

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On Perfection and Self Worth

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We all experience highs and lows in our confidence and sense of self worth. We go through seasons of doubt and phases of exuberance, and that is all part of being a complex human being living a rich and complex life. We think we have ourselves all figured out, and then the shifting sands reveal something we didn’t know was there. Sometimes it’s something we are happy to find (“I had no idea I could do that!”) and sometimes it can be a little disappointing (“I thought I’d conquered that, and here it is again.”) We seem to always be in progress.

The traditions of Chassidut teach that God recreates the world in every moment. We do not live in a “set it and forget it” universe. Rather, the world is in a constant state of regeneration and divine intention. It is a piece of art that is never finished. Doesn’t that bring you courage? Continue reading

Modern Women | Keepers of Tradition

“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all you really are.”

– Mrs. March (Little Women)

A few days ago, fashion blogger “J” of J’s Everyday Fashion published a controversial article, “Fashion and Faith: Can They Coexist?” “J” tells how years ago she was shopping for jeans on a tight budget and found the style she had wanted at a deeply discounted price. She saw a tag in the jeans that read, “God loves you”, and she broke into tears. “It mattered to Him. It really, truly mattered, because my heart matters. All of it. All of the tiny little things that make up my heart, including the creativity and joy in style… He rejoices in what your heart rejoices in…”

This article has churned up controversy among readers across diverse faith traditions. It raises questions about whether it is valid and respectful to turn shopping into what “J” calls “a God encounter”. Readers wonder if we can put words in God’s mouth, and accept His assumed approval for our consumerism or even vanity. Do we believe that God orchestrates our lives down to details of what clothes we find on sale? Does a tag on a pair of jeans prove that God is into this? What does God think of the conditions in the factories abroad that produce so much of our low-cost clothing today? And most of all, does God rejoice when we buy things that make us happy?

These are questions about Divine providence that reach to the very roots of faith. Some of us believe that not a leaf falls without God willing it, while others think that God focuses on large events and leaves the trivialities up to us. Still others believe in an absent God, or in no God at all. Today I offer my perspective as an Orthodox Jewish woman. Continue reading

5 Pick-Me-Ups for Difficult Days

No matter how lovely the day, or how happy you are with your routine, there will always be moments when you have the mean reds, the Sunday night blues, or feel deflated and tender. Sometimes you can trace the reason why but some days you’re just out of sorts and need to be treated gently. Here are 5 places to begin.

  1. Hang a bulletin board where you can see it and cover it with all your favorite things. Cut out ads from magazines, tack up your favorite photos, display those beautiful clothing hanging tags that you never like to throw away. It’s so satisfying to do something that doesn’t have to be perfect, and seeing all these items that represent you will give you a real sense of well-being without costing a thing. I’ve found that bad days are sometimes caused by a disparity between who we are and who we hope to be, and this project tends to bridge that gap a little.

Continue reading

Unlikely Heroines and Newly-Sharpened Pencils

The summer is winding down, and would you be very upset if I admitted that I don’t mind so much? I find myself running my hands over the brand new notebooks on drugstore shelves and notice that the leaves on my street’s trees look more tired and less juicy than they did even a few weeks ago.

These summer days are long and indolent, tempting me to perch on park benches with a library book as the sun turns me bit by bit into a moist teacake, as Harper Lee would say. And I love it. I celebrate by Continue reading