We Asked Two Poets To Write About Their Bodies… And This Is What Happened

The challenge: To write a piece to fit the title 'Permanently Imperfect'. Read on for the results...

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with the fleshy limbs and awkward ‘pointy-out-bits’ that encase our organs. I know I certainly do. Some days, I swan out of the gym and have to resist with my all my might to not slide down the banister in smug glee and other days, if someone suggests that I ‘take off my jumper, it’s so hot!’ I want to scream: ‘YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UNDER HERE’ and hide under an additional blanket.

Every year I set myself the same resolutions. Lose weight. Tone up. Be that girl who constantly posts pictures of perfect abs on Instagram.

This year, I thought I would do it differently: I wanted to change my attitude to the way I looked at my body. Instead of begrudgingly accepting that I was ‘permanently imperfect’ (like so many of the best people are), I decided to own the phrase – to make it my own, to see if acceptance could grow into love.
 
I asked The Bare Fiction Prize runner-up, Joanna Duffy, and my friend, Tami Addlestone (with whom I have spent many hours at the gym with, agonising over various types of salad with and then, inevitably, digging my fingers into Nutella with) to join me.

Giving them both the title ‘Permanently Imperfect’ and asking them to write a poem, or a short piece, about how they interpreted the phrase when it came to loving their bodies, they accepted the challenge. Here are the results

Permanently Imperfect, Jo Duffy

‘Permanently imperfect’ someone wiser said when I was at an age where my skin still fit like a too-tight, maddeningly itchy jumper I was always trying to scratch my way out of;
or it might have been ‘those spots would clear up if you just wore less make-up’
or ‘for Christ sake, you don’t need to lose any weight’ but they may as well
have been speaking
Latin.

It was probably my mum, and I probably didn’t even look up
from googling ‘legal age to have a nose job in UK’
or ‘how to lose 10lb without dieting’
and scouring Yahoo Answers
for the answers
and scratching myself
into a frenzy

*
The language of body-acceptance is not an easy one to master because it has none of the short vowel sounds of the language of ‘ugly’, none of the black and whiteness of the language of ‘too fat’ & ‘too thin’ and none of the aspirational, just-out-of-reach promise of perfection that have made these our first languages. It is nuanced and complex and vast, stretching to encompass all tenses, shapes and sizes. It takes time to learn and constant practice to hold onto.
Perhaps what I’m trying to say is if it were a language, it would be Latin: tricky, strange seeming, but a lost tongue that we all spoke once upon a time. No one is born hating their body, //so if we grow into that hatred, we can grow out of it.
*
Of course
it’s not always
that simple. Some days
we’ll still stand in front of the mirror making faces
at blemishes and pinching at parts of our bodies wishing
that the excess flesh would melt away but still,
the other day, someone said in passing that they wished
they had my nose and god knows, in that moment I remembered
spending whole evenings scheming about how to save the money to have it broken, set and remodelled, scouring teen magazines for make-up tips to help create the illusion of shrinking what I imagined was a face-wrecking mountain range and realised
in that moment, it all seemed almost impossibly strange that I’d ever thought that way,
like remembering a foreign language you once spoke
but gradually stopped practicing

So maybe that’s
a start

Permanently Imperfect, Tami Addlestone

Three hundred and sixty five days of the year, spent scrutinising myself. What is wrong with me? What is right with me would be the question best to ask, and the answer sadly, used to be nothing at all.

As the Christmas festivities end and the promotion of chocolates and pies come to a halt, no sooner than the first of January do we have the pleasure of being bombarded with various ways to get fit. We’re given guidance from all corners of our world on how to be the perfect person we’ve always dreamt of.

Perfect; what a tiresome and mythical word that is.

I spent the last decade trying to be perfect; to get that perfect body, that perfect face, that perfect complexion and sustain the perfect diet. What diet do I adhere to? The 5:2, the 4:3, Weight Watchers, the caveman diet; the list is endless and I’ve tried them all. I even went as far as starving myself for ten days straight and drinking only a concoction of lukewarm water, freshly squeezed lemons, cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of maple syrup; I won’t lie, I felt fabulous! I lost a total of 17lbs in ten days and it took no more than a week to pile them all back on – even though I was mainly eating vegetables and fruit (I won’t pretend that I enjoyed the experience).

Being perfect; that is what we’re taught. Do you know what the world doesn’t teach us? That being healthy isn’t about the perfect body, face, complexion or diet; it’s about the perfect mind. The perfect mind is the only thing that will keep us going through the hard times when we tell ourselves we’re not good enough. Perfect is a word to be used in measured ways; you can get a perfect score on a test, you can get the perfect Christmas present, you can get a perfect picture of a perfect moment, but you will never look in the mirror and think ‘I look perfect’.

I have done a complete 360 in the last 360 days; I am allowing myself to be permanently imperfect. I say no to the fad diets, I say no to the myriad of face creams and bath salts and skin wraps. I say yes to being me, yes to being happy and content and able to know that who I am will always remain as long as I stop fretting over the way I look and fretting over how imperfect my aesthetics may be.

As someone who has refused to go out for feeling too fat and ugly; as someone who has tried everything and sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, I can tell you that the happiest I have ever been has been when I stopped trying to be perfect and realised I was already perfectly permanently imperfect.

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