Imperfect Heroes

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perfection. What is it, and how do we define it? More importantly, why do we chase after idols who we believe achieve it? I see so many young women day after day worshiping false gods, putting their heroes on pedestals and proclaiming their greatness. Then I see so many other young women blasting women for the people they choose to admire.

Your fave is problematic. If I hear that one more time, I may scream. When did we get so caught up on always being PC, always being flawless, always being right to realize that, sometimes, we’re all a little wrong? Sometimes always saying and doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good role model.

All of my heroes have fucked up. Sometimes just a little, sometimes royally. And that’s okay. That’s really good, actually.

You should admire people who are flawed. People who have messed up. People who may not have always been so admirable. Admire someone not for an absence of mistakes, but for how they respond to the ones they make, because that’s what shows you true character.

You should embrace your heroes’ flaws. Acknowledge them sooner rather than later. If you don’t, you’re casting illusions. You’re living in a fantasy, setting yourself up for heartbreak down the road when you finally realize that they’re really just like you.

Because they’re not flawless. None of us are. Don’t hold the people you admire to a higher standard, because they are human. We all are. We are messy and we make mistakes. We hurt ourselves and we hurt others. We don’t always make the best decisions. We don’t always say the right things.

Our heroes are no different than us; they’re not exempt from the human condition. The strength of a hero, what really makes them a role model, is not measured in their lack of mistakes, but how they rise from the ashes of them.

If we admire and strive to emulate people we perceive as perfect, then we expect perfection from ourselves, and that’s a dangerous game to play, one you’re never going to win. The sooner we all figure that out and understand that, the happier we’ll be. Perfection is not possible. It’s just not, and pursuing it can be toxic. It took me a really long time to learn that. Some days I’m still learning it.

You need someone to show you that it’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to make mistakes. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Heroes lead by example, and sometimes those examples aren’t what you should do in life, but what youshouldn’t.

Occasionally, when people ask who I admire, they respond with some reason to disqualify them, to dismiss them from the hero category:

“Stevie Nicks, huh? You know she did so much coke she burned a hole in her nose?”
“You like Jane Fonda? Hanoi Jane, that traitor?”
“Carrie Fisher sure did a lot of drugs. How many times has she been to rehab?”
“You know Mary Tyler Moore was an absent parent and alcoholic?”
“Tina Fey says offensive shit and sometimes doesn’t apologize.”

Yes, I know. I know all of those things. You don’t have to like them, but I do, and I’m so tired of defending them. Because all of those things, like a lot of mistakes, are forgivable. There’s always a lesson to learn. There’s always redemption to be found.

I still admire these women with all my heart. I still think that they more than their flaws and errors and lapses in judgement. I still think that they are brilliant and passionate and strong and sweet and kind and good. They take the criticisms with the praise and roll with it. They admit when they are wrong. They admit their mistakes and they own up to them.

Jane Fonda once said that she had, after many years, a realization that “we are not meant to be perfect; we’re meant to be whole.” And I think that says it best. Our heroes aren’t perfect, but damn, they’re whole.

Maybe some of them have regrets. Maybe some would take back their mistakes, but not all of them. At least, I don’t think so. Because that’s what makes them who they are today, these whole creatures who are a wonderful mix of good and bad and sad and inspiring and stupid and wise. That’s what makes them so deliciously human.

You need to admire people in spite of their mistakes, people who use their experiences as examples and try to keep you from making the same ones. Do as I say, not as I did. But, at the same time, you need people to look to for those times you mess up, too. Because you will. We all will. But you’ll stop and see that whatever horrible thing happened might not be so horrible. You’ll see that you’re not alone. You’re not the first. You’ll see that they’re okay, that you’ll be okay, too.

All of my heroes have fucked up. And I think that’s really great.

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