I love birthdays.

I love my own birthday, sure, but, and my friends won’t believe me, I love their birthdays more. Throwing a birthday party is my Christmas (Eid?) and my favorite presents to give are handmade (no guarantee on the quality). I already have the birthday card I’ll be mailing to my best friend in two months.

This past October, a couple of friends and I schemed together to set up a surprise birthday dinner for two of our friends. Like all birthday parties, I was excited for the event, and like all group dinners, I was extremely anxious. I was shaking and nauseated as I drove to the restaurant and seriously considered calling in sick, but eventually figured that I should go.

My body is 60% water and 40% sarcasm so, naturally, I spent some time roasting and exchanging jabs with one of my friends- Hani- with whom I had set up the dinner. In fact, this helped me to take my focus away from my food and other triggers, and eat while having a good time. Anyways, I had on a new outfit and while I knew that my friend’s response would not, and should not, be kind (where’s the fun in that?), at one point I asked him what he thought. “Mm…4 out of 10.” It was the hardest I laughed all night.

Which surprised me. It is the only time in recent memory that I can remember wholly and happily accepting my imperfection. He wasn’t calling me ugly and it wasn’t his intention to expose my flaws…and I didn’t take it that way. Now, this moment didn’t completely change my self-perception- I have cried over my body many times since, questioned the reality of full recovery, and was devastated when I went out on a walk with my new camera for the first time this past weekend and realized that my pictures wouldn’t be top-notch on my first try.

This exchange at the dinner did, however, help me to realize what a perfectionist I really am. I used to think that perfectionism was a good thing; I remember pulling my first all-nighter in the fifth grade to make sure my art project was the best that it could be. To be fair, I also remember tears welling in my eyes when my fourth grade math teacher scolded me for a mark I’d made in a circle because it was slightly off-center (yes, I’m still bitter nearly 15 years later).

My perfectionism seems to have gotten to an unhealthy and overwhelming point. It’s what drives my negative body image and dilutes my good days. I know, logically, that I’ll never be perfect, but my need to be and appear as if I’ve got everything under control (MY control) is second-nature. But like with any problem, I’m glad to at least be able to recognize and accept it.

I’m starting to understand that even if my friend had said “10/10,” it wouldn’t have been true, not in any objective sense, anyway. Hani could have said 15/10 and there still would have been someone else at that dinner who would have stuck with a 4. No, I’m not perfect and I can’t be, and that stinks, but it helps immensely to know that I can finally stop chasing an impossible goal.

Last week, one of my favorite YouTubers, Meghan Rienks, put up a video tutorial for pumpkin pie cupcakes. She finished the batter and then the shot cut away to 8 baked cupcakes styled on a nice serving tray. She was quick to note, “I picked the ones that are, like, the cutest.” In a way, she was calling out my preconceived notions about her perfection- my jealousy about her ability to create a perfect product every time. It’s not real. Some of the cupcakes aren’t even that great. Don’t believe everything you think you see she was telling me.

So, thank you, Meghan for your hilarious honesty and your tasty cupcakes.

And thank you, Hani, for your help in my progress, and for showing me that there’s no such thing as a perfect way to recover. I’m proud to be your favorite 4/10.

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