The Cocktail Party Contrarian: On Not Being Perfect

It should be absolutely clear to everyone over the age of 10 that no one is perfect, their social media personae and their publicists’ hard labor to convince us otherwise notwithstanding.

Jupiter Police Department via Wikimedia Commons
Tiger Woods is arrested May 29, 2017. In 2009, the golf superstar wrote: ‘I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.’ Jupiter Police Department via Wikimedia Commons

At dinner the other night, a girlfriend was telling the story of an apology she had made to her sister-in-law for some Thanksgiving dinner-related offense I didn’t quite catch. What I did hear was my friend’s assertion at the end of her tale: “You know, I am not perfect, but I do my best to do the right thing.” 

That line struck me, coming from a woman who generally presents as pretty darn perfect. She always has her hair blown out and her skin glows. She’s constantly in a good mood, is never late, and remembers birthdays. Her social media feed is filled with pictures of perfection — her gorgeous children, her expensive vacations, and thoughtful memes meant to inspire.

Her “admission” that she isn’t perfect seemed like the ultimate “humble brag.” Only someone working so hard to look perfect, and thinking she might have succeeded, would feel the need to remind others that she isn’t. For most of us, imperfections are obvious — no reminder is necessary. Yet there are some special people out there who see themselves differently.

Hilariously, this faux humility usually shows up in celebrities who admit to their imperfections precisely at moments they are most exposed to the public. In 2009, Tiger Woods was involved in a car crash shortly after the legendary golfer’s then-wife chased him into the street, apparently upon learning about an affair. He later issued a public statement in which he wrote, “I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.” That seemed already clear to those of us reading the sordid details of his life.

Actor Will Smith felt the need to announce, “I am a work in progress.” This was shortly after he marched on stage during the Academy Awards and slapped Chris Rock across the face in front of the world. Again, it was an unnecessary verbal confirmation of an already well-established fact, given his absurd behavior. Did he still think, after that show of crazy, that anyone really thought he was a masterpiece of a human being?

Then there’s Kamala Harris. Only someone immune to any realistic understanding of how others view her could have launched her failed 2020 presidential bid with a speech in which she twice had to remind her audience that she isn’t a divine creature, lest they assume otherwise. “I am not perfect,” she declared. “Lord knows I am not perfect.” News flash: The lord wasn’t the only one who knew.

It should be absolutely clear to everyone on planet earth over the age of 10 that no one is perfect, their social media personae and their publicists’ hard labor to convince us otherwise notwithstanding. Excessive wealth, fame, beauty, brilliance, and creativity can make people feel like superheroes, but they should know, deep down, that they aren’t. 

If you have to tell people that you aren’t what they already know you not to be, perhaps you are alarmingly convinced that you are the closest exception to the human rule of imperfection as is possible. So close, in fact, that you have to remind the plebs that though you stand apart from them, you are after all still the same species.

Sounds like narcissism to me, and that of course is an imperfection, too.


The New York Sun

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