What was the best thing about school camp? Potentially the marshmallows toasted over the fire, seared to their ideal crispiness. Perhaps the chaos of group activities, building a raft out of miscellaneous items and venturing across the town river. Maybe the bus ride there—where the popular boys blasted their music—and everyone was zapped up on Skittles and sour snakes.
But no. The best part of school camp was seeing your crush in their sweatpants and a hoodie.
You had spent a whole year catching glances at them in two settings: the classroom, where you gazed at the back of their head three rows in front of you. And the playground, where you wistfully watched them steering the Year Five basketball team to victory.
But now you got to see them hunched over a cereal bowl, rubbing sleep from their eyes at seven in the morning. You saw them queuing in line for the shower and loping around in washed-out trackies.
How bizarre. How thrilling. The sweatpants changed everything. They showed a messiness, a more dishevelled dimension of young Jack (or was it Joel?). The sweatpants transformed the idealised version of him who existed only in school uniform between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Ten years later, I felt the same jolt of joy upon seeing my friend, who had always been immaculately put-together, sprawled on my couch with an emergency-grade hangover. I woke up next to her with a splitting headache. We spent the day dry heaving into twin buckets until the sun went down. Ciara ate a single box of Saladas while I downed glass after glass of electrolytes. We watched New Girl for six hours straight, pausing only to groan, “I’m never drinking again.”
The night before, Ciara had been a vision, her eyelids dusted with gold, pearl-drop earrings catching the beams off the strobe lights. But I loved this next-day version of her just as much. I felt, as the hours stretched by, a slow strengthening of friendship. A layer of trust deepening with each glimpse at Ciara’s mascara-blotched face.
Scruffy sweatpants and hangovers are the enemies of perfection. Perfection demands constant performance, perennial refinements. But there is something liberating and joyful about seeing someone’s imperfections and having them learn yours. In the messiness of other human beings, we can catch our breath.
And so, perfection repels me. Granted, Kim Kardashian’s iconic 2019 Met Gala dress was a wonder. She looked like an ethereal mermaid rising from the ocean in a shimmering haze. But to create the impossible hourglass figure, Kim K wore a corset designed by famous couturier Mister Pearl, a sartorial decision of which she said, “I have never felt pain like that in my life.” This night was four years after giving birth to her second child, Saint West.
Kardashian’s waist was so cinched that she couldn’t sit down or use the bathroom. This seems an absurd price to pay for cultivating the ‘perfect’ silhouette; the perfect red-carpet photo; the perfect woman.
I used to detest being called perfect by a boy I loved in high school. He read my indignation as self-deprecation, an inability to see my own beauty. In fact, my resistance stemmed from white hot rage. Why would I want to be perfect? I wanted the psychic space to be mean sometimes, unforgiving sometimes, messy, and selfish, reactive, or lazy. I felt as stifled by these confines of perfection as Kim’s waist at the Met.
Give me the choice of a sloppy hangover or aesthetic perfection. I’ve already grabbed the electrolytes.