I swapped nailpolish for freedom

03:16, May 03 2012
woman painting nails
JUGGLING ACT: How do we stop demanding perfection from ourselves?

Earlier this week, we ran a story by Australian writer Samantha Selinger-Morris, in which she shared her dismay at realising she was a "walking, talking cliche" - the frazzled mum desperate for "me time".

Stuff readers really tore into Selinger-Morris (trust me; you didn't see the comments we rejected). There was a lot of "get over yourself", "if you didn't want to be a cliche you shouldn't have had kids" and the done-to-death "first world problems".

While angry comments are nothing new, these ones surprised me - not just because it was a lighthearted article, but because it was so damn true.

In my experience, getting "older and wiser" means discovering, one by one, that every single cliche is true. Everything your mum said you'd live to regret, you regret. Everything you vowed never to do, you've done.

I've already fallen prey to such an astounding number of cliches that I've all but given up trying to resist them. I got a boyfriend and stopped going out. I tut-tut at the girls tottering down Courtenay Pl in stilettos and miniskirts on Saturday night (as I pass them on my way to the video store). I dress like Martha Stewart.

But the one cliche that really disturbs me is this: the "modern woman" struggling to excel in every area of life.


I was born in the '80s; I've heard this complaint my whole life. We fought for the right to work alongside men, and now we feel like failures if we don't succeed professionally. Yet, for some reason, when we embraced the new "career woman" archetype, we didn't let go of the old "perfect housewife" ideal. There was no tradeoff. So we expect ourselves to be perfect employees, wives, mothers, friends and neighbours, and to look perfect while we're at it.

As far as I can tell, most men don't do this. I've never known a man to say, wringing his hands and wincing, "I really should... [do some charity work/have the Johnsons over for dinner/work on toning up my arms]". If they want to do something, they do it. If they don't have the time, energy or desire to do something, they don't - and they don't beat themselves up about it.

I see all this, and I know how unhealthy it is trying to maintain that female juggling act. But my God, it's hard to avoid!

So, a few weeks ago, I made a decision. I vowed to eliminate "I really should..." from my vocabulary altogether. I don't have time to add anything else to my life at the moment, and besides, it's pretty good as it is - untoned arms and all.

Then, I thought about all the impossibly high standards I was holding myself to. Were they all really necessary? Could I just... let go?

Give it a go. Write down everything you're trying to maintain: keeping the house spotless, exercising five times a week, making all the baby's food from scratch, getting your roots dyed every three weeks - whatever it is that uses up your energy and replaces that precious "me time" that Selinger-Morris was embarrassed to admit she craved. Then think about how you could do each one just a little less excellently.

It's harder than you'd think, but one thing I decided to do away with was keeping my nails perfectly manicured. It sounds like such an insignificant thing, but it really took up a lot of time. I used to obsessively watch for chips in my nailpolish, and completely repaint them every time one appeared. Then I'd spend the next half hour with my hands dangling uselessly by my sides, having to ask my boyfriend to buckle me into the car (very demeaning).

But those days are over. Okay, it's not a big change, but it's a start. And every time I look down at my bare-naked fingers, it reminds me that Superwoman is one cliche I don't have to accept.