‘imperfect: how our bodies shape the people we become’ by lee kofman

When my friend Tarni first told me about this book, she told me that it was something she thought I’d be interested in reading. I’m not exactly sure why she’d think that but she was right. I knew almost immediately after reading the synopsis that it was something that I wanted — no, needed — to read.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I was immediately pulled into Kofman’s narrative when I read the first line of the first chapter:

“I was born with a broken heart. My skull, too, was almost broken the moment I took my first breath.”

I mean, come on. How can anyone not want to read on after reading that?

In the book, Kofman describes Imperfect as a book about her scars and what it is like to live in a scarred body (p.168). But Imperfect is a little more than that. It is one half a memoir and another half a critique on our culture and the way we perceive bodies — especially those that defy what is thought to be “normal” and in some cases, “beautiful”.

I know I mentioned at the beginning just how excited I was to read Imperfect, but there was also a tiny part of me that approached it with a level of wariness. As someone who hasn’t had (and in some way, still don’t) have the best relationship with her body, I knew that a book like this would be deeply affecting in ways that I can and cannot anticipate. I don’t have the kind of scars that Kofman has. I don’t have burn marks. There isn’t something on my body that very distinctly and instantly set me apart as being “different” from everyone else. But there are other battles that Kofman mentions that I am personally very familiar with. And I wasn’t quite sure if reading about them would be in anyway triggering for me.

As it turns out, my worries turned out to be unfounded. In fact, it comes as a kind of a relief to read about it. The shame, the self consciousness and the inevitable hurt that comes from the way people make you feel for simply having to wear imperfections on your skin. The feeling of being damaged goods and never being good enough for someone to want and love you. That you are somehow less of a person simply because you aren’t anywhere close to being what is typically considered to be “beautiful”. I could cry when reading it all. Where has this book been in all my life and why wasn’t it around earlier?

What I personally love about Imperfect is that it isn’t in any way a self-empowerment book. It isn’t meant to help you learn to love and accept yourself. Instead, I think it is a book that gives a voice to those who are living in bodies that are vastly different from the kind that most of us inhabit. To give us all an insight into their world and their experiences and motivations. To be on the outside looking in.

(Kofman describes it as being in a kind of an exclusive club, yet it is pretty clear from reading her interviews and narrative that even members of said club can find it difficult to navigate the dangerous waters of being around each other. Do we talk about the elephant in the room? How much can we talk and probe about it without going too far?)

But Kofman doesn’t just stop there. She takes us with us her as she examines the common perception of beauty (as being something associated with perfection), coaxes us into another form of beauty that is expressed instead through authenticity and raises us some very interesting questions. Why can’t you be scarred and beautiful? Why do you have to be one or the other?

And more interestingly (to me anyway), Kofman also tries to explore what it is like to be on the other side, to be someone who finds beauty in imperfection and to be someone who finds all these things that others find ugly to be immensely attractive. It is a kind of perspective that I don’t think is readily available and it’s interesting to view the world (and other people) through this particular lens. As a reader, it gives me pause and makes me re-evaluate the way I view my world. Which may or may not have been part of the points that Imperfect makes.

I know I’ve made no mention of Kofman’s story so far even though the book is one half her memoir and it’s not because I find it less interesting and/or irrelevant. If anything, I love the way she interweaves her personal accounts with those from her journey in the course of writing this book. I find her resilience inspiring, her writing to be something exactly right up my alley and her life story to be something truly extraordinary. I just think that her story is something she should be the one telling, which, of course, she does in the book. It’s something I want people to read about for themselves instead of what I have to say about it.

Imperfect may have in part begun as one story — Kofman’s story — but I think it went on to being a world of stories. It is an intriguing and enthralling book to read and I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say that it is a book I am overjoyed it exists. Reading it made me cry. It made me smile. It allowed me, for a moment or two, to feel that I am not alone in my pain. I could not put it down for the world.

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