Photo: Stocksy
Photo: Stocksy


Sometimes, some things are better off when they’re not perfect

When it comes to sex, school plays and teeth, a little imperfection never hurt anyone

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By Sali Hughes on

When Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and a couple of panicking, P45-ready PricewaterhouseCoopers employees presided over the biggest admin fail in Academy Awards history last weekend, all my friends and I were gripped. This otherwise immaculately presented night, the biggest in showbiz, had instantly been rendered so much more memorable – and, yes, enjoyable – by one huge, ground-opening balls-up. It was an object lesson in the joy of imperfection – something I’ve always been drawn to. I hear about other people rightly letting go of their need for perfection and wonder how I never developed the instinct to strive for it. It’s not simply a question of giving yourself a break from the pressure (as one should with parenting – getting by is good enough, as my grandmother would say). It’s that in many areas of life, imperfection isn’t just permissible, it’s positively beneficial.


While it’s pretty annoying hearing designers and celebrity make-up artists quack on about the beauty of imperfection, usually while pointing at Christy Turlington, Karlie Kloss or a similar goddess as proof, there is no doubt that a perfectly proportioned face is much less interesting than one with wide-set eyes, a big nose, a flock of freckles or pair of cheek dimples. Facial imperfections make us distinct, memorable and interesting. Conversely, perfect faces can look bland, flat and a bit unsettling. I was leaving the ladies’ room at the BAFTA awards last year just as a naturally gorgeous celebrity – nipped, tucked and perfected to within an inch of her life – walked in. I almost jumped out of my skin in fear. She no longer appeared vulnerable, characterful or even alive, but more like she’d just come from audition for the role of Unhappy Shop Mannequin 2.


Stand down, Marie Kondo disciples. I understand and respect your need for order, and I certainly agree one should ideally love the things one buys. But I’m afraid I like a sock drawer that looks like a knitted ballpool, and a sofa with a little hole where I angrily rammed my finger through the thinning leather in the throes of my first labour. I love the vintage cocktail cabinet bearing a few scratches where some bon viveur presumably once tipsily clattered it with an ice bucket. It gives me pleasure to see myriad perfume bottles lined up like a mismatched cast of characters, pitching to accompany me on today’s adventure. Likewise, the inferior smartphone-snapped pictures plonked in dirt-cheap frames and mosaic tiled up the stairs, and unwearable plastic red beads hanging from my mirror, bought in Sue Ryder with my kids’ pocket money, bring me daily joy. Clutter is my life in objects, each of them bearing a memory, a story, a hope. Homes where my just putting down a book is enough to cause the owner to twitch make me feel panicky, unwelcome and deeply suspicious of their souls.

School plays

No one wants to see a budding Lena Zavaroni doing jazz hands in an attempt to score an agent or the lead in Annie. School plays are about wobbly scenery, an accidentally sweary angel, a 3ft-tall carrot forgetting his lines or tripping over an abandoned tambourine. In all my children’s nursery and school days, nothing has made me sob harder, nor laugh louder, than the child who shouted, “I am not Jesus – I’m Simon.”

Sorry, Americans, but there is such a thing as too good when it comes to teeth. Just ask Rylan


The coolest, sexiest hair is not some smartly coiffed head of evenly spaced barrel curls. Everyone with style wants hair that looks as though it’s just rolled out of bed, only better. A perfectly imperfect haircut returns hours, days and weeks of thankless styling, straightening, smoothing and curling to its owner’s life, and can withstand bad weather, hotel hairdryers, power cuts and rigorous sexing. Which brings me to…


Have you ever attempted perfect, filmic sex – slow, rhythmic, medal-winningly athletic, mutually climactic sessions of face-holding, eye-gazing lovemaking (boak) – and kept a straight face? Perfect sex – earnest, smouldering and serious, and performed before an imaginary camera – is anything but. The best sex is urgent, squelchy, clumsy and fun. If someone does a pratfall off the bed, or forgets to take off their socks and glasses, then all the better. Excessive stamina, too, is overrated; bar sleeping, there is very little in life I want to do for three hours, least of all lose all sensation in my vagina and miss all the good slots on Hungry House.


Those perfectly crimped and trimmed Bake Off-style pie crusts aren’t crunchy enough, a double-yolk egg makes for the perfectly proportioned breakfast and a KitKat finger of solid chocolate isn’t a factory misshape but a culinary lottery win. I want my Yorkshire pudding to propel out of its hole and expand, like cavity wall insulation, all over the tin. The best pizza has big, fat air bubbles of crispy goodness. Despite this, our country’s obsession with perfectly round tomatoes, evenly hued apples and symmetrically pre-diced veg causes unprecedented food waste. And don’t get me started on the 52 per cent who wanted curved bananas more than a workable economy.


I’ve owned both pedigrees and rescues, and make no judgement on the ownership of either. But there is no doubt in my mind that the best dogs are a bit of a mess, whether runtishly wee and boss-eyed, or grey of beard with legs like a skip-rescued table. Imperfect dogs with bags of spirit live longer, make for the best pets and, besides, there’s something a bit narcissistic about seeking Crufts-level dogs for the sole purpose of curling up on the sofa with an old slipper and a Jumbone.


Sorry, Americans, but there is such a thing as too good when it comes to teeth. Just ask Rylan. Perfectly even, blue-white teeth make every grin look either maniacal or insincere. There have been times when I’ve needed reminding of this myself. Having cringed at countless magazine pictures of my wonky teeth, I once saw a cosmetic dentist about veneers. Despite my boyfriend’s abject horror, I ummed and aahed about whether or not to grind my perfectly healthy teeth down to pegs before gluing on flawless bits of porcelain, until I decided to ask the dentist what he’d do if his wife got the same idea. “I’d refuse to do it,” he said, pointing at the computer simulation of my perfect smile. “This isn’t normal.” He was right. What would you rather look at: Patricia Arquette’s gorgeous crooked smile or Tom Cruise’s cultish grin?


Meticulously rehearsed, Broadway-worthy dance numbers, three-grand firework displays, vodka luges and specially trained doves bearing bespoke rings in their beaks. Sorry, bride- and groomzillas, no one likes them. Or you. Perfectly planned and choreographed weddings are infinitely less charming than a more free-flowing, ramshackle affair with mispronounced vows, trodden-on petticoats and toddlers shouting, “DINOSAURS!” in a packed Catholic church (yes, my eldest son did this. I wanted the crypt to open up beneath us. He had a point, though). Ask anyone what was their favourite wedding and they’re almost guaranteed to cite some chilled piss-up in a boozer, bring your own picnic or similar. Expensive props and lavish entertainment somehow act as barriers to true emotion and meaning – a diversion from the real reason for the celebration – and cause guests to wonder what the cost per year will ultimately be. If I want to drop £40K for the benefit of guests, I’d sooner convert my loft.


This article is part of our Past Perfect series exploring the idea of perfection and the unrealistic perceptions that often surround it.

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