Sheer Perfection

I’m developing a Mary Berry app. Mary Berry is the charming, British, chic grandmotherly type of person who is a master baker and former co-host of the wildly popular Great British Baking Show. If Mary Poppins had a mother, it would be Mary Berry. The Great British Baking Show is a reality-based show where amateur home bakers convene each week in a tricked out kitchen tent nicer and more inviting than any kitchen in any house I’ve ever lived in, to “battle” it out through baking challenges. The “battling” is actually a lot of chumming around during the challenges where they might help someone stabilize their spun sugar Eiffel Tower or clutch hands in mild terror while gazing into someone’s oven willing the puff pastry not to crater. There is also lots of hugging in both joy and despair as contestants rise and fall during the competition much like their bakes. Hugging, chocolate and sugar—there is already a lot to like about The Great British Baking Show and then there is, of course, Mary Berry.

When it comes to the world of flour, spices, and candied things, Mary Berry is respected and revered. She earned her stripes in the legendary Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in France. She’s a tough critic who wields her fork the way Ninjas brandish their swords, slicing a hunk off of someone’s cake, giving it a thoughtful chew to ultimately pronounce: “Dry. What a shame.” Sitting at home you can feel the devastation of that statement as it passes through the baker across time and space into your own body, settling all the way down into the corners of your pinky toenails. Disappointing Mary Berry is like getting the chance to sing on stage with Beyonce and flubbing the words to “Irreplaceable.” It’s spilling coffee all over Einstein’s notes on the theory of general relativity. It’s not doing the lift during the climactic end-of-the-season-end-of-an-era movie dance number while your father watches with a mixture of pride and confusion.

Fortunately, the flip-side is receiving the Mary Berry seal of approval and mark of highest praise imaginable: “Sheer perfection.” You can almost hear the magical fairy dust settling over each syllable in Mary Berry’s lilting accent. She dips her spoon through 23 layers of some complicated Trifle recipe from the 15th century with the care of a surgeon excavating cells from the wall of the small intenstine. “The flavors are exquisite. You really got them. It’s sheer perfection.” You can practically see the baker levitating out of her body as she hears the words. And you get the feeling that Mary Berry loves saying it as much as we love hearing it.

And that brings me back to my app. While most apps are designed to track and catalogue, to send seemingly important (but actually just anxiety-provoking) alerts and paw at you with updates and upgrades and latest-better-more-super-duper versions, the Mary Berry app performs one function only. Click on the little cupcake or slice of pie icon and hear the statement, “Sheer perfection.” There would be some randomization for variety and a feature that allows you to customize it with your name:  

“Karen: SHEER perfection.”

“That, Karen, is Sheer perfection.”

“That. is. SHEER perfection Karen!”

“ABsolutely sheer perfection, Karen.”

I could see this app coming in handy when I’m a weeping, unraveling mess in the pet supply aisle of Target or when my self-worth is in the sewer after spending a good chunk of the morning scrolling through Instagram posts of a former high school classmate who is now the Ambassador to Prague working on her second best-selling novel. Hearing Mary Berry’s comforting toffee-laced voice remind me that I am not actually an oxygen-sucking life disaster and am, in fact, “sheer perfection” is the kind of get-out-of-emotional-jail card that a lot of us really need.

Women have a tricky (read: suckaphonic) relationship with the concept of perfection. Forces beyond our control (read: patriarchy; see also: capitalism) have done a bang up job in manufacturing unrealistic echelons of perfection for women in fashion, beauty, health and body image, entertainment, motherhood, domesticity, career, sports, politics, medicine, the sciences (both real, theoretical, and fictional), and essentially in any conceivable realm where a woman-identifying person exists. I agree that perfection can be a dangerous, dirty business. I know that chasing after perfection is like trying to run in those nightmare fever dreams, the ones where you’re hoofing it as fast as you can only to realize you’ve barely made it three feet from where you started. This is not a great look for any of us. But I think that our relationship with perfection is so gnarly, in part, from letting someone else dictate its terms.

What if we took perfection back from whomever or whatever keeps changing the rules, keeps folding and refolding it into new and increasingly inscrutable forms like an M.C. Escher origami kit (worst Valentine’s Day gift ever). What if we hacked perfection and made it work for each of us? After all, perfection is a kind of resting pulse–different for everyone, but no less real or valid. It’s a state that we don’t have to work or aspire towards because we’re already inhabiting it whenever we show up as our most authentic selves, doing our very best moment to moment with what we currently have in our roadside of life assistance kits. We’ve been unaware for far too long of our immense perfection-claiming power, just like Dorothy wandering around Oz in those beautiful and not at all sensible ruby pumps. We don’t need three clicks of our heels. One click of “sheer perfection” is all it takes to bring us back home.

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Sheila C. Moeschen I am a writer from Boston. Visit sheilamoeschen.com for more.

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