The Backlash of Creating a Perfect Image

Donald Miller

Anne Hathaway has been getting some backlash lately. It’s been a little crazy, to be honest. Nobody can fault her work ethic or her choice of roles. She is insanely ambitious, diverse and most importantly she delivers. I think she deserved the Oscar for her performance in Les Mis, truly.

What people don’t like, and I get it, is her seemingly perfect exterior, her smiling responses and acceptance speeches, her cutsie image that doesn’t seem to fit with what we all know: This is an extremely competitive woman.

We all like to be charmed by our celebrities, but nobody likes to be manipulated. To me, she is getting the same kind of lightning strikes as Tim Tebow. It seems the more we try to make ourselves come off as sweet, good, kind and humble, the more we just look the opposite.

Could a person really be that good? That perfect? That non-phased by the pressures every other human being deals with? Are there really people who are that much UNlike the rest of us?

Did the fall of man miss somebody?

Even Jesus doesn’t dole out such polished and perfect responses. And he was actually perfect.

What is it that rubs us wrong about people who act perfect?

I’d argue that, while certainly mean, our tendency to recoil is natural and, well, God given.

By design, we are drawn to authenticity.

Anne Hathaway in ‘Les Miserables’/Image © 2012 Universal Studios

There’s no part of me that wants to sit down with Tim Tebow or Anne Hathaway and have a beer. And I don’t want to have a beer with either because, honestly, there’s no point of connection. People connect with others through their flaws, their honesty, their vulnerability.

There’s something about the delusional fantasy of sitting down for a beer with Meryl Streep or George Clooney that gives you a feeling you could have something like a normal conversation in which you find out you both had the same kind of nightmares about spiders when you were kids. How else can you explain the insane popularity of Seth Rogan except to say he makes every other pothead on the planet feel like they’ve got a famous friend?

And here’s a more important point: I think the whole “creating a perfect image” thing is the reason some Christians don’t resonate.

We can all smell when somebody is being fake. And worse, in Christian circles, we can smell when somebody is being righteous in order to lord it over others. It’s manipulation. It’s a control move. It’s more than a little annoying. But here’s another truth, people have the right to be fake. And yet another truth, people have the right to be annoyed by people who are fake.

Now that the boundaries are clear:

People with polished exteriors give me a sense they are playing a game, calculating their every responses as though moving pieces around on a chess board. Make no mistake, we all play life like a game to an extent, but few people really like it, and we all love it when we don’t have to compete anymore and we can just put the game aside for a second to really connect. To me, that’s a bit of heaven, and it’s a bit of heaven you rarely find in fundamentalist religious communities.

Most interesting to me about the Anne Hathaway stir up is the fact this cultural reality isn’t isolated amongst pious religious communities. It’s a human trait to be turned off by people who seem to be faking it.

Perfect characters feel like they’re cheating at life, somehow. It’s like they’re inviting you to share your crap but won’t share their own. They want to be your counselor or advisor or boss, but are too good to be your friend. Audiences don’t like that.

But I also find the idea we don’t have to pretend to be perfect, freeing. It’s freeing because it means all we really need to do in life is try hard, care about people, and don’t worry about being perfect, or, for that matter, creating a perfect image. Perfect images are tempting, but they backfire.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.