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Confessions of a Faux-Food Stylist

Do you know what the opposite of perfection is? Freedom.To be truly free is to be unafraid to occasionally blunder and mess up.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I’m going to spill some secrets because I think it’s important for you to know them. Consider this a public service announcement.

As a food stylist, I should inform you that your dish will not look exactly like the photos in cookbooks and magazines, because a stylist has spent hours on that one stuffed turkey to make it look picture-perfect. Besides, your family and friends would rather enjoy your company than have you puttering around in the kitchen, trying to fashion their food into infinite flawlessness.

When I was working on the photos for my cookbook, it would take hours of planning, arranging and styling to make each photo come out just right. But when I serve those exact same dishes in my own home, I’ll bet they look a lot like the ones in yours, as it would be rude to keep my company waiting that long! Besides, many photo shoots are tweezed, tweaked and even glued to perfection with tools that would put any handyman’s toolbox to shame. I wouldn’t recommend that you enjoy any of that fare after all the manhandling. Then it’s time to choose the “beauty queen” from among the contestants of virtually identical plates, the winner to be bathed in the most flattering lighting after the photo has been painstakingly composed. You get the idea.

Now for some of those secrets I mentioned earlier.

Can you guess what the milk in those tempting ads for breakfast cereals really is? Elmer’s Glue! This is done so that every corn flake and Cheerio can be placed into the bowl with a tweezers and displayed in the most optimal spot. And the ads for mouth-watering scoops of ice cream in the most dazzling colors? Those are very likely scoops of instant mashed potatoes with food coloring, created so that the ice cream will “behave” and not melt under the hot lights. And let’s not even talk about the shaving cream being substituted for whipped cream… I’ll save some more food styling secrets for another time and get right to the point.

The most important thing about cooking is that it connects. Our purpose is not to impress but to feed and nurture those we love with food that comes from the heart. In the final analysis, cooking is a delicious and imperfect art.

So let’s stop putting that kind of pressure on ourselves. Don’t we already have enough in our lives?

The pursuit of perfection is not always benign. It hurts, and it nearly always disappoints. I could give you a list of my own embarrassing blunders a mile long. For example, I recently attended a social function, and part of my beauty prep involved the application of false eyelashes. Faux extensions are all the rage these days, and to be in-rageous, we often execute the outrageous. Throughout the evening I batted my “maybe-she-was-born-with-them” luscious fringes, only to discover upon returning home that my right eye was sporting two sets of lashes! The false strip had dislodged and was hovering uncertainly somewhere between my real lashes and my eyebrow. When you read about mystics referring to their third eye, they weren’t kidding—the proof was in my mirror!

The first emotion I experienced was utter humiliation. I was absolutely mortified, rehashing the evening and attempting to recall who might have seen me in such an indignity. Then I burst out laughing in spite of myself; I’m amused! In the pursuit of poise and perfection, I had been rewarded with quite the opposite. How ironic! There are many times when we need to laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of it all. Should we take ourselves seriously all the time? Nope. We can and should indulge in some healthy humor, even and especially at our own expense.

We’re so afraid of embarrassing public moments, but haven’t we all experienced them at some point?

Do you know what the opposite of perfection is? Freedom. To be truly free is to be unafraid to occasionally blunder and mess up. Striving for perfection stems from the need for approval, and when we let go of that, we are giddy with freedom. I have almost arrived—and that’s only after several decades of working on myself!

Interesting things start to happen when we let go of perfectionism. We become more creative and expansive in many ways. Without the need to impress you can experience the real you, simply having fun and living in the present moment. The authentic, unadorned, unencumbered you—no faux lashes necessary.

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