Everywhere we look we see things that are supposed to make us prettier, hotter, thinner, richer, smarter, more popular. Advertising feeds off the very premise ‘you are not enough, but with this you could be’.
The voracious rise of social media has only exacerbated this – the relentless daily bombardment of glossy perfectionism supported by the current trend of wholly transparent captioning. Pretence: “Guys, look at this beautiful ocean!” Subtext: “Check out my bikini body! I’ve worked sooooo hard to look this supreme!’
And then there are the nauseating hashtags that even some of the most intelligent of celebrities do not appear to be immune to: #sugarfreediet #eatclean #beachbodyready #nodaysoff. For many, Instagram has become, I suspect, an exhausting and relentless life-long competition. It’s the ultimate example of Keeping Up With The Joneses.
Plastic surgery is more popular than ever and new information released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) shows continued growth in cosmetic procedures over the last year. Since 2000, overall procedures have risen 115 percent.
The age at which people are are having procedures done is decreasing, and the internet is littered with memes featuring before and after photos of Kylie Jenner, consoling audiences with the message ‘no one is ugly, they’re just poor’.
And it’s not just the beauty and body industry – perfectionism addiction is leaking into all facets of society and it’s becoming something of a menace.
My problem is with the level of intensity that perfectionism addiction has taken on: it has worked it’s insidious way into all areas of our lives – appearance, bodies, level of fitness, relationships, socialising, work and so on.
It’s as if the sneaky voice of the advertising industry whispering ‘you’re not enough’ has had its volume cranked up to eleven and it’s now shouting: you must work harder, be more, eat clean, exercise more, wear a different outfit every time you venture out of the house and – keep doing that until the day you die’. It’s perfectionism addiction on steroids.
One particular hashtag that gets me, which is typically alongside gym selfies, is #nodaysoff. An impeccable work ethic is admirable. I get it – most goals aren’t reached by fantasising about the future whilst doing little but flicking through Netflix. However, embodying the “no days off” mantra provides little flexibility for the self-care we need to maintain our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
There is, of course, nothing wrong – and many things wonderful – with wanting to do your best, look your best, realise your dreams in life and achieve your goals. We are, after all, growth-seeking beings.
But it’s the lack of self-acceptance of where we are right now that’s the problem – and the false premise that happiness is in some way a destination, that somehow everything will finally fall into place when we are 14 pounds lighter, £20k richer, in the ‘right’ relationship or smashing some far-off level of success.
The fact is, we’re continually ‘kicking the can’ when it comes to our own self love and self esteem. Yet paradoxically, I think it’s the acknowledgement of our flaws, not the obsession with perfection, that ultimately makes us better, more human, more understanding and more likely to do well.
That comes from learning to look at the cracks and beginning to come from a flexible, growth-based approach that is gentler and less rigid than perfectionism addiction’s shame-based core.
By accepting our flaws and imperfections, we are accepting our ‘humanness’ – leaving room for growth without telling ourselves we ‘should’ be somewhere or something else, which ultimately leads to a more peaceful life.
It’s also worth noting that the very idea of perfection is exactly that: just an idea – a concept, a mental impression, an opinion and a belief. There is no such thing as perfection because thankfully we are all blessed with unique preferences and a good old dollop of individuality.
Which brings me back round to the title and a conversation I overheard whilst walking down the street behind a young couple. The beautiful teenage girl was complaining incessantly to her boyfriend that her arms looked ‘fat in this top’.
‘Babe,’ he said, as he looked at her imploringly, ‘you don’t throw away a Mercedes because it’s got a scratch’. Now that really was perfect.