If it were to name a thing that makes life bitter, it was our ordinary perfectionism. Today is no wonder if you’re telling someone that you’re a perfectionist. The shock will be if you’re not. We’re taught from early in our lives to strive for perfection. To try to make things as good as we can, both in our personal and professional lives. To give our best day after day, so that, one day, everything will be perfect.
A perfectionist’s “career” begins early, in the family. From what I’ve noticed, the whole ride starts in school, with comparing grades. This is the most frequent way that kids learn they need to be as close to perfection as possible, to be loved. That’s how the self-doubt shows up, as a subtle inner voice asking the same question over and over again: Is my best good enough?
And with that simple question, everything takes form. You begin to question your self-worth, your experience, your littlest decisions. But, above all, you begin to question your body, as your first attempts of building a social image appear.
I can’t even say that this is an exclusively feminine issue anymore if I have a second thought about all the men judged by their looks every day. We are, as nasty as it could sound, being judged by the way we look, dress and…pose. And this is more than visible on Social Media.
This is why we develop, from an earlier and earlier age, a sense of self-consciousness that is simply overwhelming. We are deeply aware of every little change that occurs in our bodies- a pimple, an extra pound, everything gets to be noticed and criticized by our childhood inner voice. And that voice is merciless.
But this is not the big deal. The big deal is the fact that we are getting into a vicious circle where nothing that we do or are is ever good enough for ourselves, in the first place, yet expect other people to show up and prove that we’re good enough for them. How messed up is this kind of reasoning?
It is, somehow, a mental health epidemics, where we are, all of us, trying to look as close as the mass media-served beauty ideals as possible. And this has a few bad, really bad side effects for our psychological well-being.
First of all, we tend to compare ourselves. Compare, compare, analyze, and then compare a bit more. And we’re never comparing ourselves to our equals. We compare with the augmented versions of the popular kids in our teenage years- the Social Media influencers, the celebrities, and generally the people who seem to have the perfect lives. Oh, our so beloved perfection, how damaging it is!
The aftermath of the comparisons is low, low, low self-esteem. Because let’s be honest about it, you will never win a mental battle between your current self, as imperfect as it is, and the thoughtfully crafted, long studied social images of these people. We compare ourselves with other people’s jobs, as they have some awesome teams behind those photos and stories that we’re comparing our bodies with, and they live by the money they make promoting different stuff and looking in a certain way. And this affects us in ways that we’re not even aware of.
After losing the game, we change the way we talk with ourselves and our self-perception. We become the toxic people we warn our friends about, but only when it comes to ourselves. We enhance the negative self-talk, we label ourselves as dumb, meh, not good enough, and the list could go on and on forever. We’re so accustomed to the negative labels, that we don’t even blink when we hear them from somebody else. What surprises us is the kind, flattering, polite type of discourse.
It is a common narrative, as one has to be, to be seen as successful, stressed, depressed, but well dressed. It doesn’t matter that much if you’re stressed and depressed if you don’t look like someone stressed and depressed. You have, and this is a silent prerogative, to look like your ideal version, not like your real one.
The fact that this kind of attitude has an impact on how humans perceive each other is no news. By now, it is well-known already that we judge the others in the very same ways that we’re judging ourselves. And that means forgetting the simple truth that there’s no such thing as two people with the same background.
It happened to me as well. Being a plus-size girl since literally forever made me understand better how self-talk and peer labeling interact. I’ve been called big, fat, obese, nasty, made compliments like It’s a shame of that beautiful face and I am proud of you for losing weight, as nobody thought you would. But, above all, I’ve never seen myself as a beautiful girl. Of course, there were things I liked about myself, like the lips, but the ones I was disliking outnumbered them effortlessly. Maybe that’s part of the reasons why now when someone tells me I look beautiful, or that I’m a good-looking woman, I tend to answer that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman, and I, in my best days, am decent. But this came after a long time of hating my body and comparing myself with other women, that I’ve known for real or not.
Actually, this came when I got tired. Because there comes a point in one’s life when you get tired of labeling yourself as good enough or not good enough, as proud or disappointed of who you are, depending on how close or how far you are from that ideal image. At first, you try to change it, you are revolted, and would do anything to fit in. You start to look more carefully in the wardrobe, see what good outfits you can mix. You become interested in makeup, and try to be more…like a girl, even if you feel uncomfortable at first. You’ll even try to diet, at a certain point.
And you will reach a point where your energy will be desperately needed elsewhere. Maybe it is the career, maybe it is emotional healing, it can be whatever. But, sooner or later, you’ll reach the point where the image displayed socially is no longer a priority.
From that point, things become easier not because you’ve become wiser, as it is not always the case, but because you became relaxed, and that’s a game-changer. When you relax and stop comparing and labeling everything around you, with the task journal in hand, eventually, ready to check some bullets, life becomes easier.
Maybe it has never actually been that complicated as the continuous race for the perfect social image made it appear. Maybe life was always an easy thing to understand, but we’ve made it become something complicated by adding useless ideas and questions to it.
I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to this. But the thing I know for sure is that you see life with brighter eyes when you’re aware of yourself for good. When you know and respect your limits, when you know and put in the spotlight your strong points.
Because, at the end of the day, it is all about the individual. Mental health is an individual set of actions, with a collective impact. There is no such thing as a healthy society formed by unhealthy individual and there’s no mentally healthy individual that keeps comparing itself with the other people day after day.
And, no, the perfect look is nothing achievable in nature, without interventions, so stop chasing illusions and enjoy your bodies, because that’s a bigger deal than living your life surrounded by an army which has as its only purpose to make you look good, regardless of what that good looks like that season. You’re more than just that, way more.