Pretty Insecure : Rising Above the Pressure to be Perfect.

To what extent is your perceived worth contingent on the way you look? 

If you gained twenty pounds tomorrow, would you feel less worthy of love or acceptance? 

If a giant pimple showed up unannounced smack dab in the middle of your face, would you cancel your evening plans? 

If you answered yes, keep reading, because I’m about to show you that you are very much not alone.

–        In a recent study conducted by researchers at Florida State University, women who had browsed social media for twenty minutes experienced lower self-esteem after doing so, whereas women who had researched on safari animals did not. 

–        In the U.S., headlines announce college admissions scandals, where celebrities and those with big scale reputations to uphold are willing to commit fraud to get their kids into a good college, or the “best” college. 

We’re living in a world where we believe that as early as middle school, kids receiving a B grade can ruin their chances of getting into the college of their choice. Whether we’re talking about looks or grades, our modern society can easily leave us thinking that perfectionism is a must. And that leaves us feeling an inordinate amount of pressure every single day – the kind that has us believing that twenty pounds of extra weight negates our worthiness of love, or that a giant zit zaps away our excitement about going out with our friends or husbands.

The impact on our girls

Forty-seven percent of girls between the ages of eleven and twenty-one believe they aren’t pretty enough (Source: Girlguiding UK’s 2016 Girls’ attitudes survey). 

For our girls (and boys), social media is an inevitable part of their world. While we can’t blame social media outlets for low self-esteem, it is important to acknowledge the role these platforms play in our self-image. Many girls will erroneously believe that the filtered pictures of others reflect their realities (because it’s their natural inclination to not assign the same judgments on others as they would their own pictures). 

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, teens as young as thirteen are seeking plastic surgery, and roughly 230 000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged thirteen to nineteen in 2017 alone. The rates have since increased. 

Americans have spent over $16 BILLION on plastic surgery. $16 billion!! And if that isn’t shocking enough, the United States ranks at number 6 on the world stage of plastic surgery spending per capita (South Korea takes first place, followed by Greece, Italy, Brazil, and Colombia). 

If we want to do an about face, change has to begin with as individuals taking responsibility for our role in perpetuating this issue.  

What is behind all of this?

As a Millennial, I didn’t grow up with Instagram or Facebook, but that didn’t keep me from experiencing my fair share of body image issues. Concerns with perfectionism isn’t a new problem, and I can only imagine how much harder it must be for our girls today, when they have non-stop exposure to unobtainable ideals of perfection. 

The issue of our daughters and we as women constantly striving for elusive “perfection” is one we need to address together. Let’s start with a point of consideration that can leave us feeling like we’re in a tricky (perfectionism-trap) situation: 

What we value most will often be the very same aspects of ourselves that cause us to feel most insecure. 

Think about it…. 

–        If you place a lot of value on how you look, you’re likely to spend significantly more time on your appearance. 

–        If money is super important to you, you will likely measure your self-worth (not the money kind) based on your net worth (the money kind). 

–        If intelligence is the be-all and end-all for you, your self-esteem will likely be linked to your academic achievement (or your child’s).  

As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that when success is defined by external forces (e.g. acceptance and validation of others, money), as opposed to our own attitude (how we feel about ourselves), not only do we become more likely to “cheat” the system (like using that oh-so-tempting Instagram filter that makes us look flawless), but we also begin to cheat our systems (the one inside ourselves that is left feeling continuously depleted, as though we are never enough).

How we turn the tables

We are all susceptible to putting too much value on external forces and things that are often beyond our control, but we can change that. It isn’t easy, but it IS possible. 

We can start by recognizing that we all have inherent value, which is in no way linked to the way we look, how much money we have in the bank, or how others choose to judge us. It is our duty to internalize this message and pass it along to our children. 

Consider this example: 

A girl tells her mother that she doesn’t feel pretty and her mother tells her that she is beautiful. 

Chances are she won’t believe her mom, or she’ll find an excuse for why her mother would say that (i.e. “you’re my mother, of course you’re gonna say I’m beautiful”). 

The energy of our thoughts begins to shift when we remind ourselves and our children that the way we look, what size we are, or our GPA in no way reflects our value as human beings. We value our children as individuals not despite their flaws, but because of them. Why shouldn’t we then treat ourselves the same way as well? 

Next time you find yourself making a perfectionism-driven decision, why not speak to and nurture yourself the same way you would as if you were your daughter and she was making a decision that you know was causing her such strain or agony? 

Thinking differently about achievements

It is important to note that the desire to be more attractive, acquire wealth, or achieve straight A’s can exist within a healthy framework for achievement and accomplishment. 

It’s only when we begin doing those things out of mere desperation and fear that not doing them will cause us to be unworthy or unloved, that we begin the downward spiral and join the never-ending rat race to become accepted amongst our peers. (Sure, competition is a normal part of development, but we must acknowledge the extent to which it interferes with living one’s life with authentic confidence and a healthy internally-based self-image).

The bottom line is this: if the need to be perfect is fueling the majority of your decisions, it might be time for some self-reflection. And please, don’t beat yourself up for having to do so. Awakening to a need for change is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. It is empowering and liberating.

To track and accelerate your progress, research highlights the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. I have seen the magic of gratitude in action in my own life and can tell you that it is absolutely life changing.

When you write down (and you must write it down, not think it) three things you are grateful for every day for 21 days, you can change your brain-wiring and become more focused on the things you have as opposed to the things you don’t. 

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and the most important beholder is the reflection you see in your mirror. 

There will always be someone out there who is prettier, smarter, richer, and more popular. Your value lives within you, not on a measuring stick that is comparing you to others. 

When you begin to pay attention to your strengths and become grateful for the person you are today (not what you think other people want from you), small but steady shifts in your self-concept can begin to take place, and that my friends is where true fulfillment happens.

The bottom line? What you value will determine how you perceive yourself. 

–        If you notice your flaws, they will become magnified. 

–        If you notice your strengths, you will begin to see of them. 

The more you focus on external forces, the less likely you are to have inner fulfillment, so spend your time appreciating what is internally yours, versus what is externally unobtainable. 

You are great as you are today. Own it! Write about the things in your life you are grateful for and watch your energy begin to shift. Where the quest for perfectionism once drained you, you will begin to feel perked up by the beauty you discover within yourself.

Please share this article with anyone you think needs to hear this message (so, basically everyone).

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2 thoughts on “Pretty Insecure : Rising Above the Pressure to be Perfect.”

  1. I love this article. This is something I’ve been working on a lot for almost a year! Thank you!

    Melanie Lindquist

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