What is perfectionism and how does it impact what we see in the mirror? “Perfectionism is broadly defined as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations. When directed toward the self, individuals attach irrational importance to being perfect, hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, and are punitive in their self-evaluations (self-oriented perfectionism)” (Curran; Hill, 2019). More simply, those with self-perfectionism are extremely hard on themselves, and this may result in thoughts or actions of self-punishment upon feelings of inadequacy or failure (Curran; Hill, 2019).
However, what exactly is “perfection,” and how do we know what we know about it? In reality, perfection is not fixed or objective (Curran; Hill, 2019). "The dominant cultural values and norms of society shape concepts and individual attitudes” about what "perfection" truly is (Curran; Hill, 2019). Culture entails specific outlooks on life, social norms, and concepts of aesthetic beauty (Curran; Hill, 2019). Each person’s culture is subjective, meaning culture exists within our minds and our projections (Curran; Hill, 2019). Moreover, culture is an environment that cultivates our identities and self-image (Curran; Hill, 2019). And since our culture informs us on specific ideas about perfection and aesthetic beauty, there cannot be an objective definition for “perfection” or even “beauty” when it comes to physical appearance, especially since a person’s physical appearance can change at any given time.
Ultimately, beauty standards are an institution, and like any institution, it exists to organize, regulate, and set the precedent for normalcy (Curran; Hill, 2019). However, what if someone is unable to attain that “normalcy” put in place by an institution like beauty standards? How do we construct our identity and sense of self outside of a culture’s aesthetic confines, especially in a visual culture?
“Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have become ubiquitous, occupying 2 out of every 5 min spent online (GlobalWebIndex, 2016). The popularity of these platforms is, in part, explained by how they allow users to curate a perfect public image (Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2011). Yet, rather than alleviate presentational and interpersonal anxieties, studies indicate that exposure to others’ perfect self-representations within social media can intensify one’s own body image concerns and sense of social alienation (Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Paik & Sanchagrin, 2013).”
“Other data suggests that young people are struggling to cope with a visual culture which emphasizes unrealistic body ideals. The most recent cohort data from the United States and the United Kingdom show that incidence of body dysmorphia and eating disorders has risen by approximately 30% among late adolescent girls since the advent of social media (e.g., PwC, 2015; Smink, van Hoeken, & Hoek, 2012; Thompson & Durrani, 2007). In the same countries, increasing numbers of young people are turning to plastic surgery and its promise of bodily perfection (e.g., British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, 2015; American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2016; Thomas, 2015).”
Likewise, when we see what is known as “perfection” on social media, we may begin to feel anxious that others would judge us harshly upon looking different. We also may feel confirmed that perfection equals cultural approval. But if acceptance comes from a culture that does not accept acne, scars, certain features, etc., what can you do?
Although we humans are social beings who are unlikely to be alone and to completely ignore our environments, we can still find ways to create our own cultures and to mentally distance ourselves from ideas of perfection that feel oppressive. We can first start by understanding that beauty is cultural, and it exists within our minds. Decide what beauty is to you. Gather information on beauty from what feels safe. You can join with others to create your own culture and beauty concepts within a friend group. You can also avoid people and content that make you feel isolated, alienated, and under pressure to attain something that you can't relate to. Humans don't want to feel that way. Thirdly, the idea of "perfection" is only a condition or a state. We are ever changing people so the only thing that we can be all of the time is human.
British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. (2015). SUPER CUTS “Daddy makeovers” and celeb confessions: Cosmetic surgery procedures soar in Britain. Retrieved from http://baaps.org.uk/about-us/pressreleases/2202-super-cuts-daddy-makeovers-and-cele. B-confessionscosmetic-surgery-procedures-soar-in-britain
Curran, Thomas. Hill, Andrew. Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth
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GlobalWebIndex. (2016). GWI Social: GlobalWebIndex’s quarterly report on the latest trends in social networking. Retrieved from http://blog .globalwebindex.net/chart-of-the-day/social-media-captures-30-ofonline-time
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Mendelson, A. L., & Papacharissi, Z. (2011). Look at us: Collective narcissism in college student Facebook photo galleries. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), The networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites (pp. 251–273). London, U.K.: Routledge.
PwC. (2015). The costs of eating disorders: Social, health and economic impacts.https://www.beat.co.uk/assets/000/000/302/The_costs_of_eating_disorders_Final_original.pdf
Smink, F. R., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current Psychiatry Reports, 14, 406 – 414. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11920- 012-0282-y
Thompson, C. M., & Durrani, A. J. (2007). An increasing need for early detection of body dysmorphic disorder by all specialties. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 100, 61– 62. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/ 014107680710000203