Perfectionism, the Obsession with Living up to Unrealistic Standards.

Suzan glared at the weighing scale in disbelief. She was just a bit over a hundred and eighty pounds, way off her perfect a hundred-pound target. It had been eighteen months since she started her weight reduction program and still hadn’t hit the mark. This tormented her. It didn’t matter that she had already shredded more than twenty pounds within that time frame, didn’t matter that she had endured every conceivable weight reduction method like pills, slimming creams, strict vegan diet. It didn’t even matter that she had committed to a six day a week, two to three-hour rigorous gym sessions. None of that mattered, as soon as she saw the weight reading, she became devastated. Earlier that day she had shrugged off teasing comment from one of her friends about how her pants barely fit, but actually, it sank in deep. There she was enjoying lunch with her girls and one playful comment later, she felt like an agitated puffer fish. Suddenly her belt felt tighter, her shoes seemed to squeeze her and everyone around her seemed to be looking at her and commenting about how fat she is. Suzan is so insecure about her weight, that it damages her self-image. She is disgusted by what she sees in the mirror. She spends hours scrolling through social media profiles of her other friends who seemed to have it all together. Perfect weight, perfect hair, perfect skin complexion. She was suffering a silent depression so severe she was beginning to have suicidal thoughts. Her self-esteem is so low that she makes up excuses to skip a day out at the beach with her friends. It’s so bad she denies herself any intimate relationships. Nothing could change her self-image, not the men that told her she was beautiful. “He doesn’t mean it; he probably just wants to take advantage of me.” That’s what she keeps telling herself. She even suspects her friends only hang out with her out of pity and sympathy. Such is Suzan’s predicament, an endless streak of negative self-talk, self-criticism, and condemnation.


Suzan suffers the effects of perfectionism. We live in a perfectionistic society that always projects what an ideal person should be. The pretty young woman, five foot eight, long straight silky hair, glowing skin, twelve-inch waistline, angelic curves. The kind of woman the rest envy and leaves a trail of men drooling. She is married but is also financially established. The perfect man with hardcore Abs, six foot two, broad-shouldered, self-employed charming, alpha male who has women chasing after him from different directions. That is what is portrayed in pop culture, drilled in people from childhood story books then novels, movies. It has fostered a culture of perfectionism, which puts specific individuals on a pedestal because they are relatively more perfect than the rest. This however comes at the expense of the “less-than” perfect, the not so slim women, the not so ripped men, the socially awkward, the not so rich, the single. It somehow seems the ‘less-than’ perfect can only be happy when they achieve a certain level of perfection. The sad part is that such beliefs are engraved in the subconscious of these ‘less-than’ perfect, making them feel ever so insignificant.

Perfectionism has been described as a personality disposition characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards for performance accompanied by tendencies for overly critical evaluations of one’s behaviour. (Flett & Hewitt, 2002; Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate, 1990). According to a study by Joachim Stoeber and Julian H. Childs, University of Kent, there are two main forms of perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism and socially oriented perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism is not so dangerous. It involves setting high standards for oneself and striving towards those high standards. In contrast, socially oriented perfectionism comprises beliefs that others have excessively high standards for oneself and that acceptance by others depends on fulfilling these standards. Socially oriented perfectionism is driven by fears of losing approval and acceptance from others if one is not perfect. However, there is a very fine line between self-oriented and socially oriented perfectionism to the point that people confuse their standards with standards they pick up from society. They become brain washed into adopting standards and preferences from everybody else. Soon society defines for them what beauty is, what happiness is, what they should or shouldn’t like. This compels people to try their level best to live up to those standards. Furthermore, it results in negative self-conscious feelings regardless of whether they eventually live up to those standards or not. Feelings of low self-esteem, diminishing self-love, loss of self-worth, and depression.

Women start stalking bleaching creams, slimming creams, extreme diets, anything that promises to shred a hundred pounds overnight. Men start abusing steroids and engaging in tormenting gym routines just to get those six packs. People take up careers they dread just because it will make them significant at least in the eyes of others. It is a never ending painful journey of continuously trying to fix what you consider a mistake. Even the perceived perfect man or woman is a victim, they always have to look the part, lest they lose their identity. ‘If they are not perfect, what are they.’

Perfectionism has adverse effects the most severe being harsh self-judgement and criticism. Always beating yourself up for not measuring up most times over the simplest of things. It robs you of your self-love and satisfaction with your life. “Being overly self-critical simply robs you of your peace. That small voice that is always reiterating your weaknesses and mistakes cripples you into unhealthy thoughts of unworthiness.”

The most life changing moment you will ever reach is the day you accept your imperfection and learn to love yourself the way you are as you still try your best to be a better version of yourself. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t yet achieved those goals that you set, not even that you may or may not reach them, it only matters that you constantly marching towards your goals but showing yourself compassion along the way, parting your back when you fall short.

“Self-knowledge +self-acceptance=self-love + self-esteem.” Design for wholeness by Sofield, Juliano, Hamnet.

Self-knowledge is the first step to wholeness. It involves a great deal of self-awareness and introspection to know who you are and what you truly want. Then you have to gather the courage to accept the person you discover. You also have to have the maturity to admit and accept what you’re not. Growth is discovering who you are, maturity is accepting who you’re not.

“No better you than the you that you are.” Alessia Cara, in her song, ‘scars to your beautiful.’

This article is not one that calls for a lethargic approach to self-improvement, it doesn’t condone mediocrity, it’s one that strikes a healthy balance between self-love and self-improvement. To the not so popular, not so social, “not so good looking” (air quotes), not so rich and famous, let this be a permission slip to live out of a place of satisfaction with yourself just as you are. This is because what matters the most is not reaching that state of perfection. What matters most is that you are constantly trying to be a better version of yourself and moving towards that person you envision.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.

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