We have heard about the dangers of perfectionism and know it can lead to frustration or even worse. We know it’s unattainable. But how do we find a balance between rejecting the destructive patterns of perfectionism and embracing positive self-improvement – especially in the area of beauty?
Women are constantly being shown how to look BETTER. The beauty industry did not get to be worth billions of dollars by not marketing their latest and greatest products to women every single day. Better skin, better hair, better nails! Be more youthful and beautiful! Firmer and sexier too! Not to mention, the women on the advertisements look utterly flawless, thanks to the magic of Photoshop.
We see and hear these messages so often, and we start to internalize them: I need to be better. Desiring improvement is one of the best things we can do as human beings, but, at the same time, this emphasis on “better” can easily become a dangerous slippery slope that leads straight to perfectionism.
What to do?
The lovely Brené Brown, Ted Talk sensation, scholar, and research professor behind popular books such as Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, has a lot to say on this matter in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. First she explains what perfectionism actually is:
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
If I look perfect…I can avoid…the painful feelings of shame. That’s where it all stems from: we fear painful feelings, so we grasp at whatever we can to avoid them. We don’t want to feel the shame of other people thinking we aren’t beautiful or judging our outward appearance. We don’t want to feel the shame of negative self-talk in our own heads. We yearn for acceptance and sometimes convince ourselves if we look perfect, it will come.
But here’s the truth for us all: we have no choice but failure with this pursuit of outward perfection. You will never look in the mirror and see a perfect image staring back. We’re human; all humans are flawed. The shame we feel through beauty comparison (She has fewer wrinkles, a tighter tummy, better bone structure, thicker hair, etc.) is deadly to our mind and bodies. We begin hating our imperfections, hating ourselves.
We cannot pursue beauty perfection; it’s impossible and harmful. But that does not mean we cannot aim for positive improvements.
Brené also writes, “Healthy striving is self-focused: "How can I improve?" Perfectionism is other-focused: "What will they think?”
This concept of healthy striving is a much more positive way for women to embrace the beauty industry and improve their skin/hair/bodies. Instead of being motivated by avoiding shame and pursuing acceptance, we can look at the beauty industry as a method of self-care.
We have one body to use, and we need to care for it. We can keep it healthy and strive to improve it. These are lovely ambitions for every woman. In fact, they are acts of SELF-CARE. Skincare, makeup, hair care, and other beauty products are means in which we can make our own bodies a priority.
We can say: I am WORTH having youthful, radiant skin; strong, smooth hair; and healthy, manicured nails. I am WORTHY of genuine care.
This outlook comes from a place of worthiness, not a place of shame. Healthy improvement is driven by doing what’s best for you, not what others “expect” of you.
It would be nice to utilize the offerings of the beauty industry to improve ourselves and create a happy, healthy, cared-for body. Not to turn them into a feeding frenzy for a perfectionism addiction.