I am Jack's Imperfection Anxiety
By Ciana Alessi
Oftentimes we think about our characteristics and assume they’ve been a part of us since we were born. In fact, as I began to write this piece, my original instinct was to say “I’ve been a perfectionist ever since I can remember.” While that may technically be true, my knowledge and recognition of socialization’s impact on all people forces me to acknowledge that much of my perfectionist inclivities and fears of personal failure have been learned and can, therefore, be unlearned.
Perfectionism is a trait that, in excess, hinders the wellbeing and self-esteem of far too many women. According to a corporate mental health study administered by Medibio, “33% of women in corporate workplaces had high perfectionism scores, compared to 21% of men. Looking at self-criticism, 44% of women exhibited this trait, compared to 34% of male respondents.”
When women are uncomfortable with mistakes and flaws -- both of which are evidence of simple humanness -- it prohibits them from maximizing their potential, enjoying their lives, and acknowledging their achievements. The simple fact that women only apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the qualifications (compared to men who apply if they meet 60%) makes clear that this feeling many of us are far too familiar with is legitimately stifling our success. Although I still struggle with imperfection anxiety, half the battle is accepting that there is no success without failure; more importantly at times, we must remind ourselves that there is no final stage of life that is “Perfection.” Moreover, our idea of perfection is often a normalized, spoon-fed image we’re learned from a multitude of agents of socialization, one that few of us actually fit. Even if one fixes whatever they believe ails them, gets their “perfect” job or gives the “perfect” presentation, finally has “perfect” skin or a “perfect” instagram feed, more often than not, we will just find something else to try to make “perfect.”
Many women feel more pressure to be perfect because we’re exposed to the image of the “perfect woman” 24/7. Since Hollywood is an easy example, we turn to the Girl of My Dreams trope: in a movie or TV show, the male main character finds his dream girl in a series of quirky events and she is Just Perfect. If he loves sports, she’s super athletic, is proficient at beer pong, and eats hamburgers without gaining any weight. If he’s the alternative, indie guy, we cue the manic pixie dream girl. (For the rest of this pattern, listen to Rosamund Pike’s iconic delivery of Gillian Flynn’s best Gone Girl monologue.) We are bombarded with images of X-woman-as-perfection, and you’re delusional if you believe women can resist internalizing these ideas and attempting to meet the criteria. Because we’re all learning some state of perfection from a stock of usual suspects, it’s impossible to fill the shoes, so to speak. All women (and men) have such complex identities and characteristics that it would be, and is, insane for us to try to fit into such a specific box of perfection. Instead, we will have far more success in the battle against perfectionism when we take those images off their created pedestals and start the process of unlearning these archetypes.
All these thoughts stream through my mind as I ponder what I’ll wear to work later, how I can do my hair (now in starter locs, making me especially anxious about my unconventional appearance) to distract from a particularly resilient pimple, and how those in the outside world will react to this image. The last part of this statement is truly my fatal flaw (and one that my astrology app constantly reminds me about): my fixation with other people’s opinions. This obsession that I’ve surely cultivated along the way of my 22 years in America as a biracial woman with visible tattoos, naturally curly hair, and uber progressive views has finally died down as I’ve grown, though there are flare ups at times. Many of us may find ourselves content trying to get into these boxes, but I urge everyone to think about how beneficial initial discomfort can be. I think back to a quote I once heard that says, “the day you plant the seed is not the day you see the flower.”
Like many other people, I have to remind myself that instead of thinking of “perfect” as a final state of being where my skin, hair, career, and clothes are exactly what society (or I) want them to be, “perfect” is process reaching toward contentedness. Right now, my perfect includes cognizance of my happiness, learning self-acceptance, loving others, and being grateful for what I have. This article is a reminder for myself and all others who are plagued by perfection that so many great, beautiful things are flawed, unique, and enigmatic. And some people still think they’re ugly, unoriginal, unimportant.