Excerpt from My New Book | Escaping Perfectionism Chapter One: We Women Were Set Up

“But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom — Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.” - Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011)

Sure, setting the stage with perfectionism as more of a women’s issue than men’s is divisive. But so is the prevalence of a very specific type of perfectionism. How can any person rooted in reality expect to achieve the highest grades, graduate to score the most fulfilling and lucrative job title, and successfully navigate the world of relationships and/or kids (ALL WHILE being as skinny, as fashionable and as put-together as possible, of course!)? And why would she want to? These standards are impossibly cruel to ourselves at best, yet we perfectionists, particularly us FEMALE perfectionists, do it to ourselves all the time. 

While my first memory of needing to be perfect to be loved happened at 13, and many I’ve spoken with have similar (and sometimes even earlier!) recollections of a poison perfectionism being injected into them, it is toward the middle of our lives when it all catches up with us in ways that impact not only our standard of life, but potentially our life expectancy. 

According to a 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, women from 45-64 are the least healthy of any age group and gender. 

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • They said they were getting less sleep.
  • They reported less time for themselves.
  • They admitted they weren’t regularly watching their own health (exercise, nutrition) because they were too busy.
  • They often cited juggling a job, family, spouse, finances, aging parents and more as the reasons they were too busy.
  • No matter how much they did, no matter how hard they tried or spent time on one area, it felt like it was never good enough and they felt incredibly guilty and exhausted.

If this isn’t a reflection of what life will hold for a life-long perfectionist, I don’t know what is. Even more perplexing were the oversimplified “solutions” provided by mass media.

This is what several articles suggested these women do:

  • Fit in exercise, even if it’s only 20 minutes per day. 
  • Remember to put yourself first; just like in a plane, you must put your oxygen mask on then help others.
  • Do something every day (or every week) that makes you happy.
  • Ask for help, and know you don’t have to do this alone.
  • Share responsibilities when possible.
  • Write down your feelings.

To me, these are extremely vague and unhelpful suggestions. Where are the clear action steps? It’s obvious that these external things are just symptoms of what’s going on internally. Identifying the limiting perfectionism stories we’ve been holding onto so dearly is key to healing or exhaustion caused by putting ourselves last. And also, writing down these feelings can be scary, so how do you even start? Straightforward answers to those questions (including how to uncover your current story and change it in a safe space) are the ones you will find in this book. No over-generalizing here, just forward movement through authentic connection and imperfect action.

I invite you to read my book when it comes out next month and to contact me with any questions this post may have brought up for you. I love talking to my readers, so feel free to contact me at megan@thestoryisyours.com.

Until Next Time With Love,

Megan

Megan Reilly