Body Image, The Perils of Perfectionism & What to Do
Every Monday features a tip, exercise, inspiring quote or other tidbit to help boost your body image. For many of us, Mondays are tough. We may feel anxious and stressed out, anticipating an arduous week, especially if we didn’t get much rest and relaxation during the weekend. These kinds of feelings don’t create the best environment for improving one’s body image. In fact, you might be harder on yourself and easily frustrated. You might even feel like you’re walking on egg shells – with yourself! With these posts, I hope you’ll have a healthier and happier body image day, that’ll last throughout the week.
Got a tip for improving body image? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to feature it. It can be anything you do that’s healthy and helps boost your body image. I’d love to hear from you!
I’ve been working on one particular article for Psych Central for a long time now. Too many months to count. And too many to mention without blushing and getting embarrassed. Granted I was waiting part of this time for several experts to get back to me, but I could’ve worked on the other sections of the article.
You see, this is a long article that requires lots of information, which makes me very overwhelmed. But most importantly, my need for perfection is responsible for my postponing it. In my mind, even getting started has to be the right set of circumstances, and I have to be ready to devote days to it.
It’s this same need for perfection that used to rule the way I viewed my body and the way I ate: If only I could get rid of those love handles and flatten my stomach, I’d feel 100 times better about my body. I have to stick to this diet to a T. I need to work out five times a week in order for it to count.
Perfectionism is procrastination and it can be destructive. Like not starting on a project because we’re worried we’ll fail, we don’t go to the gym or participate in physical activities because we know we won’t excel or even meet our sky-high expectations. Or we don’t look fit enough to get on the treadmill.
We get overwhelmed and our goals get messed up. Instead of exercising because it makes us feel good, we exercise because we want to sculpt our bodies. But it never seems good enough anyway. So we give up because somehow feeling good just isn’t a good enough reason.
Perfectionism oftentimes leads us to restrict and binge. It’s that insidious all-or-nothing perspective that keeps us in a cycle of yo-yo dieting (and yo-yo exercising). Whenever I’d start a diet in college, I had to follow it flawlessly. But if I didn’t, then everything was ruined. I was a failure. I couldn’t do anything right. And I’d overeat because clearly I’d ruined everything anyway (I was also starving).
So, today, I wanted to share with you some ways we can work on our perfectionistic tendencies. I think that if we work on fixing our need for perfection in general, since it pervades almost every facet of life – from wanting to have thinner thighs to wanting to be a different person – it’ll trickle down to body image, too. Below are some ways to help you reduce your perfectionism.
Ways to Reduce Perfectionism
- Reconcile the black and white. As Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar of The Therapist Within writes, “So you can potentially be both joyous and regretful. Melancholy and loving. Tired and compassionate. Angry yet forgiving. You can think of someone as your hero and also see their flaws. Perhaps you can think one way and feel another, without having to decide which of those is more ‘right’.” So that means you can love your body, even if you see its flaws. You don’t have to wait until you’ve lost a certain number of pounds or added definition to a certain part of your body to appreciate, love and respect your body.
- Reveal your imperfections. Therese Borchard of Beyond Blue writes in her post on conquering perfectionism, “This is counter-intuitive for most perfectionists. But I can guarantee that you’ll get good results if you try it. Because every time I have, with great reservation, flashed my imperfections and become vulnerable before my Beyond Blue readers–crying, whining, screaming either in a post or on a video–the response is amazing. ‘Phew!’ some say to me, ‘You are real. You feel that way too! So I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up for similar emotions.’ Whenever I follow the advice of my wise editor, Holly–to write from where I am, not from where I want to be–my readers don’t recoil in disgust. They come closer.” I can totally attest to this because when I wrote about my body image confession, you guys let me know that it’s OK. You didn’t think less of me, even though I had. And reading your comments helped me relax and reevaluate my need to have things be so pretty.
- Be yourself. This used to be super hard for me because a) I wasn’t sure who that was and b) I didn’t take the time to find out because I was so focused on borrowing others’ seemingly cool traits. Therese writes, “In her book “Being Perfect,” Anna Quindlen explains that being perfect is cheap and easy: ‘Because all it really requires of you, mainly, is to read the zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be and to assume the masks necessary to be the best at whatever the zeitgeist dictates or requires.'” She also includes this quote from Quindlen: “nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations.” And that’s so important to remember.
- See your “failures” for what they are. That is, explore your failures for feedback. I wrote about this months ago but whatever mistakes you’ve made, see them as learning opportunities. I used to think something was wrong with me if I couldn’t adhere to an eating plan, but if I took the time to really explore why I’d failed, I would’ve realized something very important (that would’ve saved me tons of heartache): My body needed more and better nourishment. I needed to listen to its cues. Instead of ignoring those pangs of hunger, I should’ve acknowledged them and fed my body.
- Will this matter in 10 years? This is a classic, but it’s a good one. I’m Queen of focusing on minute details that really don’t matter. Sometimes, we get so obsessed with the little things that we ignore the big (important!) stuff. When you need a reality check and to unglue yourself from that thing that doesn’t matter that much (but is taking forever!), keep asking yourself this question.
- “Just start somewhere.” Michelle Russell of the blog Practice Makes Imperfect says in her interview with Therese (I can totally relate to this!):
I also seem to have this need to “clear the decks” before starting on major projects. So no, I can’t possibly track my finances until I have all my stray papers filed so I can find them, which means going through the box of papers in the corner, which means pruning my file cabinet of outdated material to make room for the new, which means getting some WD-40 to fix the drawer because it’s almost stuck shut, which means a trip to . . . etc., etc.
One of my newest mantras has become “Just start somewhere.” I’ve realized (verrrry grudgingly) that the inbox of my life will never be empty. Things will never coalesce into a perfect starting point with neatly squared corners and no loose ends. So I continue giving myself pep talks about this. And slowly, very slowly, I’m noticing how small steps really do have a cumulative effect over time. That not everything has to be exactly the way I’d like it for me to experience progress.
My blog is a great example. I’ve never done anything like it before, and I’m completely intimidated by the technical aspects of it. I also wanted to have something like 20 posts in the hopper before I even launched, because I was afraid of getting writer’s block. But in April of this year I enlisted the help of some friends to set up the site, and just started writing.
Does the website look and function exactly the way I want it to? Nope. Are there sections I need to complete, or even create? Absolutely. Can I afford a professional site design at this point? Hah! But I didn’t let any of that keep me from starting, and I’m learning as I go. I’ve made some great online friends and received helpful feedback and advice, none of which would have happened if I hadn’t plunged in the deep end and just started somewhere. And I’m having fun!
To me, this last tip means that if you try to accept yourself and yes, your body, too, it’s highly likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results – like feeling good about yourself and your life. And I bet you that you’ll also start having a lot more fun!
And, by the way, I’m currently working on that article.
Today’s favorite post. This isn’t a blog post but an article that was just published on Psych Central. “Size Does Not Equal a Healthy Body” by Shannon Cutts (who is fantastic!).
What things are you perfectionistic about? What are some ways you’ve overcome your perfectionism?
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Body Image, The Perils of Perfectionism & What to Do. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 2, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2010/08/body-image-the-perils-of-perfectionism-what-to-do/