On Tuesday November 3, 2015, I had the privilege of attending, You're Already Good Enough, a free conference put on by the Utah Women and Leadership Project. They've had a few of these over the past year, and this is the second one I've attended. This one was all about how Utah and the United States have an unhealthy fascination with perfection that leads to unhappiness, eating disorders, and a myriad of other issues. The conference was a panel of 5 women, Drs. Susan Madsen, Julie de Azevedo-Hanks, Kris Doty, Julie Clark, and Ruth Gerritsen-McKane, discussing a variety of women's issues regarding perfectionism in our culture.
A lot of what they say applies directly to the Utah culture of Mormonism, but I'm sure other areas have related issues. A link to the full panel discussion video is at the bottom of this post. Grab some snacks, and your sisters, moms and girlfriends and get together to watch it. It's over an hour long, but it's worth the watch. I left that night feeling empowered, and appreciative of all the women in my life. I'm discussing my favorite topics from the conference in a series of posts. You can find posts #1 and #2 here and here.
How many times do we get online check our Facebook feed and Instagram feeds and suddenly end up feeling like our lives aren't as pretty, exciting, fun-filled or successful? Comparison is often the root of our issues of not feeling like we are good enough. Be wary of comparing your life to what you see on social media. Remember that what you see on social sites is carefully curated by each user to show the best parts of their lives (for the most part.) You will rarely feel adequate when comparing your worst to someone's best. Most of what's on social media is our bests. Don't get stuck in that negative cycle.
Pro-tip: If you're struggling to feel good about yourself, take a break from social media. Let it disappear from your life. That is what all of the doctors in the panel recommend to their therapy clients that are feeling terrible about themselves and have a cycle of feeling worse after using social media. Pay attention to your moods and how they are effected by time spent on social media. Adjust your time spent on it accordingly. There are wonderful freedoms to be found in logging off.
The panel discussed two kinds of perfectionism. Healthy perfectionism isn't bad. It's adaptive -- it's the part of you that says you want to succeed or try to be better. The unhealthy perfectionism is when you start thinking you need to be better than others. Thinking negative thoughts like, "I'll be enough when..." or "If I could just be better than Jack at this then I'll be good enough."
Here in Utah, the LDS/Mormon culture is a strong influence on our behaviors. There is a strong pull to "always choose the right", to serve others constantly, to never lose faith, doubt, or appear that you can't do it all. One of the doctors mentions a shocking statistic for those living in this culture. LDS people compare themselves, and their possessions, with others on a much higher level than those not in the LDS faith.
I'm not sure exactly why this is the case, but I believe it could be related to the things that are taught regularly. I'm not attacking the Mormon religion here, because I've grown up in it, and lived in this culture my entire life. I love the people and most of the teachings. What I am saying, is that there is a breeding of toxic perfectionism that consistently gets thrown out there. How many people feel like they can say no to an invitation to participate in a church related position, or activity without being looked down on or feeling intense guilt? How many service related opportunities are we asked to do regularly? While these things are all good in and of themselves, the mentality that is portrayed is that we must do them all, while maintaining our perfect homes, our perfect families, our safe havens from all the evils of the world. That is impossible, guys.
Regardless of how we try, things happen. You can be as perfect as you possibly can, and things will still be what they are. At some point all the spinning plates in the air will have to come down. You may have a spotless home, perfectly clean and well mannered children, and organic meals made every night, but when was the last time you laughed hysterically and had grass stains on your jeans from playing with the kids?
It doesn't matter what others think of your life, or whether your perfect life matches their perfect life. At what point does proving yourself become, actually, enough? It seems to me when we fall into toxic perfectionism routines, we never reach perfection, because the rules change whenever we accomplish a new feat.
Brene Brown calls it hustling for love, or proving your lovability. What if we didn't have to prove our worth to be lovable? Could you imagine how peaceful your life would be? Guess what? You don't have to prove your worth to be lovable. You already are. Just figure out how to love yourself, so that others can love you, too. During the conference, one of the doctors mentioned the "Bucket Analogy". In a bucket, there is the bottom of the bucket and this is what you give yourself. What goes into the bucket is what you are given from others. If you haven't given yourself any love and acceptance, the bottom of the bucket will be open, and what others give to you will go right through.
Pro-tip: It's ok to be real. Love the real you. Skeletons in the closet don't do anything for anyone. Clean your closets, and live without fear of who you are. They called it self-compassion or self-kindness. How do you treat yourself when you're suffering? Do you tell yourself you should be stronger, better, not the way you are? Or do you acknowledge the validity of your feelings, and let yourself handle them properly? Hard things teach us we can handle more than we thought or that we ever planned for. Don't ridicule yourself when you go through hard things, as if you weren't perfect enough for a smooth life, when the Joneses seem to have it easy because they're "perfect". I promise you, we all have our things, remember, they only show you what they want you to see. Love yourself, accept yourself, and be encouraging of who you really are.
There's an interesting statistic in Utah, which is one you don't expect to find because of our highly religious culture. Here in Utah we have one of the higher numbers of plastic surgeons per capita. A lot of what the doctors said they see in their therapy, are the mommy make-overs. Women who have sacrificed their bodies for their babies and now want it back. Two questions they asked the audience really struck me. Why is our value connected to our physical appearance and when did you ever sacrifice anything and actually get it back? (The second one had me laughing because... very valid point.)
I know I've offended people before with my thoughts on plastic surgery. I've had many a friend tell me I am not able to say that it's worthless for anything specifically voluntary because it won't improve your self-esteem, and you're not doing it for yourself, because I don't have kids, and I'm thin. I get that, and I also know that this is an unpopular sentiment, and by feeling so, a lot of women probably feel I am invalidating them.
But, ladies, it's not for you directly. If our culture didn't make such big grandiose celebrations for women who "get their body back after baby", or maintain their perfect figures all through child-rearing, would we really care? If everyone we knew was supportive of all the changes that happen to your body after childbirth, or if we accepted all different types of bodies as beautiful, would we see ourselves as beautiful? I know that when I do have children, and my body is forever altered, I may look in the mirror myself and say, "this upsets me". I know that I may want to change my body. I already have wanted to before. I've faced those feelings because at a 32B, let's face it, I severely lack in the cleavage department and actually have been told before I could use a boob job to really improve my sexiness. I realize that I am not impervious to these issues, but why are we all susceptible?
Because our culture is lying to us. All of us. Men fall for it, and women believe it.
It is telling us that our worth lies in how we look, or don't look. In how we bounce back immediately after babies, or how we should have but didn't. Our culture has made our bodies the tools to power, at least for women. How many times have you heard any of these things said about men? Sure, we say they've gotten pudgy, but we don't assume they are worthless or incapable of their jobs just because they've let themselves go.
Other interesting findings they mentioned are that the more education a woman had, the less likely she was to get plastic surgery. The higher categories of surgeries were for 18-19 year olds, and post-baby makeovers. I'm trying to find statistics to back up those statements, but haven't seen anything in my google searches. I wonder, though, if there are some correlations? I did find that the most common plastic surgeries for 18-19 year old women are liposuction, tummy tucks, nose jobs, and breast implants. Also, that doctors are still studying the adverse effects of this because at those ages women's bodies are still developing.
Pro-tip: We need to find our identity. What gives us our worth. We are in charge of that. Do we really want to make our appearance be what gives us worth? Do we really want to base it on something so impossible to control? Our bodies age, our health declines, we show signs of wear and tear, and signs of life. Do we really want to say that looking perfect is what made us lovable, worthwhile, and good people?
It was a lot of food for thought, and I've been thinking about it regularly. I know for me, I want people to love me for me. If I were to get a burn across most of my body or get horribly disfigured in an accident, I would still want to be loved, and cared about by all the people that matter to me. I wouldn't want to matter less because of my injuries, or lack of superficial beauty. I surely wouldn't want to matter less because my boobs sagged, and I had stretch marks from being part of the magical gift of giving life.
I want to be loved because I exist. Don't you?
+ Please share your thoughts about these topics below. I'd love to hear from you on this. I know this is a hot button issue for a lot of people, so I'm guessing someone will have a comment. And as always the full video link is below.