Effortless perfectionism is damaging young girls and young women. In trying to be the best in society’s eyes they are effectively burning themselves out. At a recent conference in New York Rachel Simmons described effortless perfectionism as being “the need to be smart, maintain good grades whilst remaining well rounded, pretty, desirable and well liked and accomplish all of this without any visible effort”. Beyonce’s song Flawless sums it up.
The definition of a successful woman has not evolved, it has just been added to. Be successful in work, be a good wife, a helpful mother, look good, be fit, be at the gym at 5am, be gluten free…the list goes on and on. Young girls today have an additional conflict – how they should appear at day is different to how they should appear at night. The girl she has to become at night repudiates the girl she is during the day. She feels she has to put away the high achieving girl to make men like her at night. She transforms sensible for vamp; it is little wonder she struggles with her identity and self-worth.
The toxic message of Effortless Perfectionism is the belief that there is somewhere out there better than you. Girls live in a constant sense of deficit, developing a core of self-criticism. Unfortunately in the development of girls’ adolescent brains they see negative feedback as being something wrong with them, whilst the boys see the negative feedback as being something wrong with the system, or the person giving the feedback. Boys dismiss failure more easily and therefore take more risks, girls will ruminate over failure and avoid taking risks.
So as Heads educating young women what can we do? We need to name it and ban “Miss Perfect”. We need to model to the girls failure. Let them know that we have failed in various different ways, we are not perfectly curated narratives. Success is attainable but the pathway to it is often very messy. Most of all we need them to seek out support, to ask for help. The more perfectionist they feel they have to be, the less likely they are to ask for help. If they understand that failure is good, indeed necessary, the less they will fear it and the more they will be able to bounce back.
My list of failures are large. I have a top ten list but I have learned from them. I know I am what I am today because of them. The more girls understand and learn from their failure, the more confident they will be in who they are, and I hope the more they will allow their authentic voice to be heard.