Every morning women around the developed world wake up and get ready to start the day. Whether it be preparing for work, school, or taking care of the ones you love, we all go about our morning routines without realising that we are sitting ducks. We are the targets – the marketer’s dream, ready to be hit on the morning commute. Women have myriads of advertisements and promotions thrown in our face each morning before we’ve even had time to properly digest our chia-pod’s and soy latte’s. Faces stare out at us from the back of buses advertising the latest volumising mascara. Did you even realise that your eyelashes didn’t have enough volume? Radio messages cut loudly and ironically through Beyonce’s latest catchy take on feminism; Are you ready for bikini season? Get your summer bod now at thereisaskinnypersoninsideofyouwaitingtocomeout.com.au
Commercial’s tell us that there’s something wrong with us, something about our bodies and personalities that we hadn’t even realised yet. Luckily though, there’s a product to fix it! We too can be perfect if only we had X, Y, or Z, or XYZ. Without disgruntling my male friends, of course I will acknowledge that there are similar marketing strategies aimed at men that promote an archaic notion of machoism. Lynx Africa – anyone? But my male friends are all good guys and I’m sure they would agree that there is more advertising out there aimed toward women than men. It’s obvious to see that the upshot of all of this is that we all create an idea of ‘perfect’ in our head. We strive to be like the women in the campaigns who have the perfect hair, outfit, and an I’m-sexy-but-also-reallysmart-and-earn-more-than-the-man-fawning-over-me-in-this-ad look in their eyes.
I’m a fairly sensitive kinda person, so I’ve had to train myself to be subjective when it comes to mindlessly absorbing advertisements and stereotypical representations of the ‘perfect’ woman in media. But I used to believe that what we saw in advertising was true. And I used to strive for perfection in everything that I did. I would become overwhelmed with anxiety and panic if I thought that any of my actions, in either my personal or professional life were not ‘perfect’. I wanted to be the kind of girl that people described as nice, lovely, so thoughtful, so kind. I pretty much wanted to be like Rose in the Titanic, or Daisy in The Great Gatsby. You know, the kind of heroine who doesn’t like attention but who is always surprisingly great at everything that they do, and life winds up being kind to them and they get whatever they want and live happily ever after with zero effort put in. I wanted to be the nice heroine of my own movie that never did anything wrong or imperfect, who always looked effortlessly chic and was only ever awkward in a really cute way.
On the one hand, being a person who strives for perfection means that you are always looking for new goals, challenges, and areas to focus on in your life. These are all positive things and we should celebrate them! These form the very essence of life and this is how we grow. The downside of being a perfectionist means that we can often feel out of control, disappointed at our failures, and emotionally exhausted at constantly having to strive towards the high expectations that we set for ourselves. This isn’t uncommon for most women to feel. In fact, it’s likely that in absorbing our morning dose of advertising and marketing material, we feel this several times before we have even arrived at our place of work or study.
It was in this mind-set that I began my incredible journey in learning to love my own mistakes, later to include emotional spills, professional errors, and bad relationship decisions <3. I was in a manic mindset at my sister’s house a few years ago. I had made a mistake at work and was sick to my stomach; I had misplaced an important document with confidential information, and I was sure that I would be fired. My fingers and toes tingled with anxiety and there was a loud ringing in my ear. The only thought running through my head was I have failed, I have failed, I have failed. I had completely dropped the ball and everything was a mess. Seeing how my mood had shifted into negative gear, my sister asked me why it was such a big deal? I told her I was disappointed in myself, and that I was ashamed at being so irresponsible. But it’s just a mistake, mistakes happen. Making mistakes is how we learn. I nodded grimly thinking that it was nice she was trying to help, but she didn’t really understand what I was going through. Then she continued, If we didn’t make mistakes we wouldn’t ever be changing and we wouldn’t have the experience to know how to do things differently the next time. Oh. My. Goodness. This was the biggest truth bomb that I had ever heard. My eyes widened and I stared at her as she shrugged and nodded, reaching for another carrot stick and dipping it generously into her homemade hummus. I had never heard this advice spoken so frankly and on point. I felt like I was in an Oprah audience circa 1998. This was life changing and I had never heard anything like this before.
Hearing what she had so wisely said, I began to be kind to myself in small doses and to forgive myself on a daily basis. In instances where my thoughts were negative even over the smallest things like missing the bus, handing in files slightly past their deadline, not having voluptuous eyelashes, or forgetting to call a friend back, I made a conscious effort to find positives where I could. Instead of feeling guilty for having passed deadlines, I made myself glad that I had handed the work in. Instead of feeling bad for not calling back a friend I’d shoot them a text and let them know I’d call them back later that week. I made conscious efforts to be kind to myself a little each day and not hold myself up to the ridiculous standards that I let society tell me I had to be, just as we all should. In time small adjustments to my every day behaviour grew into an all-encompassing attitude towards myself and my relationship with my personal and professional life. I forgave myself as easily as I forgave others. In the process, I learnt to be happier and to live a more enriching life, finding enjoyment and positivity in the learning experience that everyday professional, and personal challenges can bring.
In the course of all of this I learnt a lot about myself and the power a positive attitude towards error has in the face of perfectionism. I still strive for more and set high standards for myself but I do not allow myself to take on unrealistic expectations that all woman are bombarded with on a daily basis. We should make mistakes and we should relish them. Women should not have to strive towards attaining a perfect existence like we see advertised everyday. We shouldn’t let mistakes discourage us and make us feel disappointed by our efforts. It’s what we do after we make errors that truly matters. It’s more important that we pick ourselves up and try again, forgive ourselves, learn a lesson along the way, and then keep trying. It’s through making mistakes that we learn and grow and strive for better and all of those beautiful qualities that make us perfectionists in the first place.
Now go give yourself a big hug, you hot mess you.
Claire Dalgleish is an arts writer and curator based in Sydney. Claire frequently contributes to her blog art/writing/projects with artist profiles, essays, and reviews. Claire loves wine, travel, reading, and art. Beyonce is the soundtrack to her life.