The last 18 months have given rise to a new culture that encourages us to celebrate our flaws, embrace characteristics we might once have tried to change and take the pressure to be ‘perfect’ off. Here’s how to join the anti-perfectionism revolution, one mistake at a time…
For a social media platform anchored on an infinite scroll of dream-like imagery, Pinterest’s 2021 annual trend prediction report is surprisingly revealing: we’re increasingly rejecting perfection, choosing comfort over optics and giving ourselves “permission to be bad at something”.
It’s a movement fast making its way into our bathrooms and beauty routines. Pinterest searches for ‘natural, everyday makeup’ have soared by 180%. “Pinners are letting their natural skin texture shine through” and our regimes are becoming progressively more “simple and sustainable”. A focus on how things feel rather than how they look is reflected in our wardrobes too – searches for “soft outfits” have increased by 185% and “nap dresses and slouchy trousers that can be dressed up or dressed down” are especially popular.
We’re stepping off the hamster wheel to seek “more restful regimens”, “embracing a beginner’s mindset”, and saying ‘I don’t’ to the Disney matrimony fantasy, with “low key, anti-perfect weddings” finding traction. You can keep your Cinderella castle – searches for ‘small back garden weddings’ have risen by 160%. All in all, the future’s looking far from perfect, and we’re all the better for it.
Why the sudden backlash against immaculately filtered lifestyles? The uncertainty wrought by the pandemic has undeniably played its part according to Life and Business Coach Pandora Paloma, with more of us than ever “seeking a different kind of life”. A significant proportion of Pandora’s clients have “moved on from jobs they disliked or felt stuck in or left the city. Balance means different things to different people, but the pandemic has made a huge number of us step back and really consider how we could get some more of it!”.
It’s not just the chaos of Covid that’s seeing us opt out of oppressive hustle culture either. Shifting consciousness about the state of the planet has seen a mass reassessment of our collective priorities. “I believe we require more integrity in the way we live and work and there’s an urgent need for transparency from those we trust in power, the brands we choose to purchase from and businesses we invest in”, says Pandora. In short, we’re looking beyond surface level to assess what’s really important, and a veneer of perfection is rarely it. “People are waking up to their own inner wisdom, and with that comes a vastly changing world,” she adds.
This being said, glossy aesthetic ideals, #goals and perfectionist culture still permeate our boardrooms, gyms, school classrooms and social media feeds. It’s not always easy to shake off a bout of ‘comparisonitis’ or sail through a self-esteem dip. Happily, the anti-perfectionist movement won’t demand this of you. Acceptance is the aim and achieving balance should never become another stick to beat yourself with. Want to quit the quest for perfection? Heed the advice of women who’ve turned off the pressure cooker and found a whole lot of contentment in keeping it real.
“I’m not just interested in skin disease”, says psychodermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed, “I’m interested in how skin conditions make people feel. I’m interested in how different people cope with skin issues and how this affects their individual outcomes”. A trailblazer in her field, Dr Ahmed initially studied psychology before pursuing dermatology and combining both of her specialisms. She’s firmly in the #skinpositivity camp and only too aware of the harm that “perfect” depictions of skin can do.
“We need to train the brain to recognise and appreciate what real skin feels and looks like. We can’t eliminate pores, redness and skin texture and there shouldn’t be an expectation that we do as these are all intrinsic to skin. It’s these pressures that need to change and accepting what’s real and normal for you is key.”
As a dermatologist, Dr Ahmed sometimes feels the pressure to have ‘flawless’ skin herself – “it’s the first thing that people look at and it’s assumed that it’s a reflection of how good my work is (it’s not!),” she says. Given that skin conditions are almost always multifactorial, Dr Ahmed hopes to instil a greater appreciation of holistic skin health.
She believes that the pandemic has helped some to pare back their routines and develop a healthier relationship with their skin, beyond the cosmetic. For others, scrutinising their skin daily on Zoom has adjusted perceptions for the worse. One anti-perfectionist move she thinks that we can all make? “Be conscious of your comments towards others. Let’s think about the way that we address appearance and change the narrative. We need to stop feeling that we have to hide ourselves and put on our ‘best face’ to be accepted.”
The Life and Business Coach
Pandora Paloma is no stranger to perfectionism, and she illustrates that it’s a behaviour that can be very telling of our subconscious fears. “From my personal experience with perfectionism and as a coach, perfectionism tends to be a by-product of self-doubt”, she says. “It’s one of the ‘six Ps' that self-doubt creates in our day-to-day life: procrastination, perfectionism, people pleasing, proving yourself, passive behaviours and paralysis. Self-doubt has nothing to do with your capability or your destiny and everything to do with how you have learned to keep yourself psychologically safe.”
So, how to break the ‘six Ps’ cycle? “The first thing to unpack is what perfectionism supposedly protects you from. What are your protective beliefs? Why do you feel you need to be perfect? Think about where those beliefs came from and, crucially, whether they're true”. Once you’ve done a deep dive as to the origins of your perfectionist tendencies, it’s time to transform your approach. “Consider what would be a more helpful story. Peel away the layers of who someone told you to be, and find your truth. Then, every time you feel the need to be perfect, ask yourself, ‘can I let this go’? Awareness is everything and action is the accelerator towards being an anti-perfectionist.”
There really is no time like the present either according to Pandora and says, “2020 presented a big opportunity to take a life audit and 2021 has been the year of awakening. More of us are examining what’s working and what isn’t and I’ve seen, for many people, a desire to understand and live their values in a much deeper way.”
“The old paradigm is changing and, with a system that feels broken, many are creating their own systems. I always say that if everyone’s going left, but you get called to go right, go right! We have much more access to self-development through agile content and the internet – we can bring the change into our lives and homes like never before.” Speaking of which, if career-related perfectionism is upsetting your work-life balance, Pandora’s free 2022 Business Vision handbook will help you to make an anti-perfectionist plan that sticks from hereon in.
The Mind Body Doctor
GP Dr Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo founded The Mind Body Doctor to communicate general health and disease prevention information in an accessible, friendly format. Whether she’s highlighting that depression and eating disorders don’t always ‘look’ a certain way or explaining that ‘healthy’ Instagram accounts often aren’t what they seem, her ethos is encouraging and strongly anti-perfectionist – there’s no scaremongering to speak of.
Given the nature of her day job, she’s also not immune to the pull towards being a ‘perfect’ doctor - especially now that the medical profession is facing such enormous challenges. “There are times when I’ve struggled to achieve a sense of balance between my work and my personal life. It’s taken time over the years to learn from my experiences to find the tools that work for me,” she says. “Being a doctor naturally comes with a lot of pressure and it’s important to remember that no one is perfect. Our mistakes are often our biggest learning points in life.”
The tools that Dr Ajayi-Sotubo uses to take that pressure off include journalling and simply writing things down. “I make it part of my daily routine as my days can be pretty hectic,” she says. “It gives me the space and time to be still with my thoughts and reflect and it’s often the one time of day that I can take some real ‘me’ time.” A little bit of movement helps too – “anything from walking to dancing, it doesn’t have to be ‘traditional’ exercise as we tend to think of it to be good for us.”
As well as supporting the general public, Dr Ajayi-Sotubo’s a diversity advocate and is passionate about inspiring junior doctors to embrace all facets of themselves, rather than following the ‘perfect’ path. As we all know by now, that road doesn’t exist.
The Body Positive Parent
A recent YouGov survey reported that 61% of women feel pressured to have an unattainable body type, with the youngest age groups feeling the greatest degree of expectation to conform to a specific, unrealistic bodily appearance. It’s a state of affairs that Molly Forbes, campaigner, mum of two, director of The Body Happy Org and author of Body Happy Kids, is only too aware of. She’s made it her mission to ensure that kids in particular not only cultivate positive body image, but are equipped with the tools and resilience to combat dangerous perfectionist messaging and imagery around body weight and appearance. Her advice won’t only benefit the next generation – this is anti-perfection activism for all.
“Encouraging children to think about their bodies as vessels that allow them to live their lives, rather than as something to be looked at, can really help them move away from equating their own worth and the worth of others, based on outward appearance. This is often easier said than done, because as adults, the perception of a ‘perfect’ body is deeply ingrained in the messages we've had since childhood too. So, it can really help to explore some of our own feelings around this stuff and to hold some space for unlearning what a ‘perfect’ body is.”
“Ultimately any act of reclaiming your body from these limiting notions is a step towards body happiness, both for yourself and the kids in your care. It's a step away from living under the constant pressure of trying to reach an unrealistic and unattainable ideal that doesn't really mean anything.”
The Accidental Yogi
Former Head of Corporate PR, Keri Perkins never saw yoga as ‘for her’. “I saw it as quite slow and boring, until I discovered Jivamukti yoga, a more physical, dynamic style that coupled so well with my love of music,” she says. Keri adored it so much that she decided to quit her high powered job to found We Are Boogie Sound, a concept that “enhances the yoga experience with live music to make it inviting and fun, no matter what your background”. Just as Keri launched her immersive yoga business, the pandemic hit, putting paid to the live events, music festivals and hands-on teaching she specialises in.
“I had to cobble everything together. I started doing PR consultancy for some financial security, then pivoted to teaching on camera, even though I wasn’t at all comfortable initially. Gradually I built my confidence, started networking and even said yes to being in a film as a pretty major character; something I have no experience of and would never have done beforehand. The change in my persona and identity from the person who used to manage a team to where I am now has been a real process. People used to pick up the phone to me – I had to let the ego, money and status go, but now I’m more myself than ever.”
Keri believes that women are socialised to be ‘perfect’, and says “Pushing against those constraints is an act of self-care in itself.” She’s also intent on making the yoga space as anti-perfectionist as possible. “My own idea about yoga was wrong, so surprise yourself! Sometimes yoga can be polarising and lots of people can’t see themselves represented in it, but I believe that it’s your right. Yoga is so good for fostering positive mental wellbeing and it’s not about flexibility (although that part can be fun). Don’t deny yourself an amazing gift because of past experiences or perceptions.”
The Pre and Post-Natal PT
Women’s fitness specialist and mum of two, Rosie Stockley knows a thing or two about the idealistic expectations placed on pregnant women and new mums, both personally and in her professional life. “We see images of the ‘perfect’ bump, but we can’t tell what’s going on internally either physically or mentally. The journey is never linear and not comparing yourself to others is so important. Whether it’s your size, your recovery or the birth itself, there’s so much pressure for everything to come naturally and look a certain way, when a lot of the time everything feels beyond your control.”
That lack of control? Totally part of the process. As founder of Mamawell and The Mamawell Method, a programme that focuses as much on self-confidence and education as it does physical fitness, Rosie urges pregnant women and mothers to catch a break. “Give yourself permission to ‘let things slip’. Regrouping and resting isn’t laziness. Taking extended breathers, watching TV and not subscribing to an organised routine are valid.”
As for the pernicious idea of ‘bouncing back’ after having a baby, Rosie isn’t here for it. “After giving birth to my second child I simply didn’t have the mental bandwidth to workout. I couldn’t be bothered to start until around the 12th week past-partum. I just honed in on what my needs were at the time, prioritised healing and started small.”
Rosie has noticed that more of us are cognisant of our training motivations in the wake of the pandemic too. “Punishment, perfectionism and a ‘no pain, no gain’ approach is moving out of the zeitgeist. Clients are increasingly looking to ‘train happy’ – we’ve looked inwards to identify what’s serving us mentally as well as physically. Fitness is about adding to our lives, not removing pleasure from it”.