Mia, 14, is an Insta addict. Her favourite ’grammers are celebs, as well as fashion and fitness bloggers. Whenever one of them posts a pic she really hearts, Mia always writes the same comment beneath it: “Perfect.”
“I look at all the amazing photos of these people and it really does look like they have perfect lives,” says Mia. The zillion-dollar outfits, artfully sculpted breakfasts, honed-by-a-personal-trainer bikini bodies. Sure, we all love a bit of escapism via gorgeous pics, but the trouble with believing certain people are flawless – and assuming that a faultless body equates to an ideal life – is that it’s Just. Not. True. There’s no such thing as perfection.
Psychologist Leanne Hall agrees. “Ideas of perfection are purely in our heads – they’re not real,” she says. “And what’s considered perfect changes over time. Marilyn Monroe had a curvy figure. She wouldn’t get a job if she walked into a mainstream modelling agency today, but in the ’50s she represented the ideal.” Which just goes to show that notions of physical perfection are faddish, like fashion trends. Marilyn’s hourglass figure is all the rage one day, Cara Delevingne’s boyishness is in vogue the next – proving that maintaining a “perfect” body, according to other people’s shifting standards, is impossible.
The Perfection Trap
“We can fall into an unhealthy pattern of judging people’s looks based on the absence of imperfections,” says Leanne. “So you look for flaws in an Instagram image, and when you don’t see any, you equate that to being perfect.” This is problematic when you then catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, because real people, minus filters – you and me – are brimming with imperfections. “We judge ourselves unnecessarily harshly,” says Leanne. The searching-for-blemishes way of operating puts you in a negative mindframe: instead of seeing a healthy, outdoorsy girl with bouncy hair and a cheeky grin in your bathroom mirror, you only see freckles, a frizzy mane and gappy teeth. And that’s not a true representation of who you are at all. Big picture: your personality, attitude and intelligence is carried around by a body that’s (hopefully) healthy and doing its job just fine, thank you very much. So leave nit-picking nastiness at the door and, like they say, speak to yourself with the same kindness you’d use when chatting to a close friend. You’re doing just fine.
Setting your sights on achieving absolute perfection is like deciding you’re going to spend the rest of your life chasing a unicorn – or any other imaginary beast that takes your fancy (three-headedHarry Potterdog monster, anyone?). You’re choosing to pursue something that doesn’t exist. “Because perfection isn’t real, you’re never going to get there, which is going to give you such a ridiculous level of anxiety,” says Leanne. The “I must be perfect” style of thinking can also put you at risk of low self-esteem and depression. So let that unicorn go.
So if we’re putting ourselves down by writing “perfect” on Insta shots, what should we be posting instead? “Be specific about what you like in a picture,” says Leanne. Bonus points if you can think of words that describe the overall attitude of the photograph, rather than just breaking the person down to their physical parts. Things like, “Wow, she means business – so strong and powerful!” or “I heart this pic - so carefree” are richer and better for everyone’s body image than blandly typing, “Perfect legs”. However, Leanne has a caution for us. “Be mindful on social media that you’re probably looking at a photo that has been touched up or put through a flattering filter,” she says. “Reminding yourself of that will create a buffer against worrying about your physical appearance. Then you can look at yourself in the mirror and spot a pimple or two, just think, ‘If someone took a photo of me right now and Photoshopped it, I could look as ‘flawless’ as that model.’” You betcha.