The Myth of Perfect
I have a lot of questions about what is happening to girls today. I feel bewildered as I observe girls in my counselling practice with low self-image, low confidence, challenged by social acceptance and self-acceptance. I witnessed my friends’ daughters journey from childhood to adolescence, transformed from happy, confident, audacious girls, to girls with low confidence and fear. Even my own daughter refused to attend school in grade 6 and found herself influenced by anxiety and panic. Many of my friends and I struggled with daughters hampered by anxiety, taking medications and seeing therapists and counsellors. Most of these girls were from two parent, middle class families. Involved with our children, we ate dinner at 6:00 and took family vacations. Our daughters had all the benefits of greater equality and visibility than we did growing up, but as adolescents we were not disposed to cut ourselves or contemplate suicide.
Early in life we are judged against our peers through competitive sports or activities, school success, and university entrance. We compare our clothing, our homes, and our looks against the “cultural” standard. We compare ourselves up, “I am not as good as…,” and we compare ourselves down, “I am better than….” Media images, peers, and family dictate what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be a girl, what creates success, and what is “normal.” Our society dictates a myth of perfection and draws us into a way of being. This is the myth of perfect. Media images, peers, and family dictate what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be a girl, what creates success, and what is “normal.” Our society dictates a myth of perfection and draws us into a way of being. We believe we are “the deciders” of what to buy and what to think and how to feel; however we live in a milieu of pop culture, mainstream media, advertising and politics where there are underlying myths, symbols and messages that direct our choices. These myths must be carefully exposed and brought to light. The myth of perfect suggests there is an ideal identity.
Thinking back on my own childhood I remember in grade 7 doing a speech on women’s rights. The trendy slogan for Canadian women was “Why Not?” Feminists in my generation fought hard to promote women to a new place of equality, but somehow simultaneously women were succumbing to a sexualized and treacherous culture. On one hand, women were achieving equality, finding more opportunity and believing they could do anything a man could do, but at the same time women were succumbing to a cultural enchantment which generated feelings of inadequacy, imperfection and self-judgement. I soon become aware of what Mary Pipher calls “girl poisoning culture” (Pipher, 2001). My daughter was a tween during the “reign” of the Spice Girls. While their message was about “Girl Power” I became appalled at how easily mothers accepted their sexualized look as a role model for their girls. This was not benign fun. The images were daring, and we found our girls under the spell of highly sexualized music, movies and advertisements, and a relenting promotion of a consumerist culture. However, in my opinion the sexualisation of media is only a symptom of a deeper more damaging cultural myth, the cultural “myth of perfect.” The myth of perfect is grounded in rampant individualism. It suggests that we as individuals must prove our own significance. It invites constant comparison. Ultimately, it disrupts relational connections. Under this spell girls face a relational crisis; profoundly impacting the construction of identity.
Much of the counselling work I do with girls is about exposing the myth. Counselling girls to move beyond the myth of perfect you become comfortable with imperfection, you become comfortable with being vulnerable. This is Thriving! Let us work together to grow our awareness of the influence of the myth of perfect. Here are some questions worth considering…
What are the messages of the myth of perfect?
Who is enchanted by this myth of perfect?
Whose voice dictates the myth of perfect?
How are you affected by the myth of perfect?
What happens when you believe the myth of perfect? What happens when you defy the myth of perfect?
How can you embrace imperfection?
If you don’t believe the myth, what do you believe?
Counselling sessions available in Burlington or Dundas (serving Hamilton, Ancaster and Waterdown)