I used to be a chronic perfectionist. From my sophomore year of high school to my sophomore year in college, I obsessed over appearance, grades, and exercise. If I was going out to a party, I would purposely try to eat as little as possible because I knew I would be drinking empty calories later on. I had a 4.0 GPA. I sacrificed my own well-being to make my appearance and grades absolutely perfect. I had a compulsive need to please everyone. Everyone was constantly telling me to lighten up and relax, but I never could. I never bothered trying to chill out because I thought perfectionism was an inherent trait that would never go away, but that is far from the truth.
Today, I am not a perfectionist. I occasionally skip class and workouts. I eat ice cream on the reg. If I go out, I don’t mull over how many empty calories I consumed. I don’t try to please everyone. Of course there is still a part of me who aches for control over my weight, grades, and others’ perception of me, but now, I am much better at silencing that part of me. Here are some of the factors that I believe helped me overcome my perfectionism:
1. Getting older
Yes, becoming more mature and level-headed probably played a role in helping me overcome perfectionism, but I think there is more to it than that. It was much easier for me to be a perfectionist in high school than it is in college. My school was small, and it was easy for me to be the star of everything. I’d known my peers since the third grade, so I knew what I had to do to please them. My academic workload was easier. I wasn’t subject to the social pressure found in dining halls and social gatherings as much as I am in college, so it was easier to eat less and be at that “perfect” weight. Additionally, there were less distractions in high school, and it was also much easier to focus on exercise.
Living on a huge college campus seven hours from my hometown changed everything. I had no chance in being the star, so I simply cared less. Don’t get me wrong, I still persevere and give my all here at college, but there’s no obsessive element anymore. I no longer freak out when I get a B instead of an A, and I no longer count my calories. There’s something about adulthood that makes you go from constantly questioning yourself, “Is this good enough?” to telling yourself, “This is f****g good enough.”
2. Social media
Yes, despite all of the research arguing how social media destroys self-confidence, social media has helped me become much more accepting of who I am, especially Instagram. I follow many fitness gurus on Instagram, and lately, many of them have been posting “12 Hour Transformations” where they compare how their bodies look in the morning versus at night.
As a social media addict, I am constantly comparing myself to the bodies of women on Instagram, so seeing these 12 Hour Transformation photos is incredibly refreshing. I get discouraged at night when I don’t feel as “skinny” as I did in the morning because I look at photos on Instagram of who seem to have perfect abs 24 hours a day. But these transformation photos remind me that those perfect-bodied women are probably snapping those photos as soon as they wake up when they haven’t eaten in eight hours. They probably get bloated at night too, just like me.
In addition to the transformation photos, Instagram is full of “strong over skinny messages.” I used to secretly go on pro-anorexia/pro-bulimia forums which would give me purging/starvation tips. They are horrific. Now, my feed is filled with strong, beautiful women who lift heavy and fuel properly. I strongly encourage those with body image issues to start following people like @nessasphere, @karinaelle, and @zuzkalight. Trust me, they didn’t get their ripped stomachs and perky butts from starving themselves.
I know I say this in just about every blog post, but I am saying it again: you become the people you surround yourself with. Until college, I was never really around people with a lot of self-confidence. In fact, I liked connecting with people who also hated their bodies because they would share their weight loss tricks with me. Being around insecure people helped me maintain an eating disorder that I was very attached to. College changed all of that. I remember eating dessert — for the first time in a year — during my freshmen year of college with my friends. Even though it was just vanilla yogurt topped with chocolate chips and whipped cream, it wasn’t one of my “safe” foods and I knew I was going to regret eating it. After we were finished, I expected my friends to talk about how much they regretted dessert, but instead, they continued to laugh, talk, and move on with their lives. That’s when I realized something: life is so much more fun when you don’t spend 65% of the day freaking out over the food you ate. That was my life before I met my friends at college. Because of them, I went from being a neurotic eater to a normal eater. Overall, if you think you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, ask yourself, “Are my relationships furthering this habit?” If they are, find new people to be around ASAP. It’s amazing what new relationships can do for you.
For all the chronic perfectionists out there, I want you to know that your perfectionism is not a permanent trait, and you CAN minimize it. Changing my environment and building fresh relationships helped me silence the perfectionist voice inside my head. Learn to celebrate your mistakes. Be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in redemption. Remove the all-or-nothing mindset. Compare yourself to yourself rather than to others. Realize that it’s okay to binge on an entire Dominos pizza and cheesy bread all by yourself. Get the hell away from nervously perfectionistic people, because when you’re on your death bed, you’re going to regret all of the energy you spent trying to make everything so god damn perfect.