The trouble with ‘I can always be better’

Body image blog

 One of the biggest problems for me over the years has been chronic perfectionism. It’s what led to me developing Anorexia, and it’s had a significant impact on my life ever since, leading me to struggle with my self-esteem and body image for over ten years.

A few years ago I realised a few things about myself, and one of them was how this relentless perfectionism really affected me when it came to being at peace with how I look. I noticed that whenever I was complimented, straight away I thought of what I could be or lacked, rather than accepting it and feeling good about myself as I was.

For example, I get ‘you’re exotic’ – well I could be more exotic. ‘Your hair is long’ well it could be longer. I rarely think ‘Ah thanks, yes it’s nice.’ ‘You have a lovely figure’ well my arse could be bigger, my boobs could be slightly bigger, my stomach could be flatter…you get the picture.

It could be better. That’s the root behind all the statements above. ‘Ah well yeah it’s okay, but I could be better.’ Roughly translated, that means ‘I’m not perfect.’

But NONE OF US ARE PERFECT! Absolutely nobody is perfect. And it comes back to this perfectionism I have, which I see more and more people struggling with now that we are so obsessed with how we look and often expected to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ image of beauty.

The trouble with ‘I can always be better’ is simply that we can’t. And we shouldn’t want or need to be, either.

It places a heavy emphasis on how we look rather than taking into account all the things that make us who we are. And that’s a dangerous game to play, because inadvertently you can cause yourself so much damage by striving for perfection (I know I have).

So how can we prevent or at least minimise need for perfection? It’s not easy, but it starts with a few small steps:

Stop comparing

This is a biggie. Comparison is what drove my eating disorder – and it defined my self-loathing ever since. I’d always look at other people and wish I had what they had, try and work out how I could get it too. But this is a pointless and dangerous exercise. The worst thing about comparison is that most people don’t even know they’re doing it – and if confronted deep down they know it’s futile, because we have to be ourselves. More precisely, we have to learn to be okay with being ourselves (more about this here hard to be yourself and here how I’m coming to terms with not being able to change who I am).

 Minimise exposure to other people

 In order to stop comparing it’s sometimes necessary to simply cut out the trigger, as I have done. Some people might say this is ‘cheating’, but if you’ve suffered with body image issues for a long time it’s hard to reverse your negative beliefs overnight. The core issues still need to be addressed, but in the meantime if you remove the trigger you’re going to feel better and more able to tackle the reasons deep down why you feel you’re not acceptable as you are.

Recognise your positives

This might feel impossible but have a go! Find just one thing you like about yourself, however small. This could be your nails, or your brows, or how tall you are. Whenever you feel bad remember that and focus on it. This is especially useful when you find yourself comparing, because more often than not you’ll find this so-called ‘perfect’ person is lacking in something you have. Also ask yourself, would you really like to be in their shoes? Do you want all of them, or just the one element you’re focusing on? If it’s one element, remember that there are lots of good things about you that you forget or take for granted, and these are things you wouldn’t want to give up just for the sake of ‘better’ hair or a different eye colour.

Focus elsewhere

When we focus on how we look we forget about everything else – especially if we’re perfectionists or have body image issues. So how about focusing on something different which doesn’t make you feel bad?

I noticed that when I focused on building my business and writing the books, I cared less about how I looked. I actually think now that it wasn’t necessarily that I cared less, I just didn’t have time to think about it as I did before because I was so engrossed in what I was doing – and my time was taken up with something positive and productive.

Want to learn more about better body image? Take a look at my Golden Rules here:

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