The Pressures of the Pursuit for Perfection

Tara is a 22-year-old who has recently graduated from the University of Newcastle. Tara likes sunshine, pretty stationary, people-watching and drinking soy lattes.  She is currently involved in the Fed Up NSW Health campaign. This is her first contribution to Cheaper Than Rubies.

I am fortunate enough to know some pretty fabulous women. Medical students, journalists, mothers, musicians, and teachers – these, among many others things, are some of the intelligent and talented women that I call friends.

We live in a forward-thinking, modern society with scientific and technological advancements that our grandparents, and even our parents, never would have dreamed of. This 21st century society is also one which offers greater opportunities to women than ever before. Being told frequently throughout my twenty something years that I could do anything, or be anything that I wanted certainly made me appreciate the privilege of living in modern Australia. The media also sends the message that we can ‘do it all’ – be a mother and a career woman, advance in the business world, enter politics, even become the Prime Minister of Australia. But at the same time, I feel that this comes with a certain level of expectation, an expectation to be ambitious and driven. The desire to be a stay at home mum is ‘selling ourselves short.’ Having a job isn’t enough, we need a career. Suddenly, just doing a university degree seems mediocre – we should be doing the most challenging course at the most prestigious university to give us the best prospects. We should be aspiring to change the world.

The added pressure of body image can also be overwhelming and in a sense, can undermine the achievements of women in our society. It’s a bit of a double standard really – we can do anything that men can do, yet we’re still criticized far more for the way we look while doing it. Just look at the remarks made about Julia Gillard’s fashion sense or hairstyle. I can’t ever recall anyone commenting on the colour of Tony Abbott’s tie or his choice of shoes.

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, I am often asked about the impact of the media on these illnesses and body image issues. I feel that it’s less to do with the photo-shopped images of models in glossy magazines, and more to do with the broader media obsession with perfection.

For example, not only is Miranda Kerr stunning, she has a successful modelling career, a seemingly perfect marriage to none other than Orlando Bloom, is the image of perfect mother, promotes an all organic diet and is involved in charity work. No wonder we’re exhausted trying to live up to these ‘role models’ and ideals of what we should be.

All of this got me thinking about what it is that I admire about all of the amazing women I know. Is it their uni degree, their job, their salary, or the size of their home? Is it their relationships, their community involvement or their IQ? Maybe it’s a tiny bit of these things.

But mostly it’s their wonderful sense of humour, their ability to laugh at themselves, their (sometimes brutal) honesty, and the grace with which they handle the challenges that life throws at them. It is their quirks, their funny facial expressions or gestures and their imperfections that I love and wouldn’t change for the world. And I would like to think that they feel the same about me.

So maybe it’s okay to say, “You know what? I’m not really sure what I want to do with my life.” Maybe there’s nothing wrong with figuring things out as we go, making many, many mistakes along the way. And forgive me for sounding cheesy, but maybe it’s okay to accept that what we are is enough, instead of always worrying about what we should be.



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