Courtesy of Prime Video

February 5, 2024

The Ugly Truth: Lessons In Perfectionism

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Upon viewing the rather uncensored Saltburn, as Rosamund Pike proclaimed her “complete and utter horror of ugliness,” I couldn’t help but reflect on my own musings of perfectionism. Though rooted in external aesthetics, Pike’s aversion served as a gateway into a broader, more insidious struggle — one that transcends the surface and subsists across various aspects of our lives. Beyond the glitz of Hollywood, this pervasive dilemma infiltrates the minutiae of daily routines, casts a shadow over academic pursuits and propels us into the relentless pursuit of a self-constructed ideal of success.

As I grapple with my journey as a recovering perfectionist, Pike’s revelation resonates deeply. It speaks to the relentless pursuit of unattainable standards — chasing straight A’s, maintaining a buzzing social life, fitting into size two jeans and securing an impressive work position for my age. It’s an all too familiar endeavor, a testament to the universal nature of this internal tug-of-war.

We convince ourselves that meeting these ideals will garner approval from our peers — our motivations are fueled by accolades, social media likes and affirming nods. Our online personas become meticulously curated, showcasing only the polished highlights of our lives as if anything less than perfection is a forbidden disclosure.

In this pursuit, success and happiness are commodified, stripped of their intrinsic value and reduced to a numerical game of likes, flawless test scores and desired numbers on the scale. However, in our relentless quest to adhere to this arbitrary quota — performing the perfectionism that society and we (by extension) demand — we often overlook the most crucial judge: ourselves.

This pursuit of satisfaction from external sources often leaves us in a perpetual state of longing. I vividly remember, and continue to experience, the cycle where each personal achievement — whether in the classroom, on the gym floor or across various workplaces — was met with a fleeting sense of accomplishment, immediately overshadowed by a new expectation. The elusive concept of “perfection,” constantly evolving and increasingly unapparent, remained an ever-evasive ideal that was never quite attained.

In a society riddled with hyperproductivity, the ideals of flawlessness are tightly woven into a cultural fabric that prioritizes speed and efficiency, enabling quantity to outshine quality. While these practices have undeniably paved the way for success in some quarters, a fervent adherence to these doctrines can stifle our capacity to openly recognize and learn from our mistakes. As a consequence, we root growth in artificiality as opposed to authenticity.

Even now, I find myself in a space where the struggle with perfectionism persists. Navigating the realms of academia, stepping into a workforce more considerable than the businesses in my hometown and maturing amid the burgeoning era of social media, perfectionism appears as an omnipresent force, at times overwhelmingly inescapable. However, my evolving understanding is that falling short of these ideals— that is, not seeking to market ourselves as “perfect”— is not something we should “fear.” Instead, within the imperfect — the “ugly” — a distinctive and genuine opportunity for success and a sense of self arises.

Recognizing that self-worth is not a binary choice between flawless success or futile failure is crucial. The pursuit of perfection, when held as an unattainable standard, exacts a toll on our mental health and self-confidence, breeding a paralyzing fear of ignominy. By relinquishing the toxic pedestal of perfection, we can redirect our journey toward embracing imperfection. This shift is not a concession but a decisive reorientation that prioritizes mental well-being and self-confidence, fostering a path where the “ugly” is no longer feared but embraced as an integral part of our authentic selves.

Eve Iulo is a second-year in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They can be reached at [email protected].