Being perfect is something that so many women aspire to be. It’s that beautiful balance of attractive, intelligent, and talented that is so hard to achieve. It’s an extraordinary ideal, but it keeps people striving for something that does not truly exist.
Women are especially subject to the confines of perfectionism. According to Dr. Alice Domar, perfectionism is more common among women since women tend to multitask and try to excel in more areas in comparison with their male counterparts. Whereas the previous ideal was to be loving housewives and mothers, women nowadays face the added expectation of being athletic, independent, pretty, and professional, all while making it seem like an effortless task.
Such a seemingly impossible feat puts a lot more pressure on women and negatively impacts how they view themselves. If they don’t live up to society’s expectations, then they are made to feel inadequate by others and their own consciousness as they’re bombarded by images of perfect women across all types of media. They compare their modest appearances to the photoshopped pictures of women who have professional wardrobe designers, hair stylists, makeup artists, and photographers at their disposal. It is these unnaturally perfect images that plague women’s confidence about how they look. Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder that women are twice as likely to get anxiety disorders than men, and why a large majority of people who are diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia are women. The emphasis on women’s appearances causes them to be under constant scrutiny for what they’re wearing and how they hold themselves.
This focus on the superficial aspects of women not only harms their self-esteem, but also affects women in other ways. It’s the disproportionate amount of attention placed upon women’s looks that puts women in a difficult position in the workplace. Whereas men can be lauded for being experts in their field without focusing on their outer appearances, women need that extra bit of attractiveness to be taken seriously as professionals. Today, the typical businesswoman often wears makeup in order to make their features stand out and be more appealing. Because of the normalization of makeup, makeup application is an additional task that most women need to repeat everyday in order to look their best. In instances where women are brave enough to go “bare,” they are at risk of not being taken seriously as professionals. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten repeated criticism for how she presents herself in media. To many, her years of political experience are overshadowed by her failure to look more polished in public.
Once a woman has accomplished looking great, only then can her voice be heard and her actions be considered. By passing through the appearances barrier, women must then ready themselves for the next obstacle: gender discrimination. In a nation where women are starting to branch out into previously male-dominated fields like engineering and health care, women are still getting paid 78 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same work setting. Women of color, in particular, make even less in comparison to their male colleagues. Despite having the same credentials and doing the same work, women typically earn less than men. On top of that, there are 24 percent more women than men who encounter sexual harassment in the workplace. These women get unwanted attention and are at times put in a difficult, humiliating position where their boss expects more than just paperwork on their desk at the end of the night. This is what women face, and sadly, it is an issue that still has not been fully addressed.
Yet many women still strive for success and perfection, regardless of the patriarchal societal design that tries to keep them from rising to the top. Having the rules of the game stacked against them makes their accomplishments all the more impressive since modern standards for women are such a daunting ideal, but then again, it also raises an important question–why does it have to be this way?