I wanted to launch the platform Fat Girl because of my own eating and body image issues, and although I've overcome my most destructive habits, perfectionism remains a challenge for me. The site, which was supposed to launch in January, is an online platform offering girls a safe space to explore the emotional anxieties of living in a body. Unfortunately my obsession with perfection has prevented Fat Girl from going live.
Writing in the Guardian, psychologist Linda Blair explains people who struggle with perfectionism "strive for flawlessness, for a perfect creation, outcome or performance. They set excessively high standards. They're harshly critical in their evaluations both of themselves and of others". For me, every time I feel excited about the potential to create something new, perfectionism brings up feelings of inadequacy. The fear of not being good enough leads to procrastination, intense feelings of anxiety and fundamentally stops me from achieving anything at all. While there are multiple reasons for my personal strivings for perfection, societal pressures on women are a significant contributing factor. According to a Girlguiding survey released last year, 61% of 17-21 year old girls believe they need to be perfect. Gendered stereotyping like The Little Miss Perfect narrative pressurises girls into believing they must be the best. This is in comparison to boys, who are celebrated for achieving good results rather than focusing on their skills. A common symptom of eating disorder sufferers is perfectionism, and since 89% of sufferers are female I believe this is absolutely a Fat Girl issue.
Illustration by Alice Skinner
My battle with perfection was most destructive while studying for my degree. Suffering with dyslexia meant I was reading twice as slowly as my non-dyslexic peers. I internalised this disadvantage, convinced I was stupid, feeling like a total imposture at university. Overwhelmed with emotions and convinced they would never be good enough, I struggled to get texts read and essays written coherently to deadlines. By second year, I couldn't even begin essays and decided I'd rather not turn up to an exam than risk getting a bad grade. If I wasn't studying, how was I spending my university days? Sadly, rather than reading my academic texts, I spent my time obsessively googling the diet and exercise regimes of Victoria's Secret models! I was privileged to be attending one of the best universities in the world, and yet controlling my body size and shape was my priority. Unfortunately many girls experience the same bodily pressures, in the survey I mentioned above, 75% of girls felt they were judged more on their appearance than their ability, and more than half believed how they looked was the most important thing about them.
I'm ashamed to admit it has now taken me five years to complete a degree that is supposed be over in just three. I regret wasting my time obsessing about perfection in both body and mind, overwhelmed with pressures and struggling to achieve anything at all. Starting Fat Girl has encouraged me to let go of these feelings of inadequacy and loosen the shackles of perfection. Why? Because I'm not alone in my anxieties. Half of all girls feel embarrassed or ashamed about how they look and almost 60% of girls believe they should lose weight. Having experienced the pain and frustration of these issues, I am desperate to write about mental health and bodily struggle, shedding some light on these topic. And yet each time I sit down to write content for Fat Girl, the self-doubt resurfaces and I think about how a new diet or workout might ease the anxiety. Admittedly I'm not completely ready to end my relationship with perfectionism, but working on Fat Girl is a positive reminder to keep trying.
The Fat Girl initiative encourages us to accept perceived flaws, recognising bodily perfectionism as an illusionary and ultimately redundant concept. I believe these imperfections are metaphoric of our wider worldly struggles, using the word "fat" as an expression of emotional mess. Fat Girl aims to unpack these messy feelings, and encourage us to accept both bodily and emotional chaos. I'm hopeful this space will spark much needed conversation of broader emotional struggles and psychological anxieties, like perfectionism.