Even if you have never heard of the term “effortless perfection,” you may already be subscribing to it. Effortless perfection was coined by a 2003 study at Duke University, and it is the notion that young women are expected to have a picture-perfect life as someone who is smart but funny, successful but humble, popular but friendly, and physically fit but not obsessed, all without looking like we lifted a finger. We are held to unrealistic expectations of having perfectly balanced personal, academic, social, family, and extracurricular lives, which makes every day a struggle to reach those ideals as calmly and coolly as possible. This idea of achieving the ultimate life balance without letting others see you sweat has become an unachievable goal of many Smart Girls, which is why it’s so important for us to be aware of the effortless perfection epidemic.
Why is there such a disconnect between members of our society that women feel pressured to put up a facade of being effortlessly perfect? From day one young women are bombarded with a message on how to live their lives: try your best, but your best must be perfect. Your best must equal you maintaining a perfect GPA, having flawless physical beauty, being captain of a sports team, going out every weekend, and being the apple of everybody’s eyes. We’re under so much pressure to check off the boxes of a perfect life without looking like we’re actually trying to live a perfect life, which only leaves us with heaps of anxiety, confusion, and a skewed perception of reality. The more we try to climb the ladder to effortless perfection, the harder and faster we fall.
With every little perceived slip on our climb, the demons inside begin to manifest themselves in destructive ways. She got a B on her midterm, so she sat alone in her room crying with a pint of ice cream. She didn’t go to the gym today, so she skipped dinner. She didn’t get the internship she was expected to get, so she felt worthless. Her night out didn’t look like the Instagram pictures she saw on her newsfeed, so she felt inferior. These expectations are extremely isolating because the first sign of inadequacy means you stumbled in playing the role of effortless perfection. You’re still trying to follow the script, but now the audience knows you flubbed your lines.
If there’s one thing that’s true, it’s that effortless perfection is an epidemic among young women, but the good news is that remedies do exist. Young women need to stop blindly following the script written for them by writers who are entirely oblivious to the physical and emotional detriment it’s causing. They need to understand that it’s okay to be flawed, to not have it all together, and to be vulnerable. Admitting your mistakes and asking for help takes an insane amount of courage because you’re breaking character and challenging the expectations ingrained into the minds of others.
Young women need female mentors and role models in both their personal and professional lives who embody the exact opposite of effortless perfection. Women who embrace failure and are honest about their struggles to achieve success serve as realistic depictions of what life should be: a work in progress. We at Smart Girls Group are so lucky to have access to these types of women through our conferences, Smart Women’s Network, and Smart Girls Live video series.
Trying to reach an unattainable standard set by society should not be a young woman’s main goal in life. We are the future leaders of the world, and if we can’t envision the possibilities for ourselves outside of achieving effortless perfection, then our self-confidence will be so deflated that we will become our own roadblocks. So shatter the belief of effortless perfection, and have the courage to live your life as a work in progress, continuing to try again even after you stumble.
— Kristen McNeill