Facing Perfectionism. Those two words together may have caused you to roll your eyes or uncomfortably giggle. We admit it did that to us, too, the first time we heard the folks at Davidson College tell us that’s what they were considering for their Facing Project. Immediately, images poured in of stuffy, oak-ladened board rooms with sweaty candidates clambering to a hiring committee’s inevitable question, “What’s your biggest flaw?”
Once we heard the explanation of what facing perfectionism meant to the students of Davidson, though, we had different images of those two words placed together and what they mean for today’s college students.
Pressure to succeed.
Anxiety around not only picking a career, but finding a job.
The tale’s as old as time, but the students at Davidson want to start a conversation rather than having these accounts exist as only thoughts.
For instance, Elizabeth’s story shares the internal struggle of achieving the perfect body—when the designation of perfect is defined by fashion magazines and not everyday society—or accepting that the body she had was good enough for her. The push to continually strive toward flawed perfectionism led to unhappiness and something more sinister—an eating disorder.
Elizabeth explained in her story:
Having people tell me how great I looked after I started dropping weight freshmen year was confusing and satisfying in a sick way. It was as if I had gained their respect–I finally took control of my life and lost weight–I was en route to fit the mold. But here’s the thing: during my battles with food, my control had actually spiraled out of my hands. I had no control.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition; with a suicide rate 50 times higher than that of the general population. In their 2010 survey of college counselors, nearly half of all college students diagnosed with an eating disorder wouldn’t admit they had an issue. Because so few students acknowledge they have a problem, it has been difficult for professional staff on college campuses to track an accurate percentage of students with eating-related disorders. The closest estimate based on those who have been diagnosed, or who have sought treatment, is that 20% of college men and women suffer from some type of eating disorder.
Most students don’t talk openly about these issues, or other areas related to the achievement of perfectionism in a not-so-perfect world. But Davidson students are, and they’re helping others discuss the pressures of perfectionism and the impact it can have on our everyday lives.
We hope this week’s Featured Story, Breaking a Mold that Shouldn’t Exist: Elizabeth’s Story, can help with these discussions at Davidson and beyond.
If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, please contact the ANAD helpline at: 1-630-577-1330 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured Image art by Christine Vaile, 2014.