I’ve noticed an unsettling pattern among clients I work with: many place crazy unrealistic demands upon their own appearance. I had a trim, beautiful client in her 60’s tell me she never wore skirts or dresses because she didn’t like how the skin on her legs looked. Another perfectly proportioned woman shied away from dresses because she felt that her calves were too big. One person thinks their boobs are too big, another thinks they’re too small. I’ve had many people share sadly that they aren’t the same size they were when they were in their 20’s, as if that’s something to be ashamed of. Granted, this stuff comes up because people pretty much get naked for me, so I doubt that these women go around telling the world these things.

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While all of these women have some truly exceptional qualities, they were focused on those they had determined to be a problem. Who knows if this focus was the result of an off-handed comment by someone years ago, or images of perfection portrayed in the media, but trust me when I say none of these flaws were at all noticeable to anyone other than their owners. (Hint: if you’re self conscious about something, never mention it to anyone else. There’s a 90% chance they hadn’t noticed it before you said anything, but since you brought it up, now there’s a 100% chance that they have.)

In addition to perceived physical flaws, I know that many women feel they should look perfectly “put together” every day.

Where is the reality in these perceptions? Should someone who’s lived a full life for more than 60 years honestly expect to reach that age without one blemish on her legs? Should someone berate themselves for not weighing the same amount they did in college? Should someone who works 60 hours a week and trains for marathons expect to have the same perfectly pulled together image as someone who spends all their free time reading fashion magazines? It’s not realistic and it’s not even natural.

Curious about why we do this to ourselves, I read a book by Brené Brown called I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making a Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (how’s that for a title?!).

Brown writes that when women see an image of someone they perceive to be “well put together”, or when they feel self-conscious about a perceived flaw, they might feel shame for not measuring up.

What we’re not accounting for is that these images required hours and hours of preparation. Intellectually, we know that a model in an ad has a team of multiple people working to make her look her best. Celebrities have someone choose their every outfit and often (as in the case of the Kardashians) have their hair and makeup done professionally every day. It’s even crossed over into what used to be a venue to see people more like ourselves: fashion blogs. Bloggers plan their “outfit of the day” weeks in advance and coordinate photos shoots with multiple outfit changes. And the girl at your church who always looks perfect probably spends hours of her life shopping, practicing hair and makeup techniques, and getting ready for the day. Some people love that stuff and it’s how they want to spend their free time. Some people don’t. If you’re someone who doesn’t, you probably have other things you care about more. Those are your priorities, the things you value. It’s not realistic for you to have the same expectation of yourself.

There are going to be days when we feel like we’re killing it on the wardrobe front, and there are going to be days where we’re not all that satisfied with our outfit. Happens to me all the time. That’s life. The day will pass either way. If it bothers you too much, you can invest some time and energy into working on it, but we also have to have realistic expectations. This is what Brown calls “growth over perfection”. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel pulled together, but you can’t burden yourself with the expectation of being “Pinterest perfect” everyday.

What do you think? Do you feel pressure to measure up? Where does it come from?

P. S. We all do it. When I was looking for an image to use for this post, I thought “Oh, I’ll find the one that shows that big weird spot on my leg”. Took me a while to find the photo because it turns out, that spot isn’t so noticable after all. (photo by Celeste Boyer)