“Perfect” Is a Toxic Word
I am a girl with trichotillomania and dermatillomania who works in a research lab dealing with eating disorders. In my first few weeks on the job, I’ve already come to notice a few similarities between two clusters of disorders you wouldn’t think have very much in common. BFRB’s (Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors) and ED’s (Eating Disorders) both affect primarily women – it’s an unwritten but accepted fact that womanhood is a major player, where estrogens and beauty standards are equally weighted factors. Both clusters of disorders involve behavior patterns that, at their worst, become uncontrollable (think : “stop touching your hair” or “just eat a burger” as some of the most blasé quips ever). And if you are a person who is neurotic, obsessive, and perfectionistic (like I am), you are at very high risk for both.
The reason I pick + pull is to be perfect. This unconscious, physiological drive is what underlies my behavior and I know it. Growing up, I had a pouf of oft-admired curly blonde hair, and after a bad haircut in middle school, I needed a way to return my hair to normal. My fingers hate knots and kinks and split ends in my hair, and bumps and scabs and pores on my face. They attack these alien textures when I’m not paying attention. Somewhere beyond my immediate focus, I’ll be thinking that if I keep at it for long enough, all these anomalies will be gone, and my hair + skin will be healthy and smooth.
Of course, it never ends up this way. It ends up with dark spots that cover-up can’t always hide, and a network of tracts where my hair is missing or thinning. Sometimes I think of shaving it all off, or buying a Donald Trump-style toupee because I feel like a Donald Trump-sized bozo for what I’ve done to myself. I see people at my new job with thick mops of curls, while my hair is limp, patchy, wishing it was perfect. I was pull-free for five months of 2015 and I felt on top of the world, like I could finally control my compulsion…and then I fell back to reality.
Perfection is a silly thing to strive for, like wanting to be President of a colony on Mars or wanting to grow an extra nose. And yet, people with ED’s and BFRB’s alike damage themselves on a daily basis because we are told that perfection is attainable if we work hard enough. But we are never satisfied, and that’s because what we’re striving for doesn’t exist. It’s a myth, a dirty word. Striving to abandon the concept of perfection doesn’t seem any more attainable… but striving to be GOOD instead of PERFECT, that’s actually pretty easy. Not even ‘good enough’, just ‘good’. We learn what’s ‘good’ as babies and our bodies carry instincts (smiles, laughs) to simplify the process of deciding.
My hair is good. Five years ago I couldn’t put it into a ponytail, but now I can put it into a full braid. After it rains, it fluffs up to make me look like Diana Ross. When I wash it, it smells like vanilla. It still gets a lot of attention.
My skin is good. If I drink enough water, I can scare off zits for weeks. My stylish best friend’s stylish mother said it glows. Most days I don’t even wear makeup, which means I get extra time to sleep in the mornings.
My body is good. Nobody else’s looks exactly like it. It can run and lift and bend, but it also can sit at my office desk. It wears stylish and colorful business casual clothes. My boyfriend of 4 years can curl up around it and fall right to sleep. It gets me where I need to go, and it comes with a big brain and even bigger heart.
So in the spirit of Awareness Week, I want to make everyone aware that perfection is a Hoax, like rhino-horn powder or praying the gay away. You don’t even have to be struggling with a mental illness to make the most of this piece of advice. Just remember, it’s easier to be good than perfect. It’s not the only step for recovering from a BFRB or ED, but it’s a heck of a good place to start.
Kimi Skokin is a recent graduate of Syracuse University, studying psychology and neuroscience. She is a student researcher interested in studying and treating BFRB’s in the long term. Her interests include Hello Kitty, Kurt Vonnegut, crime dramas, and teaching her peers how to pronounce ‘trichotillomania’. Check out her research serial for TLC at http://blog.trich.org/category/rookie-researcher/.