When It Comes to Looks - Should You Aim for Perfection?

Dr Raj Persaud
By Dr Raj Persaud

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in private practice and is the author of the best-selling guide to the power of beauty.

My previous blog examined some of the issues which arose when I gave the keynote address at the start of FACE 2010 – the leading medical conference on aesthetic improvement here in the UK.

Another of the arguments in my talk at FACE 2010 is that beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, but that also a lot of psychology is involved.

For example, one fascinating issue that has appeared in recent times in my consulting rooms in Harley St is that of ‘perfectionism’.

Most of those who seek to improve their appearance could be classed as slightly more perfectionistic than the rest of the population.

It is also intriguing to note that great surgeons and doctors who specialise in operative procedures as well as aesthetics are probably also scoring higher on perfectionism than the rest of us.

A lot of recent psychological research has also found high scores on perfectionism in those suffering from a wide variety of psychiatric disorders but most specifically, Eating Disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

If one definition of perfectionism is demanding higher standards of oneself than are really required by the situation you find yourself in, it’s easy to see why anorexics, who desperately want to be much thinner than considered desirable, because they are pursuing the thinness ideal of modern society to extreme ends,  might suffer from excessive perfectionism.

But we also know that the most successful in our society – who reach the top of the corporate ladder or gain Olympic medals, also tend to be perfectionists. The key question becomes – how to separate ‘functional’ or positive perfectionism from ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘maladaptive’ perfectionism?


Definition of perfectionism

If you want to improve your appearance with an aesthetic procedure, how do you uncover whether you are being healthily ambitious, or perfectionistic, about your looks? Or instead, suffering from an unhealthy obsession?

Social pressure for perfectionism

The short response is no one really knows the answer to this vital question, but one clue suggested by recent research is whether your perfectionism is termed ‘socially prescribed’ or ‘self-oriented’. ‘

Socially prescribed’ perfectionism is when the high standards you aim to hit derive from others – perhaps perfectionistic parents demanded very high standards from you and you are still trying to achieve these – even unconsciously.

‘self-oriented’ perfectionism occurs when you alone set the high standards you aim to hit.

According to the very latest data, it seems that ‘self-oriented’ perfectionism is associated with better psychological health than ‘socially prescribed’.

Another clue from recent research on the subject is whether hitting your high aspirations is associated with positive enhancement to your well being, as opposed to mere relief that you have avoided falling so far behind everyone else. Low self-esteem is the accumulative effect of negative perfectionism because you set impossible standards and then inevitably fail.

Healthy perfectionism is what we should be aspiring to. Perfectionists (healthy ones anyway) are essential to any successful society. This is because healthy perfectionists build planes that stay in the air and bridges that stay up.

Seeking to improve your appearance can have multiple positive psychological benefits. We know that more physically attractive people do better than less attractive in many domains of life, including some quite surprising ones. Like they get higher scores in academic tests and generally earn more money.

The exact reason for these effects of physical appearance remain mysterious, but one suggestion from the psychological research is that these powerful consequences occur through the more positive self-confidence that occurs once we feel our appearance has improved.

Looking better is not in itself always the answer to life the universe and everything.

But if it makes you feel better, and if this in turn changes the way you interact with the universe, then, it can be one of the most powerful transformations you make in your life.

How to be more positive about yourself and looks

Many thanks to the author of this blog Dr Raj Persaud who is the author of the best-selling guide to the power of beauty entitled 'Simply Irresistible', He has been recognised for his research achievements, which include over a hundred publications in academic journals, with a Fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a Fellowship of University College London.

He was recently voted one of the top ten psychiatrists in the UK by a poll of psychiatrists in the Independent on Sunday Newspaper and voted one of the top twenty ‘gurus’ in the world by The Times Newspaper.

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in private practice in Harley St and Emeritus Visiting Gresham Professor for Public Understanding of Psychiatry. 

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