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It’s a feeling she first noticed when she was a college student: the intense pressure to accomplish everything, yet it seemed as if it required no effort. And it’s a sentiment that Caralena Peterson ’15 wants other female students to put aside.
During his time at Duke, Peterson learned of a term that captured his sentiment: “effortless perfection,” a phrase used by Duke students that gained national attention after it was quoted in the 2003 Duke Women’s Initiative Report.
The report, commissioned by former Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane, aimed to understand and improve the campus culture for women. The findings pointed to a social environment with unreasonable expectations for women: “that one would be smart, successful, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all of this would happen without visible effort.”
“Effortless perfection is definitely not just a Duke thing; affects college students in any high-intensity/high-expectations environment,” Peterson writes in his book,
The resulting effect on young women is not just skin deep, Peterson argues. Through her research and peer interviews for the book, she demonstrates how the idea of
“I really want
In his book, with advice that comes from his experiences but is valid for contemporary times with examples from social networks and
Identify counter narratives
“The first step in rejecting the dominant narrative of effortless perfection on college campuses is to identify counter narratives,” Peterson writes.
Counter narratives show honesty over pretense. In his book, Peterson discusses the #halfthestory campaign on Instagramstarted by Vanderbilt student Larissa May, where people share experiences beyond what is considered the curated norm on social media.
Authentic stories, says Peterson, can help others realize they are not alone in their struggles and more easily recognize unreasonable standards (see Peterson’s chapter, “Is There a Right Way for a Woman to Be Assertive?” ).
“It is the thought of,
Learn positive ways to motivate yourself
Failure hurts, but avoiding it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Let yourself be driven by your passions and not by fear or anxiety, advises Peterson.
“I think what’s really important for college students and people who struggle with these kinds of pressures is to ask, ‘Where do my motivations come from?’” says Peterson.
During his interviews for the book, Peterson asked when his peers
“When they had that experience, it was totally debilitating,” Peterson says. “It’s
Don’t build your sense of identity on never failing, says Peterson. “I understand, because I’ve done it
Find a place to be honest
Students can also take advantage of access to mental health professionals.
“There are resources available to you on the Duke campus,” says Peterson. “When I had my first anxiety attack, I walked to LIDS.”
It’s important to spend some time acknowledging how you feel, says Peterson.
“Daily, meditate and have your person register,
Learn more about “The myth of effortless perfection.”
Fall 2022 Wellness and Resilience Series Presented by Duke Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Duke Gender Violence Intervention Services
For confidential therapy services and clinical case management needed due to violence, students can walk in or call *CAPS MT 9-6 and WF 9-4. Students may also contact the coordinator directly, [email protected] or 984-569-0592
Students seeking after-hours services have three support options:
- Confidential Support: Leave a voicemail with the GVI Coordinator (984-569-0592) or email [email protected] Students will be contacted within 24 hours or sooner if necessary.
Reports and non-confidential support through Dean On-Call 984-287-0300 or DUPD 919-684-2444. (Seeking support from a non-confidential resource will result in disclosure from Duke University.)
Students can also access local resources through Durham Crisis Response Center. Students can also use the help line at 919-403-6562.