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Caralena Peterson
The Effortless Perfection Myth
Set to expose the unfiltered reality of the college experience, Caralena Peterson’s groundbreaking new book, The Effortless Perfection Myth: Debunking the Myth and Revealing the Path to Empowerment for Today’s College Women mixes research and historical context with moving stories of more than a dozen young women, including Peterson’s own story, to educate both female undergraduates and their support systems on what’s really going on, how to heal from it and how to create a better experience for future college women.
Peterson’s debut courageously confronts the sexist, pervasive, double-standard-driven lie plaguing women in college: that if you appear effortlessly perfect to others, you will be rewarded with happiness. Drawing on interviews from women college undergraduates, extensive research ranging from Instagram posts to the history of feminist theory, and her own experience as a Duke alumnus, Peterson dissects how “the Myth’s promise [is] empty” and argues that choosing to believe in and to strive toward the appearance of Effortless Perfection “is to choose a default option devoid of substance” that can result in dangerous outcomes—not the least of which is neglecting to think independently.

Peterson’s analysis is ambitious in its attempt to flesh out how young women are manipulated by this ideal of perfection, covering their “relationship with self-esteem, confidence, assertiveness, body image, hookup culture, belonging, and mental health” in meticulous detail, alongside the psychological and physiological effects of adhering to “the Myth.” Crucially, Peterson includes perspectives from Black and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as those belonging to other historically underrepresented groups, to expose the Myth’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of undergraduate women. Although the statistics paint a bleak picture of the aftereffects of perfectionism, this playbook does offer hope: Peterson is confident that raising awareness of how the Myth functions can transform students’ worldviews toward one of “individualized agency and empowerment”— ultimately a move away from the expectations of patriarchal society.

Among the strongest advice are suggestions addressing mental health issues and on how to use counter-narratives to the Myth to develop an identity based in authenticity. Though Peterson positions her guide as useful for “today’s generation of college students,” some readers may find its length intimidating; with that said, readers willing to dive deep into its inner workings will come away with the tools and wisdom essential to pursuing the college experience with clear eyes and a balanced, healthy approach.

Takeaway: An illuminating, in-depth analysis of the ideal of “perfectionism” for young women in college.

Great for fans of: Paul Dolan’s Happy Ever After, Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A