Duke is Not a Good Place to Be, It is Just a Good Place to be From

Duke is Not a Good Place to Be, It is Just a Good Place to be From

The Issue of Effortless Perfection and the Nation's Female College Students

A few weeks ago, I heard the following quote: "Duke is not a good place to be, it is just a good place to be from." Hearing this was like a slap in the face. How was it that this girl felt this way? How tragic to think that she would appreciate her college education the most once her four years were over! I wondered what could possibly make this young woman feel so miserable at Duke and realized it probably had something to do with the idea that many undergraduate females at elite universities struggle with the notion that they must be effortlessly perfect.

Effortless perfection is when a girl seems to have it all - the 4.0, a perfectly sculpted figure, leadership positions in clubs, picture-ready makeup and hair at all times, a jam-packed social life, a killer sense of style, a loving boyfriend, healthy eating habits, a circle of best friends and euphoric happiness without ever putting in any effort. Stanford University refers to this problem as the "duck syndrome," which uses the metaphor of a duck appearing to glide peacefully along the surface of the water, all the while paddling maddeningly with its flippers underneath. "Effortless perfection stems from the high school years, when students are pressured to be 'well-rounded,' and perpetuates from there ." Once in college, this concept of "well-roundedness" spirals into an even greater challenge: effortless perfection.

When asked about the prevalence of effortless perfection at her school, Rose, a junior at Dartmouth, replied: "To me effortless perfection was epitomized by Beyoncé; it's someone who can wake-up flawless. If you have ever tried to wake up Beyoncé-style five minutes before class starts, you probably discovered that Beyoncé lied. [But], effortless perfection goes beyond appearance, particularly in college. It's the good grades without the library or the athlete without the gym. Effortless perfection is an art form at Dartmouth."

Vivian, a sophomore at Columbia, commented: "Everyone wants to seem better than they are because they are at an institution with such a high reputation. Eventually, they either end up truly believing they are great or struggle because they didn't live up to the fantasy of themselves."

The term "effortless perfection" was first introduced at a Duke University study in 2003. The study was held by the Women's Initiative and analyzed Duke's female population: its undergraduates, graduates, alumni, professors, staff and trustees. The most shocking conclusion reached by the study was that female undergraduates feel pressured to be perceived as effortlessly perfect. It also found that women's confidence intervals drastically dwindled from their Freshmen Years to their Senior Years. Females entered Duke with a great deal of optimism, but by the time they left, their self-confidence was gone. For guys, it was the opposite. In the United States perfectionism is greatly revered. The danger with “effortless perfection” is that women want to hide from one another all of the diligence that goes into their seemingly perfect lives.

In an attempt to combat this serious issue, Duke University launched the Baldwin Scholars program in 2004. Each year, in the fall, 18 freshmen girls are selected to join this program with the goal that they will fight the unrealistic, effortless perfection ideal. During their four years at Duke, these 18 ladies take certain classes together, get prestigious summer internships and try to ward off this perfectionist stigma. A major contributor to the problem is that women try to outperform each other when what they really should be doing is working together. The Baldwin Scholars program is trying to change that by making high-achieving women bond with one another. Yet, a drawback to this program is it only includes 72 women out of the several thousand women that go to Duke. So, while it is a start, it is not a solution.

Anne, a Baldwin Scholar, spoke to me about her own battle with effortless perfection and the effect social media has on it: "I think that social media has made it particularly difficult to see the struggles that people who may appear to be perfect are going through. I don't necessarily find the need to be effortlessly perfect but I know that I have a really hard time with comparing myself to other women on campus. I definitely compare my body, clothes, grades, internships and relationships to other women on campus even though I would say I am a fairly confident person. Social media makes it nearly impossible not to compare yourself to others. Even if I'm having a perfectly good night, if I see someone on Snapchat or Instagram who appears to be having the time of their life, I may feel jealous or self-conscious about what I'm doing."

Anne is not the only woman who feels this way about social media. Claire, a sophomore at Cornell said: "People post pictures and posts to show their 'friends' what they're up to-no one is going to post something about a bad grade received or a detailed review of an issue they're having with a friend. However, people are quick to post about internship opportunities, fun pictures from an overseas vacation or decadent brunches with friends. People use these social media outlets as a way to portray the best versions of themselves. When I first arrived at college, I wasn't having the greatest time. Going online, I saw pictures of everyone at their first college parties and it seemed like everyone was having a great experience. Although my page was also filled with photos of me and my friends at school, I knew that I wasn't having as great a time as it may have seemed to others viewing my profile. I feel as though people take advantage of the fact that they can choose what they want to show to the world, and this leads to the perpetuation of the image of a perfect lifestyle without any adversity."

There is an eye-opening video on the teen suicide of Madison Holleran, a student from the University of Pennsylvania, which states: "Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others' filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered." This is a major contributor to the obsessive tendencies women undergraduates experience with effortless perfection.

The frightening thing is that effortless perfection is similar to what Betty Freidan once denoted as "the feminine mystique." It's an itch of unhappiness despite the outward appearance of a seemingly happy, successful lifestyle. This strive for perfection is not a new thing: before women were proving themselves in the university setting, they attempted to be idealistic housewives, serving breakfast for their families with pearls around their necks and heels on their feet like in I Love Lucy. Nowadays, women are undergoing this college version of the second feminist shift where they must excel not only in academia's pursuits but also in conventionally girlish areas such as beauty and popularity.

The stress associated with effortless perfection comes with some dire consequences. Studies find that the pursuit of perfection causes serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders among other concerning problems. A research study performed at UVA in 2015 found that female students who considered themselves highly motivated held extremely high standards for themselves and had tendencies to hide their effort, suffered from the most serious mental health issues. Alexis Andres, who conducted this study for her dissertation research, said of these women: "They also seemed to be the least equipped to handle anxiety. Many just shut down and turned inward...It's so ironic that they're putting in effort to not show effort. It's not healthy."

So what can we do to tackle the unrealistic expectation of effortless perfection? Let's face it: effortless perfection is a fallacy. These prestigious universities, where the perfectionist epidemic is so prevalent, are where America's future CEOs, politicians, teachers, researchers, you-name-it, reside. Another Baldwin Scholar, quoted in imdiversity.com, stated: “If women don’t have the confidence that they need to enter top professions, we’re losing out on half of the talent pool that could be benefiting everyone in the United States and everyone in the world. So it’s important for women to feel equally as confident as men and have the impact that only females can have on our country and on our government and on our businesses."

What young women need to do is figure out what aspects of their lives are lowering their self-esteem and re-evaluate. Jenna, a sophomore at Muhlenberg College, shared her way of battling effortless perfection: "[Effortless perfection] means never taking risks because you're scared you'll fail and never taking that interesting class because you'll lower your GPA. I definitely wanted to be effortlessly perfect when I entered college, but I soon realized that trying to be that way would ruin my college experience. [College] is a time to try new things and take risks, and you can't do that when you're worrying about being perfect. You can combat [this] by taking classes you're interested in, not ones that will necessarily be an easy A. This year, I got more involved in organizations that I felt passionate about, instead of ones that might look better on a resume."

Women need to be proud of the colleges they attend. They need to understand that if they do the best they can they will do great things and become successful, in a manner that is much more effortless than when they attempt to be effortless. Rose, the junior at Dartmouth said: "I [once] had a day where I felt like no one around me was trying and yet everyone around me was succeeding. I eventually realized that people who don't look like they are trying are trying really hard to "not try" and are actually the hardest "tryers." The point is, we should be proud of what we put our time into. After all, what's college without any effort and a few (or a lot) of mistakes?"

Another factor that can help girls combat effortless perfection is the female role models whom they look up to. Older women need to show their successors that it's okay not to be perfect: it's about aiming for excellence and not perfection. Universities also need to encourage women to discuss their problems with each other.

I asked another Duke student, Luisa, what effortless perfection meant to her. She said she had never heard the term before and so gave me two definitions. The first was the standard meaning of the term but the second was a definition I had never associated with effortless perfection. She said it was: "The state of accepting that you are perfect the way you are without having to make an effort to become someone else. I have felt the pressure to be naturally perfect yet I have trained myself to realize that there's much more to every person than what we see, and that 'perfection' and 'success' are subjective terms." Luisa is right: all of the students who live the standard definition of effortless perfection need to work towards living Luisa's alternative definition.

As some final food for thought, female undergraduates need to understand that the feminist movement is about having options. As a researcher at UVA put it: "We [women] have the ability to say that 'I'm going to do my own thing and that's going to be just as valuable. And I can see myself as a valuable individual with quirks and failures."

*All names in this article have been changed

Cover Image Credit: http://www.menandmentors.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/fjsghsdfhg.png.jpg

Popular Right Now

Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.


Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

Cover Image Credit:

Aranxa Esteve

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Why it Sucks to ban plastic straws

We need a solution you can't find at the bottom of a Starbucks Cup


I have never heard or read about straws more than I have this past month. This July, Starbucks and the entirety of Seattle announced plans to eliminate the use of plastic straws altogether. Plastic pollution accounts for the most dangerous threat to ocean life today, with research showing that by 2050, the plastic in the world's oceans will outnumber the fish if we continue consuming plastic at our current rate.

So this plastic straw ban seems like a good and welcomed change, right? As it turns out, wrong! The straw ban, while it should be a positive light at the end of the news tunnel, actually reveals the darker implications of the current social, economic, and environmental climate of today's society.

1. The straw ban provides no flexibility for disabled people

While many people were ecstatic about the plastic straw ban and took to social media lauding the companies and cities for their decision, disabled people spoke up against it. Plastic straws are extremely useful and a NECESSITY for many disabled people around the world.

As one Twitter user explained in a thread of tweets, that without straws, their lives would be much more difficult and many straw alternatives simply would not work.

By banning straws, we have ignored 56.7 million people. Even if not every disabled person relies on straws, by refusing to listen to those who do, we are silencing an entire community and making them feel as if their struggle and way of life is irrelevant.

2. Plastic straws: More Dangerous than Guns!, apparently

Guns violence kills 96 Americans a day (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). As of today, July 11, 2018, 7,613 people have been killed by guns.

The movement to reform gun laws has been around since the Gun Control Act was passed in 1968 with the purpose of "keeping firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetence". Since then, people have been working tirelessly in the movement to reform, restrict, and recently, repeal the use of guns.

Compared to plastic straws which have only been widely used since the 1960s, the path to gun control has been far longer and exhausting. And which got banned first in America?

3. The real enemies

Multi-million dollar corporations are the biggest offenders of environmental protection and conservation in the world.

Nestle, the company behind a bottled water brand, is one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste in the world. Silos containing 125 tons of plastic resin are used to bottle water. This water mostly comes from sources in California, a state that is being affected by an extreme drought. Another source is in Flint, Michigan, where its residents have been suffering from a lack of clean drinking water. The bottles of water being sold by Nestle take advantage of people who need the water they are packaging. And the packaging goes straight into the ocean.

Gas and oil companies have been long criticized for the part they play in environmental pollution. In January, the city of New York filed a lawsuit against big oil companies BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell on the claim that together, the companies produced 11% of all of global-warming inducing gases through the oil and gas products they have sold.

Why have plastic straws been targeted, but these companies haven't?

Banning straws is a step in the right direction, although it's more of a baby step. Will we as a country ever been able to take the jump to improvement we clearly need?

Cover Image Credit:


Related Content

Facebook Comments