feature image via Treefort Photo Dept.
“I love you. You are beautiful. And you can do anything.”
This is the three-line mantra rising superstar Lizzo, whose 2017 single “Truth Hurts” just went platinum, has her fans repeat back to her in unison at her concerts. She instructs them to imagine they are saying it to themselves in the mirror, and then repeat it to the person standing next to them in the crowd.
The self-love vibes Lizzo projects have attracted countless followers, and even instigated a petition to make her the voice of Ursula, her “dream role,” in the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. But the feminist is also forthright about her struggles with depression—and fighting off an ever-present fear of not being “enough.”
The word “enough” carries great power in the internal lives of most women, especially GenZers—regardless of the extent of their achievements, strength of character or power of presence.
Over the past four years, I have been researching and writing a book on the gender issues female undergraduates experience. Speaking with a diverse group of more than 30 women at 15 institutions of higher learning across the U.S., I have found their struggles with “effortless perfection” are almost universal. Whether they share feelings of imposter syndrome in the classroom or a sense of not belonging in the social scene, almost all connect with the notion of fearing they are not enough as they are.
For Julie (not her real name), an Indian-American junior at Duke University, the word “enough” feels like an evaluation of how much she is doing, suggesting she could always be doing more. “I often feel spread thin because I’m trying to do everything,” she says, “but end up feeling like I’m not doing ‘enough’ of anything.”
Pressure to perform in all aspects of life is a major source of anxiety for Julie’s generation. A survey by Nancy Nessel, a marketing consultant specializing in GenZ trends, found only 47 percent reported they felt mentally prepared to attend college.
Jordan (not her real name), a white senior at Vanderbilt University, can relate. Regardless of the level of success she has reached in college, she told me that she always finds herself worrying if it is “intense enough or prestigious enough” in the eyes of others.
“My journey with the word ‘enough’ is about me having to swallow the feeling of there always being some other bar I need to meet,” she explained. ‘I still struggle with just saying to myself: ‘There’s no bar, stop looking for one.’”
Jordan noted that there is also a piece of “enough” that has to do with appearing to be a very specific kind of “put together” within the context of her university.
“It’s about being able to show up to class looking perfect and having the right answer,” she said, “but also, on top of that, you need to be funny and make teacher laugh and make that boy notice you and all the other things that go into building the persona of being the ‘whole package.’”
This drive to appear perfect is only exacerbated by social media. A recent American Psychological Association report found 45 percent of GenZers saying social media makes them feel judged. According to another APA study, socially prescribed perfectionism, or “the desire to live up to others’ expectations,” increased by 33 percent from 1989 to 2016.
Jessie (not her real name), an Indian-American senior at the University of California-San Diego, explained a particularly confusing conundrum of feeling stuck between struggling to feel “enough,” while also sensing others were quick to label her as “too much.” How was it so easy to feel two such contradictory feelings at once?
Francesca (not her real name), a white junior at University of Alabama, provided an astute answer: “There’s societal pressure to be good, smart, skinny enough,” she observed, “but also pressure as women to not be too smart, too funny, too anything—so ‘enough’ is just finding that spot society where wants you. It’s finding a way to be visible and important enough for people to consider me, without having negative connotations attached.”
Lizzo is set on subverting this rigid, oppressive social standard. Her recent participation in the Urban Decay make-up line’s new campaign, “Pretty Different,” which celebrates “unsubscribing from typical beauty standards” and “refus[ing] to accept forced standards and instead champion uniqueness,” is proof.
“If you can love me,” Lizzo proclaims to her fans, “a fat black girl from Detroit who wasn’t supposed to make it this far, then you can love your own damn self!”