Perfectionism as a social identity in eating disorders: A qualitative investigation of identity navigation

Ayoub Bouguettaya, Anna Klas, Richard Moulding, Ross King, Tess Knight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Socially prescribed perfectionism is considered an important contributor to eating disorder (ED) development and maintenance. Despite this fact, it is unclear how social groups apply this pressure to be perfect, and how this pressure originates and manifests. Our research sought to clarify how group membership relates to perfectionism in EDs. Method: Using a Social Identity Approach to understand how social identities (i.e., identities arising from group membership) relate to perfectionism in EDs, we performed semi-structured interviews with 10 Australian women (ages: 19–34) in recovery from EDs. Results: Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, we found participants suggested personal perfectionism (manifested as self-control) developed from family standards. Conversely, social perfectionism was a role born from social norms embedded in relevant social groups, and provided definition for perfection. Greater flexibility in defining perfection broadly was reported as important to recovery. Conclusion: The results support taking a Social Identity Approach to perfectionism and recovery in EDs. Our research suggests that clinicians should focus on redefining social norms as a potential method to reducing the negative consequences of perfectionism, potentially through the use of group cognitive behavioural therapy to change perfectionism definitions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-357
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian Psychologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • eating disorders
  • perfectionism
  • qualitative methods
  • social identity

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