At book events, I am often asked how women can support one another in boosting confidence. I mentioned a few ideas in my suggestions for 2008 Resolutions (which Fighting Windmills inspiring-ly re-named Revolutions) and in Championing your Daughter, but I have been thinking about it more lately and wanted to expand on one idea.
I watched How to Look Good Naked last week, and it’s focus in the self-esteem battle was on boosting a woman’s appreciation of her appearance– encouraging her to see her outer beauty– which certainly has value. What I want to expand on today is the idea of building one’s appreciation for her inner beauty; mainly because how we look cannot save the world. It cannot heal a pain or feed the hungry or educate a child. The vital work of the world is the soul’s duty.
When my childhood and high school friends have mentioned to me that they read Hijas Americanas, they almost always say that they were surprised to hear that I did not feel “pretty” during my upbringing. Now, let me go on record to say– and I mean this as no personal insult– that they aren’t reacting this way because I was some knock-out and how could I not know it. What they usually say is something like, “but you seemed so confident.” And they are right. I was confident. But my confidence– what I was confident about– had nothing to do with my appearance.
Instead, I was confident that I could work hard and figure something out. I was confident that I could tackle most any project because I had a brain that lent itself to designing systems that made things worked. I was confident about my values and how I wanted to treat people. I was confident that I could walk into a situation and know how to interact with whomever was there. I was confident that I had good judgment, and I knew what I would do and not do. Having that sense of my self, of my voice was a wonderful compass in my adolescence. My confidence was firmly rooted in how I approached the world, not in how I appeared to the world. When I look back now, I recognize that, at an early age, I was engaged in what I now call esteemable acts— acts that build one’s self-esteem and give her skills for approaching the world– and I now consider them a cornerstone for building any person’s confidence.
So what is an esteemable act and why does it matter? Physical appearance is just a superficial way to assess ourselves and infuse our confidence. But physical beauty is such a variable– one pimple and the sky can feel like it is falling. If all of our confidence is pinned on how we look, then we are at the whim of the world– humidity, pink eye, rain, etc. all become the caretakers of our sense of self, our confidence. We give away our power. But if we switch up where our confidence comes from, a positive sense of self is available to us every day. For us to buy into our own personal value, we have to know that we add value to our own life, to the lives of those around us, to the world. We have to know that our actions make up for more than just our appearance– that we have talents and gifts that our greater than our looks. An esteemable act is anything that shows us our capabilities in this world. Developing a sense of confidence because of what we can DO is far more satisfying than developing a sense of confidence for how we can sometimes look. When we prove to ourselves that we can learn how to play a musical instrument or swim, that we can teach someone else to read or count, that we can soothe tears or anger, that we can fight diseases or injustice, we have bought into our personal power and are leveraging it for something larger than just a mirror image.
Building a girl’s confidence is about exposing her to what she can do in this world, making her realize her capabilities and possibilities.
What were the experiences that built your confidence as you grew up?