When I was a girl my mother told me often, daily, how beautiful I was. I’m not sure how old I was when I realized there were different levels of beauty. What your Mama called beautiful didn’t always line up with what your peers called beautiful. If I was beautiful, why didn’t clothes fit me the way they fit some of the other girls? If I was beautiful why didn’t the boys notice me?
I remember getting off the bus at my after-school-care one afternoon and upon seeing my sagging shoulders a care worker told me I simply needed to believe in myself more. I needed to have more confidence.
Confidence was a BIG thing to have for girls my age. If we had confidence, we could perform better at kick ball. If we had confidence we would ace the test. Confidence would land us a part in the school play. Some girls seemed to bathe in confidence, radiate confidence, eat confidence for breakfast. And the rest of us were forever searching for it.
I grew up, like most of us, in the dawning of the age of what strategist Jess Weiner calls the “confidence myth.”
Jess Weiner is an expert on confidence and self-esteem. I have attended two of her workshops on empowering girls and both times left like I could climb any mountain. She has a way of speaking that is direct, but it is also soulful and passionate.
I recently watched Weiner’s powerful TED talk on this subject and as I listened to her, I kept seeing the 10-year-old version of me nodding her head. When Weiner was 12, like me, she “equated beauty with popularity and confidence.”
But what does confidence mean? When we suggest to girls that they should get some — what are we telling them? Weiner says everyone is confused and we need to reevaluate the terms.
“When we talk about confidence we often talk about it as something we need to get or raise or boost like it’s some deflated tire that needs some air. But confidence isn’t something you can hold or touch or buy or own. It’s not a destination in life but it’s a manner of traveling, and how you get there is really important, and how you get there is with self-discovery.”
If you ask your kid to define confidence, could they do it? My son’s karate class was ironically asked this question last night and all of the boys and girls were stumped. The sensei wanted to demonstrate the difference having confidence can make when you perform, versus when you don’t have it. But when the class all blinked back at him with confusion, he realized he needed to actually demonstrate.
He had an older student perform a move with no confidence. The student shrugged and sighed through the movements. Then the sensei instructed the student to do the same moves “with confidence.” The student lifted himself up and skillfully went through the moves with power. The students watching this seemed to understand. Sort of.
We have such an incorrect hook into the idea of confidence, and many kids do as well. Weiner says when she works with the girls in her workshops, she discovers many of them believe confidence is equal to perfection. That is exactly how I viewed the concept when I was a kid.
If ONLY I was confident enough, then I could _____.
I’ve sat with groups of girls at Weiner’s workshops and watched them have the epiphany: I’m pretty great right NOW.
The data for girls in this age is something we all need to pay attention to. Appearance-related anxiety can change girls forever. In her talk Weiner shares, “6 out of 10 girls will stop doing something they love because of how they feel about the way they look.” Those numbers are horrifying.
Weiner feels kids will achieve confidence naturally if they are put on a path of self-discovery. Instead of telling kids, “be confident,” we can support their growing interests and watch their confidence rise.
We need to remind our kids of their skills and talents and encourage them. Talent isn’t external. Confidence should not be connected to physical beauty. As parents we can help our kids discover who they are by exposing them to different interests. I found confidence as a kid by joining children’s theater. The fun of being creative combined with the excitement of putting on a show, and of course there was the aspect of applause — well, it all boosted my core confidence and changed me.
We have the power to help our kids on their journeys and to redefine and reshape the confidence myth. Weiner closes out her TED talk pleading with us to change.
“Self-discovery is messy and there is no time limit for growth and my journey and your journey on the way to confidence is going to look very different. So let’s change the way we talk about confidence and let’s add in more about the messiness and the journey of self-discovery.”