In our present era, the challenges of loneliness, anxiety, and “impostor syndrome” seem to be growing, especially among millennials, and confidence appears to be on a decline. For women, these challenges are exacerbated by a landscape that keeps shifting its expectations. The constant evolution of social media, with its filters and the cosmetic industry pushing enhancements as forms of “self-care,” has made self-assuredness a significant challenge for many.
The modern woman finds herself navigating a plethora of contradictory messages. From the empowerment of “girl boss” mentalities to the imperatives of body positivity, these messages are coupled with relentless standards and expectations. Such pressures have given rise to what some term as “confidence culture” — a contemporary movement that almost commodifies self-esteem.
Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill, in their insightful book, Confidence Culture, explore this phenomenon. They argue that the emphasis on women’s confidence has been overblown to such an extent that it diverts attention from the structural inequalities that actually cause the disparities. In essence, while confidence is undeniably important, the way it is framed today risks turning it into a mere trend, making women feel even more inadequate if they can’t adhere to its dictums.
The beauty industry, a titan of influence, plays a significant role. Upon identifying what it perceives as flaws, it immediately offers a solution — often a product or a treatment. This commercial behemoth is on track to grow by 7.8% this year, reaching a staggering US$579 billion value.
However, beneath the surface of these industry statistics are the individual stories of women. Data from the United States’ National Bureau of Economic Research indicates a clear gender disparity in self-perception. Despite their actual performance, women undervalue themselves, rating their abilities lower than their male counterparts, even if their actual performances are equal or even superior.
Addressing this issue, initiatives like the US-based non-profit Pure Girls aim to change the narrative. Founded by Najah Haskins, the organization focuses on mentoring young girls, aiding them in developing genuine confidence. Haskins’ personal journey, marked by battles with low self-esteem, inspired her to provide support and mentorship to young girls, equipping them to face a world that constantly judges and values them based on superficial criteria.
It’s not about mere words of encouragement. Through activities and programs, Haskins endeavors to provide experiences that fortify the confidence and mindset of these young girls, allowing them to realize their potential and value. From STEM projects to volunteer work, these hands-on experiences have a lasting impact.
Social media, with its curated perfection, stands as a significant hurdle. Haskins observes that the constant barrage of aspirational content can skew perceptions and overshadow a young person’s own unique journey.
Yet, there’s hope. Dr. Michaela Frischherz, an academic from Towson University, underscores the importance of shaping a more inclusive digital space. She believes that following diverse voices can change perceptions and foster a more holistic view of self-worth.
As we navigate the tricky terrains of confidence culture, it’s heartening to see the efforts of individuals and organizations aiming for genuine change, reminding us that true confidence is about understanding and valuing oneself, not conforming to fleeting trends.