There was a trend in the last decade for women to paradoxically emphasise their feminine traits (lips, figure, hair) and simultaneously act like a man in the workplace (the Lean In Movement). The discrepancy between these messages has left many women feeling that they need to be something they are not and act in a way that is inauthentic in order to get ahead. Never before have women experienced so much pressure to look good and be powerful at work and then be gentle, calm and on top of things at home.
The backlash against the “body positive” movement is women feeling pressure to achieve paradoxical goals that are totally achievable on Instagram but not possible in real life. The outcome is women feeling disconnected or not good enough, leading to an increase in imposter syndrome and overwhelm.
A 2018 study by Access Commercial Finance of 3,000 adults in the UK found that 66% of women in the workplace had experienced imposter syndrome in the last 12 months. The most commonly attributed reason for the imposter syndrome was the person's own self doubt.
That means 2 out of every 3 women you know has felt that they are struggling with their self esteem and living with the fear that they may not be as good as they appear to be. Appearance being the key word there. We have been primed to “fake it till you make it” and “act confident” but this approach is flawed. We need to know that we are good enough as we are, now, in this moment. That doesn’t mean that we stop striving for betterment. It means that we remove that internal conflict that rages between who we are and who we think we should be.
Recognise your achievements
In my practice I see women ranging from teenagers through to retirement age who have achieved incredible things in their personal lives and careers. Yet they can be plunged into episodes of self loathing and doubt themselves over weight gain or a bad hair day, something that seems comparatively frivolous when measured in the context of their incredible personalities.
As a new mother I have experienced the inner conflict of judging myself harshly (my stomach should be flat by now, my boobs are sagging, my hips widened and don’t even fit my “fat jeans”) while simultaneously giving myself a talking to (Mamma your body miraculously and lovingly grew a human, your breasts nourish her and your hips carry you around in pursuit of that cheeky little soul…you are a magnificent being mother.) Ironically, I am more body confident now than I was when I was a size 8 fashion model!
Our body confidence and self value is borne out of our minds. We can address how we perceive our bodies by first addressing how we speak to ourselves and our mindset.
If we accept that the internal mental conflict of how we feel about our body will be a factor we have to contend with as 21st century woman, what can we do about it? I discussed this with one of the legendary mothers from my new mothers group who genuinely never seems to care what others think of her (and subsequently every one wants to be her friend). Here is what we came up with as our top 3 tips for to help you feel truly and authentically body confident.
Surround yourself with people who know, accept and love you, at your best and worst.
It starts with you
The responsibility lies with you to value yourself enough to choose your peers and friends wisely. When you learn to like who you are, you will attract people who will like you too. When you are honest, and at times vulnerable, about how you are travelling in life you will learn to feel comfortable with being your authentic self. This sets up a feedback loop with the friends around you. They will accept you as you are because you accept yourself.
Stop imagining people care. The reality is lot of people don’t notice. The “spotlight effect” is where we imagine we are being noticed more than we are. This phenomenon is increasingly common in a world where are our lives are constantly being exposed to the world stage via social media. It helps to remember that generally people are too busy judging themselves to even notice you.
Buy clothes and shoes that fit and flatter who you are now. Nothing looks worse than ‘uncomfortable’. Even the nicest dress in the world, on the nicest body in the world will look will look wrong if its not feeling right. Admit to yourself (and your wardrobe) that over your lifetime you will change, fashions will change, what you need from your clothes will change.
There was a time when looking good at events was my priority. I needed to look good in front of a camera and had time to change outfits 3 times a day. Now I have to change 3 times a day because Im splattered with food, dirt and goodness knows what else, but I don’t have the time so changing IS the event. Now I choose clothes that fit well, wear well, wash easily and stretch. And I feel comfortable in front of a camera because I am comfortable.
Image credit: Canva Natural Women Collection
About the author
Emmanuella Grace is the Founder of Find Your Voice Australia, a performance coach and expert in Voice and Performance. She specialises in helping women build confidence and achieving their potential in the work place. Her qualifications include a BMus Hons Performance (Kingston University London), MMus Performance Teaching (Melbourne University) and PGDip Psychology (University of New England). As professional singer and composer her music was featured in film and advertising and she performed on world stages from the Sydney Opera House to Royal Albert Hall.