By Javacia Harris Bowser
Girls are often taught to be selfless. Girls are taught to be thoughtful and polite, to say “Thank you” and “Please” and to think of others before thinking of themselves. This is, in part, what it means to be a lady. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The world is changed and made a better place by selfless people. And as a woman born and bred in the South, I certainly hold good manners in high esteem.
But too often I’ve seen that in girls all this selflessness can turn into self-loathing or, at the very least, what I call self-lowering. These girls grow up to be women who can’t accept compliments and accolades without being embarrassed, women who feel that going after goals is showing off, women who feel guilty for liking their own bodies, or worse, can’t even fathom actually liking what they see in the mirror.
If this sounds all too familiar I have a message for you: The world needs your confidence.
Recently, a woman asked me how I became so confident. She asked me if being a teacher had anything to do with it and I realized that it does. As a high school English teacher I must have confidence to stand before a room full of teenagers every day and attempt to hold their attention. But I realized that teaching helps my confidence in another way. Teaching has helped me realize that being confident is a selfless act after all. My students, especially my female students, need to see me be confident. This confidence needs to go beyond the classroom, too. The women I meet through See Jane Write, the networking organization for women writers and bloggers that I founded in 2011, need to see me be confident, too. As do the women who read my blog at Javacia.com.
And the women and girls in your sphere of influence need to see you be confident, too. Confidence is contagious.
The world needs to see you love yourself. When the people around you see you love your body regardless of its shape or size, love your face without makeup, love your hair no matter how frizzy it is, you inspire them to love themselves unconditionally, too.
The world needs to see you accept compliments and accolades with grace. There was a time when I would respond to compliments by insulting myself. If someone told me I looked great in the dress I was wearing I’d tell them I thought it made me look fat. I’ve learned a simple “Thank you” will suffice or better yet, I’ll respond by telling the person how great she looks that day, too.
And it’s only been recently that I’ve learned to receive accolades without shame. For so long I suffered from imposter syndrome. I felt embarrassed when my accomplishments were celebrated because deep down I felt I didn’t really deserve the recognition. I knew the behind-the-scenes story, the struggles it took to achieve my goal and so I felt like it was all a façade. But I was so wrong! Those struggles were exactly why I should celebrate my feats and I now know that every time I do celebrate an achievement I’m encouraging other women and girls to celebrate their triumphs, too.
The world needs you to boldly pursue your dreams. I used to worry about going after certain goals. I used to worry that people would say, “Who does she think she is?” But when I started not only pursuing lofty aspirations but also telling anyone who would listen what I was trying to do, two amazing things happened: people were eager to help and I inspired the women and girls around me to be more ambitious, too.
Now there’s a chance you’re reading this thinking, “This sounds great, Javacia, but I can’t really inspire people around me to be confident when I have no confidence of my own.” And, unfortunately, I can’t give you some secret formula to instant self-esteem. But again I stress that confidence is contagious. So surround yourself with confident women, women who use their confidence to build up other women, not tear them down.
Do something new. Do something bold. I’ve found that each time I go after a goal—even if I don’t accomplish it right away—I feel better about myself simply for trying. And when I try something new, stepping out of my comfort zone makes me feel strong and brave.
Take care of your body and adorn it with things you love. I’ve noticed that on days when I make healthful food choices and spend time exercising I feel much better about my body even though my weight or shape may not have changed. And wearing an outfit that I love—even if it’s two years old and cost less than $20—makes me feel like I need to be on a runway.
Once you do figure out what builds your confidence, be sure to pass it on. Remember the confident women who inspired you and use your newfound confidence to build up the women and girls around you. In my eyes, that is what being a lady is all about.