The cult of confidence: could positive thinking be making us feel less secure? | Self Esteem


BBelieve in yourself. Be empowered. Be yourself. Love your body. Stand tall. How many times do you see statements like this on social media sites? Or used to promote products. All points to confidence, a particular c word that modern women can’t get enough of.

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Self-confidence is the commandment of our time. At some point in the past decade, women’s media seemed to shift from celebrity mockery and dieting advice to talking about “empowerment”. According to parenting books, it was okay for mothers to be imperfect, wobbly, and have stretch marks as long as they were raising self-assured kids. Beauty and fashion brands began to tell us to love our bodies as they are. With the rise of social media, came a wave of feminism that valued self-care and accepted imperfection. We are living in a golden age for female confidence. But are we really feeling it?

While gender, class, and racial inequalities grow, women are constantly reminded to believe that they can do it all. Is it possible that our attention is being diverted from the society in which we live by suggesting that psychological blocks are holding back women? How deep can we absorb the message of capitalist companies like fashion brands, which tell us to be proud of our bodies and only size up to 12? Are we being led to believe that women lack confidence or if they did not have it in the first instance?

Rosalind Gill and ShaniOrgad, sociology professors at City University of London and London School of Economics and Political Science, think the latter. The two friends started making what they called “a” in 2015. “confidence basket”. They tore pages out of magazines and newspapers, and piled up self-help books. All of them contained the same message to women: Be more confident. This trend is described as “confidence culture” – the title of a bookThey published them earlier in the year.

‘Some brands still exploit women’s insecurities and sell products that target them’: Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill, whose book unpicks the ‘confidence culture’ trend.
‘Some brands still exploit women’s insecurities and sell products that target them’: Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill, whose book unpicks the ‘confidence culture’ trend.Photograph by Jooney woodward/The Observer

“Confidence culture opens up a way of thinking about gender inequality as something women do to themselves,”Gill. “Lack of confidence is positioned as a personal defect. When we hear business leaders, politicians, coaches or brands talking about inequality, women’s confidence is always discussed. But we’re letting institutions and wider structures off the hook from making changes as long as we’re saying that women are responsible.”

Confidence culture is synonymous to body image. Dove and other brands agree. “all bodies are beautiful”They feature a wide range of bodies in their campaigns. Gill believes that “optics and visibility are really important”It is, but it is not enough. “These campaigns often feel cynically manufactured for a particular moment. Brands are rarely rethinking their whole raison d’être. They still exploit women’s insecurities and sell products that target them.” Flattening women’s differences (in terms of race, disability, pregnancy, etc), she feels, “empties the meaning and significance of those differences”.

Confidence CultureRefers to an advertisement by Dove for 2014 “Patches”. Fake laboratory was set up for women and they were given a. “beauty patch”A psychologist will describe what to wear. “a revolutionary product developed to enhance the way women perceive their own beauty”. They felt more confident after two weeks. One woman wore clothes that showed off her arms once more. The psychologist explained that the patch was just a placebo. Any changes in behavior were due to a change of mindset. The message? Positive thinking can cure low self-esteem. Women are responsible for the harmful effects of beauty culture.

That “confidence” is such an omnipresent word doesn’t help. It is so infused with positivity, that it seems absurd to question it. Gill and Orgad wrote in their book: “The self-evident value of confidence – and particularly female self-confidence – has been placed beyond debate, treated as an unexamined cultural good that is rarely, if ever, interrogated. In this way, a belief in confidence has come to suffuse contemporary culture, like an article of faith.”

In reality, confidence is something you can’t buy or get from the air. It is a slippery thing, dependent on a person’s environment and the social norms they have been exposed to. I asked women what makes them feel confident and received hundreds of replies. Women feel confident in certain clothes and makeup (red lipstick was a common choice, as were boilersuits), but also significant events like childbirth or surviving a hard split. The validation of family, friends, and bosses was a strong indicator of confidence.

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“Confidence is inter-subjective,”Gill says it comes alive when people reflect how we feel. It is also contextual. I have confidence in my abilities to communicate and cook, but less in driving. It may be the other way around. Mantras like “lack of confidence is holding you back”They can be seductive but neglect the complexity of human experience. They are a rallying cry in a capitalism-friendly, self-care-obsessed feminism that encourages exhaustive self-care. If we dig and dig, surely we’ll find the gold. We can also pay others to help us excavate.

Confidence Culture This article examines the coaching industry. It was born out of self-help ideas and a personalistic approach to improving confidence. Positive psychology is also a foundation of coaching. However, it is often criticised for overlooking systemic issues. Barbara Ehrenreich, journalist and activist, argues in her book. Bright-Sided – How America’s Negative Thinking Is Undermining America: “If your business fails or your job is eliminated, it must be because you didn’t try hard enough, didn’t believe firmly enough in the inevitability of your success.”

Many people credit life coach with helping them see new things. However, there are good reasons to remain critical. Although the industry is not regulated, millions of Instagram posts with #lifecoach tag show how many people are selling this type of service. The current trend is based on terms like “manifesting” “magnetism”These words generally refer to positive thinking. Imagine yourself being successful or having more income and you will reap all the rewards. Social media is a great place for coaches to showcase their abilities. It can seem very cult-like to an outsider.

The positive side effects of increased access to new forms and help are great, but what about the risks? Stanford University psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude, who studies the intersection of technology and psychology, wrote: “Life coaching operates in a regulatory vacuum, with no education, training, licensing, or supervision requirements for coaches and no specific legal protections for any harmed clients. The risk that mentally ill patients may undergo life coaching rather than receive proven psychotherapy treatments raises concerns about patient safety.”

Life coaching has been around since the beginning, but the limitations in the mental health system as well as the powerful connective tool that social media offers have created a bigger market for clear-sounding options. Although there are good intentions behind the market, we must not forget that it is a vulnerable market. Money is exchanged, often small fortunes, and the power dynamic of any client-and-practitioner relationship must be open to criticism. But coaching hinges so strongly on that article of faith – confidence – and creates a strong belief system. Even though the ethics may be murky, it is difficult to argue against increasing confidence. Particularly when labels that sound clinical are used.

“Impostor syndrome”Is it aIt is a buzzword in coaching, particularly for women working in the industry. It is now part of every day conversation. Do you often doubt yourself? Think you’ll eventually be caught out? That’s impostor syndrome! This term can explain why some women may not believe their abilities.

The idea was first proposed by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, psychologists. “impostor phenomenon”Featuring a study of self-doubt among high-achieving females. “Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise,”They wrote. The study inspired decades of initiatives – conferences, leadership programmes, self-help books – to address impostor syndrome in women. As Jodi Ann Burey and Ruchika Tulshyan, authors, argued in a widely-shared Harvard Business Review Article called “Stop Telling Women They Have impostor Syndrome”The term is associated with baggage

“Even if women demonstrate strength, ambition, and resilience, our daily battles with micro-aggressions, especially expectations and assumptions formed by stereotypes and racism, often push us down,”They wrote. The concept of impostor syndrome fails to capture all of this, and it is up to women to deal with its effects. “Workplaces remain misdirected toward seeking individual solutions for issues disproportionately caused by systems of discrimination and abuses of power,”They wrote. If businesses offer employees free subscriptions to mindfulness apps, for example, but don’t address issues like salary inequality, women will keep internalising the blame for how they feel.

We often make mistakes The confidence displayed by white, male leaders is synonymous with competence. I was appointed editor in a newspaper several years ago. I was shocked to learn that I was earning less than my male colleagues with the same title. I spoke to my (male!) line manager. “You should have negotiated better with HR,”His response was a resounding “Yes!” Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey’s argument that “employees who can’t (or won’t) conform to male-biased social styles are told they have impostor syndrome”This is a fact that rings true. I felt like a charlatan in my senior position.

Feeling unsure is common, but high-achieving women are told they’re suffering from an ailment. Dr Jessica Taylor is a chartered psychologist. She is also an author and feminist campaigner. “hysteria”: The historical diagnosis given to women who make too much noise or take up too much space. “So-called impostor syndrome is ‘more common’ in successful women than in successful men because society is more likely to tear down women who become too opinionated, intelligent, educated or assertive,”She said. “Believing that we have a syndrome is the desired outcome.”

Taylor deflects the sneers of male peers routinely “Some male academics talk to me like a piece of shit or like I’m thick, because of my background and experiences.”Taylor is a working class woman who has spoken out publicly about her experience with rape and the abuse she suffered while completing her PhD. “someone like me bringing the institution’s reputation down”. She must resist self-questioning but insists that doubt is okay. “not something inherent” in her. It’s because she “is not supposed to succeed.”

How we hold ourselves speaks volumes about how confident we are. Or so we’re told. In a popular Ted Talk from 2012 about power poses, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy said that altering one’s posture – like standing with hands on hips – before a setting like a job interview, can “significantly change how your life unfolds”. Gill considers the command to “stand tall”It is “one of the common-sense ideas we’ve taken for granted about what confidence looks like.”Studies also show that power alone does not translate into powerful behaviors.

Is there a clear,Physical way to appear confident? Imogen KnightAs a choreographer, coach, and somatic experience therapist, she spends her days watching how people move. “In my experience, it’s too fluid and dependent on the context to really pin down. But a lack of confidence can manifest in a person subtly adjusting themselves all the time; their position, hair or bits of clothing. They might also cover vulnerable parts of their body like their stomach,”She says. We are sitting on her sofa, and I realize I am holding a cushion in my stomach. “Eye-contact can be difficult, too, but these things aren’t fixed: some days it is easier for people than others.”

Knight leads workshops with the feminist theatre company Clean BreakThey work with women in criminal justice. She tells women who come together in this space that there is no one way to move. “I ask them what feels good. Some women move very little, just gently rotating their wrists. Others move with more electricity. It is beautiful how much women say they love being together. They support each other for exactly how they are, at that moment.”What a freeing way to express yourself “there is no ideal way to be”Feel the loss of confidence when you are treated unfairly by a system who does not care about your best interests.

Connecting women’s confidence to the patriarchy is crucial. Lauren Currie founded the organization in 2020. Upfront, an online platform that offers six-week online courses and a community “bonds”They bring women together and challenge preconceived notions about what confidence should feel and look like. Currie’s approach centres on accepting individual differences and vulnerability. The following are the “bonds”She says that women are the most important thing in the world. “unlearn their negative experiences of women-only spaces. Bitchiness and competitiveness is called out for what it is: a product of the patriarchal idea that there isn’t room for all women.”I asked her what she thinks nurtures confidence most. “If I had to use one word: community.”

With “anti self-help” media on failure, along with Brené Brown’s work on the power of vulnerability, we have some resistance to the idea of what success and empowerment really look like. Brown wrote in her book. Dare to Lead: “Grounded confidence is the messy process of learning and unlearning, practising and failing, and surviving misses.”These things can’t be done by us alone. During the pandemic I experienced a crisis confidence, mostly related to work and the end a relationship. That distress was broken only by reaching out to my friends and hearing the message that I am enough.

In the way it exposed inequality and highlighted our interdependence, the pandemic offered an opportunity to shake up confidence culture. Because people feel rudderless, afraid, and lacking self-care, well-intentioned motifs of comfort, self-care, and feel-good media have sprung up quickly. Many did this under a government that has, through austerity, the stripping away community hubs and the taking down of soft relationships, taken a hammer on our soft relationships. Perhaps it’s time we matched the endless calls for women to turn inwards to be self- believing with something much clearer: we need each other.

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