The eternal discussion of confidence; self confidence, body confidence, self-esteem, and what it really means.

There is no right or wrong here. For some it depends on your upbringing and your idea of privacy, others can be influenced by events in their lives. For example, your self confidence may take a knock if you get bad feedback, but overall you will get it back. You may have body confidence in public, but there is an area you always cover up. It could be a scar revealing something don’t you want others to know the story of. And there is self-esteem, the subjective evaluation of your own worth. These can all be related, but don’t have to be. Being confident about your body is not the same as being confident about your abilities. And you may not feel confident, but know your own worth.

It is impossible to get “a perfect score” on these topics, because we wouldn’t be human. Self-doubt and self-criticism is normal, because it is also what makes us better ourselves, correct previous mistakes, and give ourselves constructive criticism. But it needs to be just that: constructive.

This discussion came up when I looked around the changing room at the gym one day: one woman was doing her hair, with hair dryer and curling iron ready, and her full make up kit spread on the table. She was sitting topless in front of one of the mirrors. Another woman I come across a couple of times a week will spend an hour getting changed. I have managed to come in, see her chatting to someone, naked, then proceed to doing a quick mile swim, and returning to the changing rooms, to find her in the same state of undress as before. And then there are some who wait to get one of the three cabins to change, and many who simply turn to face the lockers.

Why did it bother me? I discussed it at length with other women. Was it just me who minded? Why did it bother me? Some told me it is great to see body confident women in the changing rooms. Others understood my discomfort: there are children taking classes, and not all are used to adults naked. It is also a gym where people may go to work on their bodies, so is it fair to display your own? In the end, to me, it just felt like a semi-public place and their behaviour, to me, is private. Seeing someone get ready, almost naked, doing their hair and make-up felt like I was intruding in their personal life; the scene could have been cut straight out of her home, and I felt like I was violating her privacy. There are other moments, like the fact that people tend to wrap a towel around themselves and hope to dry, rather than make sure everything is dry. Straighter to the point: do you always dry off everywhere when you are in a changing room? The majority of people don’t, it feels sexualised and inappropriate in front of others. So for hygiene and health reasons, you might want to use a cubicle, whether you otherwise mind changing in front of others or not.

Think about situations where you may have been uncomfortable with someone’s appearance and why? Is body confidence really about being ok with showing it all?

After this rather long real-life example – forgive me, but it has sparked so much debate among friends that I thought I would share – let’s go back to the bigger picture; constructive criticism about us, our body, our ideas and ourselves.

Let’s start with the good news: our self-esteem is better than we think. Do you feel you are worth something? Most of us do. Look at friends, partners, children: do they need us? What do we bring to them? Look at your skills and ideas: aren’t they useful? Exactly!

Extreme low self-esteem is something worth discussing with a professional, because the likely cause is a distorted view of reality. If you are struggling to find answers to the questions above: ask!

One example of a group exercise, for work, home, family, or even for a girls’ night is the “warm back”: You will have a piece of paper attached to your back and then each write a positive attribute of one another onto the paper. When you read it back, have each person explain what they mean, or just take in the compliments in silence, but it may show you aspects of your personality you don’t see yourself.

Confidence is more difficult. You may know you have skills and a good personality, but not the confidence to show it. It is like a job interview for which you have the CV but not the interviewing skills.

The bad news is: everyone has something they are not confident with. The good news is: you can work on small things. For one, it is about seeing where you do feel confident. With friends? With family? At work? Do you prefer speaking to someone on the phone or in person? What helps you be a little more confident? It is – as always in life – about breaking down the issue.

You always need to remember your self-esteem: you have something to share, you have something to give, you have skills.

Confidence is about assurance. In this case, assurance in yourself. Self-esteem is the emotional element. Confidence is cognitive; you need to work with your brain. Let your brain dissect the issue.

While there is no hard and fast rule, there are a few common things we struggle with. Each of us will recognise ourselves in some of them.

Having to sell yourself in a job interview requires confidence, and often the only way to get there is practice: thinking of questions, possible answers, reminding yourself that you have a reason to be there because you have the skills and experience. Write down all the worries and solve them one by one, until all you have left is to deal with the nerves on the day: find the clothes that will make you feel confident, get all the work ready you may want to show, prepare cards if you worry about stuttering or forgetting talking points (all it shows is that you go the extra mile to prepare).

Public speaking is similar

Think about who it is for. Can you be casual or does it need to be professional? Dress accordingly so you feel comfortable. Whenever you worry about looks, make sure your ideas are convincing.

Going into a gym

Being the one, slightly round person to go into the weights room in between all the ripped men who spend half their lives there won’t make you feel good. Pick a different gym. Look for the one that suits you: younger people? Older people? Which exercise do you like best? Start there. Go on the treadmill or in the pool until you are comfortable with the environment, then try something new when you are ready. Do you think you will look silly? Ask for a session with a personal trainer. After all, they are there to show you the ropes and you can focus on them and no one else around. If you are unsure about joining a class: call beforehand (no one will recognise you when you do come in) and ask what the skill level is like.

Dealing with crowds

Are you more comfortable with someone you know for support? Or maybe you are better on your own? Sometimes having no one you know helps you try new things. Those people will never see you again; you can act out of character, even if it is “an act” and see how it feels. In other words, fake it till you make it.

Do you see where we are going? Self-confidence is not something you have or don’t have. And don’t confuse it being extroverted. You can be quiet and reflective, and secretly prepare for everything to look confident. After all, being confident in yourself means having the assurance you can rely on your abilities and judgement and these can be prepared and practiced. And this can be done for each situation anew.

Just like we have looked at how to improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, we will see how to work on your body-confidence.

While the first two are reflective, the latter seems to revolve around the outside world, making it more difficult to influence yourself.

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