I used to think that if I smoothed foundation over my face perfectly, showed enough of my curves, and delicately curled every strand of my long luxurious weave, I’d be confident. If you looked pretty, feeling confident had to be the next step, right? So I buffed, flipped, and sculpted my face and hair. I did everything magazines and YouTube videos instructed me to. When I finished the heavy-duty labor, I took digital photos of myself to make sure everything looked natural. I had no choice but to be confident after that.
But I never felt it.
I wondered how I could make myself look like a model but still feel like hiding. Weren’t fly hair, makeup, and clothes an “upgrade”? I thought for sure that good looks made people bold. If I didn’t look pretty, I couldn’t imagine any other way of feeling confident. What’s more, all that attention to my looks without any focus on my intrinsic worth was making me pretty vacuous.
Then, after deep sessions with the book that changed my life—”Boosting Self-Esteem for Dummies” (yes, I know)—I had a revelation: If I had a strong sense of my worth as a human being, I could feel courageous regardless of whether my hair was done or I had impeccably cat-lined eyes. When I discovered I was worthwhile, I understood how confidence transcended physical appearance. Ask yourself how you’d act if you believed you were as valuable as anyone else, and do that. It’s a long process, but that’s what true confidence is all about. Here are just a few of my hallmarks for building healthy, sustainable confidence.
1. Maintain good eye contact. Nothing conveys confidence more than the ability to look someone squarely in the eye and speak. Eye contact shows that you value yourself and the person you’re speaking to. Shifting eyes express uncertainty, shame, or fear. It’s easy to look down or away when you don’t feel good about yourself. I made a habit of avoiding others’ eyes. Start looking—not staring—into people’s eyes and watch how they open up to you.
2. Smile. When I struggled with self-acceptance, people asked me if everything was ok because of the down-and-out expression I wore. It was terribly annoying to hear that question, and I’m sure it’s just as annoying for others to have to wonder. I always admired people who looked pleasant, eyes alert and mouth curled slightly upward, but I thought I’d look weird if I tried. After my revelation, though, I found smiling much easier. When you know you can’t control what other people think and you have a right to your own existence, you can smile as you please. It may feel funny at first, but it makes you feel good—and makes others comfortable, and more likely to approach you. I’ve gotten so many positive responses since I started smiling. And I do it everywhere—on the bus, at the grocery store, at work, in the mall. I sit alone and smile now because it makes me feel good. A warm, easy smile beats a frown any day.
3. Breath deeply, walk slowly. Have you ever held your breath in an uncomfortable situation? Doesn’t help much. I used to shrug my shoulders up tight and hold my breath when I felt nervous. Far better for your confidence is to take a few deep cleansing breaths. You’ll feel much more relaxed, and it’s also really good for your lungs. Don’t forget to walk slowly, too. Doing so gives you time to take in your surroundings and feel calm. Take a deep breath and walk like you belong—you do.
4. Speak in your natural voice. When I’m talking to good friends or siblings, my voice feels smooth, slightly mid-pitched, and comfortable. I noticed that when I’m in class or speaking to someone I don’t know, my voice gets really deep and growl-like. Pay attention to how your voice changes when you’re in different social situations. The voice you use when you’re with the people you’re most comfortable with is the voice you should aim to use all the time. Also, speaking slowly appears self-assured. It’s not easy, though. Sometimes my voice volleys between grumbling deep and airily high-pitched. I have to make a conscious effort to meet that mid-range tone, but with practice, it will get easier.
5. Accept that you’re not perfect. Confidence means rolling with your good, bad, and neutral points. It means you can go for things without worrying about how others perceive you because they’re just as human as you are. If you believed that, you’d take risks and feel fine about not getting things perfect. Mistakes are part of life. When you accept that you’ll never be perfect, you’ll feel more confident to try things.
6. Appreciate what you and others have without making comparisons. You may not like some of your facial features or body parts, but you’re better off accepting them. Be generous in complimenting yourself, knowing that your worth is on the inside. Likewise, appreciate and compliment others without comparing yourself to them. I used to wish I were taller or had smoother skin. But as many billions of people there are on Earth, we’re all unique, so don’t waste your time beating yourself up about what you think others have that you don’t. Accepting yourself, flaws and all, is very confident—and attractive.
7. Keep it positive. During my freshman year of college, I hung with a girl who was so down on herself that it was tiresome. She’d constantly complain about her how unruly her hair was, how much weight she’d gained, and how she couldn’t find a boyfriend. I found myself encouraging her more than just hanging out, and it got old fast. I was still struggling with myself at the time, but it was enlightening to see how low self-esteem comes off to others. No matter what, remember to be positive. It’s tiresome to hear someone constantly berate themselves. Lift yourself up—don’t wait for someone to tell you’re ok. You already are. Accept it, enjoy it, and keep it positive.