I have a tattoo on my arm that says “burn” in my mother’s cursive. It’s the size of a daisy petal and whenever I’m writing, I can see its ink. I got it for all the women in my life who burn shit down—past versions of themselves, the patriarchy, politeness, perfection, and the idea that we must fit inside a tiny, shapeless box.
The other day, that shapeless box suffocated me. For the first time in years, I went to the mall to try on a dress for a wedding. The last time I was in a dressing room, I was buying my wedding dress—two years prior. And I’ll be honest:
Reader, it didn’t go well.
While shopping, I wasn’t convinced I was a size medium anymore, only gaining the personal pizazz to try on a dress by the third store. I popped the zipper pulling a dress over my head that looked like a quilt. I finally could live inside my skin without wear and tear, but trying dresses on under fluorescent lights turned me into a self-loathing monster. I could barely look at my arms, jutting out from the dress-quilt in a zapped slump. “What’s wrong with you?” begged my inner dialogue. “What happened to your confidence?”
You know what, complex?! She f*cking LEFT.
The constant preaching for confidence in women feels a lot to me like a cage, not an act of rebellion.
And you know what else? I’m tired of being served the “women’s confidence” narrative. I’m tired of trying to shrink myself, all in the name of shouting on rooftops that I’m beautiful in the eyes of society. And I’m tired of my entire world of magazines, pop culture, and professionals telling me that “having a little confidence” will solve all of my problems.
I recently read an article in The Atlantic by feminist cultural analysts Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill called “How Women’s Confidence Became a Cult” and boy did it weld together a lot of truths for me. Throughout my entire life, messages about self-esteem have swelled like a tidal wave. The tired storyline that women should take up more space (but not enough to cause a ripple) shapes our culture. In doing this, we ignore the force that is the root of women’s low self-esteem in the first place. That we’re the problem. Issues at work? Confidence training. Want to feel empowered? Self-love. Want to climb the latter? Lean in. Need a pep talk? Don’t worry, believe in yourself.
Confidence is a distraction. Per the article’s authors, each message along the lines of “confidence is sexy,” pertaining to women, “reframes features of our unequal society as individual problems; according to confidence culture, we need to change women, not the world.”
Writer’s Note: I’m writing in a pause here because, wow. Take a second to read that again. “We need to change women, not the world.“
The constant preaching for confidence in women feels a lot to me like a cage, not an act of rebellion. The expectation of women and confidence in society is a reaction to something when it should be a way to forge your path. Confidence is an expectation. A type. An ideal. However, we can create our existence from scratch, no matter how confident or not we want to be.
Glennon Doyle wrote about this beautifully in her novel of personal essays, Untamed. “Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely. That is the end goal of every patriarchal culture. Because a very effective way to control women is to convince women to control themselves.”
We can’t control and trust at the same time. And society makes us feel like we can easily lose anything. So, why not live by trusting ourselves?
The feminist culture analysts in The Atlantic article wrote that the rise of confidence messaging rose in the 2010s and still thrives today. “In a 2020 recruitment campaign, the British army addressed potential female soldiers with the promise that joining the forces would give them true and lasting self-esteem—unlike the superficial pseudo-confidence that ‘can be reapplied every morning,’ like makeup or false eyelashes.” In that, confidence messaging in society is used to produce and resist meanings about women’s bodies, psyches, and behavior.
Confidence is owning who we are, no matter what box we step in, or outside of.
Confidence isn’t bad per se. I know self-assurance is linked to elements of a happy, fulfilling life. I know manifesting confidence gives us resilience and motivation. However, per the authors of The Atlantic article, “Confidence is both a culture and a cult.” If we’re not careful with its expectations, we risk over-sweetening its ideal. So, what can we, as individuals, do to open up possibilities for change? So we don’t feel the pressure to be unchangeably perfect? What can we do to build trust within, instead of looking outwardly into a world of botox and fitness tips?
Initially, my answer is to burn shit down. Stop using confidence as a distraction for improvement. Live inside every mess. Exist because the human condition is pain, joy, mistakes, and flaws. Perhaps we need to redefine confidence as everything inside of us and the inner trust we keep. Confidence is owning who we are, no matter what box we step in, or outside of.
The dictionary definition of self-confidence is “the act of trusting yourself, your abilities.” So self-made conviction is not even something you can attain or lose. Gabi Abrão, my favorite Instagram muse, wrote in a post of hers: “Confidence is life force. Trust is life force. And it is not just fitness tips and lip gloss and pinky promises. It is so much more profound and giving than that.”
We don’t need to abide by the rules of self-assurance, as these rules are fabricated in everything we consume. Confidence cannot be stripped away from us. Confidence is not something we “earn.” As Gabi so eloquently writes, “Confidence is ours for the taking and requires no invite or purchase. It is being your own best friend. It is being your confidant through all realms of your existence.”
Confidence was holding my hand through the mall, choosing to go with a beautiful dress in the now. Confidence was trusting the beauty of acceptance and understanding my existence is more than outer expectations. Self-love comes from searching inward and pulling the threads of our insides to the edge of our sleeves. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote it poetically: “As we grow old… the beauty steals inward.” As we grow old and as we live now.
We don’t need to abide by the rules of self-assurance, as these rules are fabricated in everything we consume. Confidence cannot be stripped away from us. Confidence is not something we “earn.”
The world needs more women who are entirely out of control. Throw confidence, sadness, wildness, joy, all of it… to the wind. “What we need are women who are full of themselves,” Glennon writes. “A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.”
Burn, burn, burn.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - April 14, 2022
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.