The Strongest Women Know Confidence Comes From How You Feel, NOT What You Wear

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radical acceptance

When I was in kindergarten, my mom and grandmother would dress me up in cute skirts and dresses. And I loved dresses — they made me feel like a princess. And they were always pink.

I was a little girl who loved pink.

(I also loved Power Rangers and guess who was my favorite? The Pink Ranger.)


At least, pink was my favorite color until another little girl told me that pink is for the girly-girls who were snobby and only wanted boys’ attention. I didn’t want to be a snobby girly-girl who only wanted boys’ attention. I didn't want to be seen as weak. So I switched my favorite to the Yellow Ranger (even though I still secretly still loved the Pink Ranger) and changed how I dressed COMPLETELY.

By the time I was 10, my mom and grandmother had to practically force me into skirts and dresses.

If they left it up to me to pick my own clothes, I would have never worn 90 percent of my closet. Looking back at old photos where I was part of some school pageant or event that required wearing gowns or makeup, Little Me was always frowning, no matter how good I looked.

Why? Because boys would tease me and try to pull up my skirt. Because other girls would give me judging looks and I could practically hear them whispering behind my back about how snobby and pretentious I must be.

For a while, I did that too. I judged other girls for wearing skirts, dresses, and other pretty things, while secretly loathing myself because I couldn’t look as good or didn't have the confidence to wear the same thing.

I started thinking about that again recently after reading Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love, a new book written by YourTango's own Andrea Miller. The idea behind "radical acceptance" is the importance of learning to extend empathy — even when it's really, really hard — and even when you have to extend that empathy to yourself. 

To quote her, "to practice Radical Acceptance with gusto, it helps to have sufficient confidence, fortitude, and emotional resilience."

Unfortunately, back then, I didn't have any of those three traits. 

In a study published in the Journal Of Youth and Adolescence, researchers found that girls' self-esteem begins plummeting at age 12 and doesn't pick back up until age 20. The main causes are the significant changes in the body due to puberty. For me, however, it was right before puberty, when I was 10, when my self-esteem started to suffer.

During my own pre-pubescent life, I only wore dresses and skirts when I was forced to, but otherwise, it was plain t-shirts and baggy jeans all the time.

I even wrote it in my diary while getting ready for my tenth birthday: "Dear Diary, today is my birthday and I’m wearing a dress. I hate dresses."

Oddly enough, high school started to change that. I know high school is supposed to be the worst for developing girls, but I went to an all-girls’ Catholic school.

That meant uniforms and only being surrounded by other adolescent girls, which helped in a way. There was no emphasis on fashion because everyone had to wear the same uniform blouse, skirts, and pants every day.

But, on the rare days where we didn’t have to wear uniforms, everyone was always so excited to see their friends wearing regular clothes that was a non-stop compliment-fest — "I love your shirt", "Those shoes are cute, where did you get them?", or "I have a top just like that, OMG!"

The amount of support and encouragement from the other girls on those days always struck me. Contrary to what most people think about all girls' schools, there wasn't really much room for rivalry and jealousy because we were too busy being honed into strong women "with dignity and all inclusive love" (my school's motto). 

Those petty rivalries are exactly what Andrea Miller urges her readers to avoid in Radical Acceptance. She urges us to stop feeling jealous of other women because there is NO need for jealousy.

"Use the observation of their gifts as an opportunity to do something good and positive for yourself," she advises.

As I moved through high school, all of those compliments from my peers started to give me a little more personal confidence, even if the compliments weren't always directed at me. I started observing what other girls wore and began experimenting with mixing and matching clothing. I started buying cute accessories and ended up with a collection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, hair clips, and headbands. I was still wary of makeup, so I started slow with just plain old lip gloss.

At that point, the girly-girl that I despised throughout my childhood was starting to reawaken inside of me, even though I still refused to wear skirts and dresses unless I needed to.

Until college.

I was out on my own for the first time. For most of the first year, I stuck to my t-shirts and jeans.

But, as spring and summer rolled around. I observed so many girls on campus flaunting their dresses and skirts, looking as beautiful and confident as a model on a runway. Instead of rolling my eyes or judging them, for once, I wanted to be just like them.

I wanted that same level of confidence because, despite finally embracing a little bit of my femininity, I was still so insecure about how I looked in a dress.

In my second year of college, I took a chance. For the first day of school, I decided to wear a skirt. Before I left for class, my roommate told me I looked nice. She had no idea that I had been contemplating changing into jeans prior to her compliment. It gave me the boost I needed to go out. By the end of the day, despite being tired from classes, I found myself smiling because, for the first time, I willingly wore a skirt… and was happy about it.

To grab another line from Radical Acceptance, "Forget a perfect body or beauty-pageant face. The key to being magnetically attractive is feeling great about yourself!" (And I think that's true!)

Thus, I developed a new relationship with skirts and dresses. Whenever I saw one and put one on and loved how it looked, I bought it and flaunted it.

Don’t even get me started on makeup.

Miss "I Hate Makeup and Will Never Ever Wear It" started learning how to apply it properly after taking a broadcast class that required makeup when we were on camera. A girl in my class did my makeup the first time, giving me tips along the way, not realizing that her confidence and knowledge made me brave enough to try and learn on my own.

It wasn’t that the makeup made me prettier. It was the confidence the makeup gave me that prompted me to start wearing it. Now, I rarely leave home without at least a little eyeliner. 

For me, my own sense of confidence and self-esteem took a long time to develop, because I nitpicked every little thing that was wrong with me. I brushed off people's compliments, refusing to see what they see. Now, I find it amazing that it was not a man who made me feel beautiful, but other women. These women were smart, confident, and accepted themselves as they were — and they didn't have to deny their femininity in order to achieve it.

Now, I am on my way to becoming one of these women by accepting myself. Now, when I look in the mirror while wearing a dress with my face all dolled up, I see me, all feminine and girly-girl, but no less smart, resilient, and strong. 

Insecure thoughts still manage to break into my confidence and self-esteem sometimes, but I no longer dwell in them as I would have many years ago.

In the words of Andrea Miller, "Being critical of yourself and judging yourself negatively are verboten. Life is too short."

And she's right. It is.

So I think I'll enjoy the fabulous, girly-girl that I am for a long, long time.

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