Sometimes You Don’t Realize Your Confidence Is Low Until You See Someone With a High Level of Confidence

Today I read an article by the comedian and author Sara Benincasa, who was responding to a very pointed question from a fan. The question was: Why did you gain so much weight?

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It’s a question that would’ve destroyed my confidence if I was already feeling bad about myself- as I think it would have secretly destroyed many women. And I’m not fat by any standards. I’m actually pretty small if you’re going by some kind of American average. But it doesn’t matter- I always knew from society and all the magazines I’ve ever read that I was kind of worthless unless I was losing weight or thin.

What’s crazy about the thought pattern of ‘I’m only worth something if I’m thin’ is how built into my belief system it is- and I know that I’m not the only one. I work in an industry where being thin is prized, but I also live in a society that’s weight loss crazed…and always has been.

The article today shocked me with the confidence and bravado it presented- the woman who wrote it is successful and funny and talented and also bigger than what Hollywood, or society at large (whatever that means), deems ‘acceptable,’ but she’s confident anyway. How is this possible? Are you allowed to be confident if you’re a woman who’s not ‘acceptably’ thin or striving to lose weight? I ask this question as sort of a joke, but it’s not a joke. I truly care about healthy food and about being healthy, but there’s definitely a major part of me that cares only about being thin, so that I can feel good about myself and move on. This weight pressure is not something that only hits women in their teens and twenties and goes away…it continues well into our thirties and likely until the day we die. Weight pressure is built into the fabric of how women live. Every woman is pressured to be ‘acceptably thin’ and can’t feel good about herself unless she is so. Or so I thought.

“…here’s the shocker: in addition to my family and real friends still loving me, I kept getting work! Comedy, acting, and publishing 5 books from February 2012 to July 2016! It’s almost like I still had worth and value beyond the number on the scale…!”

She did? Women can? Especially in entertainment..or fashion…or hell, just being a respected woman? How can you respect yourself if you’re not ‘acceptably thin?’ How can anyone respect you? You should use all your time and energy to get onto a weight loss plan, right? But the successful comedian and author who had ‘gained some weight’ confidently continued:

“Let me tell you about some of the things that I did between when I started gaining weight (2011) and now (2016). I published that first book, “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.”I adapted it as a TV pilot. Diablo Cody is the executive producer. Have you heard of her? She’s very talented… Anyway, she wanted to work with me and never brought up the fact that I wasn’t skinny. Can you imagine? It’s so strange. I talked to her yesterday and she still did not say anything about me being so fucking fat. Is she just being nice? She’s from the Midwest and those people are sweet. And Ben Stiller’s company, Red Hour, worked with me too. None of them told me I was fat. Ben Stiller didn’t tell me I was fat!”

And this breathtaking woman didn’t even feel unlovable when she was fat! It’s crazy:

“Now during this time I began to think about weight. Not mine! I saw how women were criticized on the Internet and elsewhere for gaining weight. This intrigued me. I didn’t feel fat or unlovable. Should I? Hmm. I considered this and decided instead to make fantastic art instead, because I’m amazing at it.”

Wow, how dare she make art instead of getting her weight under control?! How could she even do that? Isn’t it better to spend your entire life getting your weight under control before you do anything else? I don’t understand it!

I gained all that weight because I was so busy working and growing as a person, a writer, an actor, a comedian, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a lover, an activist (hi Emily’s List and Humanity for Hillary and Los Angeles LGBT Center!), a thinker, and a cook (ironic, right?!?) that I didn’t have time to pursue what I really, really want to do: spend my precious spare moments making anonymous comments on the blogs of successful, beautiful, hardworking women in a failed attempt to undermine them in order to give me some sense of power as I marinate in my own inadequacy, stuck in the knowledge that no one will ever pay me to write my poorly-crafted thoughts down on paper, to be translated into book or film or television form, and that beyond money (which of course doesn’t lend my thoughts any inherent value) or any degree of fame (which is pointless and wholly unnecessary to a happy and fulfilling existence) no one will ever really want to hear what I have to say at all, because I am essentially worthless and of no value to the world at large. That’s what I really want to do.

Wow. What a response. Read Sara Benincasa’s full, beautiful response here.

I’m truly moved and shaken by Sara’s amazing statement because I feel like I not only wouldn’t have the confidence to respond that way, but I wouldn’t have the confidence to FEEL that way.

Imagine if we could actually, truly feel so confident no matter what?

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Are You More Confident Now That You’re Older?

There was one time I was acting in a play and said to the director, “my character is so confident. How can I play a character who’s more confident than I’ve ever been?”

I can’t remember the director’s response, but it was something like “you’re confident. It’ll be fine.” I remember wondering whether I was fooling people into thinking I was more confident than I felt. I think I ended up repeating affirmations over and over to myself in order to get the character feeling right: “I’m confident. I’m beautiful. I’m frigging great.” Stuff like that. And I tried to imitate confident people I knew. It worked well enough at the time, I guess.

Is confidence a fake it till you make it thing? Does it help to take on a projected mindset of confidence?

I sort of hate the idea of ‘fake it till you make it.’ I like to think of myself as a pretty down to earth person, so I find it hard to attempt faking a version of myself. Whenever I try, it works for awhile, but sometimes I end up back where I started. Of course, now that I’m 30, I don’t always have to try and fake confidence. There are definite areas where I’m naturally confident from experience alone- usually in my job and friendships and certain subjects such as travel….areas where I’ve tried different things and failed and succeeded and failed again.

I recently read a brilliant article by one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, called The Confidence Conundrum. In it, Mark says something I’ve always wondered about confidence- that the lack of it seems to just lead to a downward spiral of less confidence.

“On the surface, confidence appears to be an area where the rich get richer and the poor stay the fucking losers they are. After all, if you’ve never experienced much social acceptance, and you lack confidence around new people, then that lack of confidence will make people think you’re clingy and weird and not accept you. Same deal goes for relationships. No confidence in intimacy will lead to bad break ups and awkward phone calls … This is the confidence conundrum, where in order to be happy or loved or successful, first you need to be confident; but then to be confident, first you need to be happy or loved or successful.”

He comes to the conclusion that the answer doesn’t actually lie in faking it and saying “i’m fucking great. I’m fucking amazing at this,” but in “becoming comfortable with what you potentially lack.” In other words, confidence is about failing and failing again…and becoming comfortable with not achieving. In other words, confidence isn’t about what we achieve (which seems to bring about more of a temporary external confidence anyway), but about becoming comfortable with dreaded things like failure, rejection, and getting hurt.

Scary stuff! But imagine if instead of worrying about achieving all the time, and wanting to have a constant peaceful mindset, we instead became comfortable with discomfort. If we could get comfortable putting ourselves out there and failing, then we could become confident no matter what. We’d have nothing to prove to ourselves or others.

Perhaps it’s a numbers game. When you put yourself out there again and again and get rejected or fail and get hurt over and over, think ‘this is normal. And it’s fine. It’s actually great. Because this is part of life and it means that I’m truly putting myself out there and living.”

It’s scary, but if it’s actually the true key to building confidence, would you do it more?

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