When I was born, I was missing one significant factor in my DNA strand—competitiveness—which is somewhat essential for getting ahead. Consequently, I’m happy to settle for less, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Lacking a competitive streak meant I never cared if I got high marks in school, never cared whether I hit a home run in softball, or never worried when others earned many more badges in Brownies and Girl Guides than I had. I did my best (or some approximation of my best) and soldiered on.
That trait (or lack thereof) carried on into my adult life and resulted in me being less aggressive in the business world than I wish I’d been (although I did rather well in spite of myself). I’m also a dead loss in sports because I simply don’t care about winning or scoring. Count me out when everyone else gathers around the table to play cards or board games. I have zero motivation to win and would much prefer to retire to a corner and read whatever book I’m currently into. I do like the concept of Scrabble though because it’s about words (which I love) but hate counting up my points and keeping score because that involves math which is anathema to me.
Seeking to win and enjoying competition is a healthy state of mind. Without competition, we’d have no Olympics, professional and organized sports, contests or motivation of any kind. Competition keeps marathoners training, keeps beauty queens squirting spray tan and hair spray, race car drivers pushing that accelerator, or politicians lying and deceiving. Our heroes can motivate us to try harder, do better and generally improve ourselves.
I don’t really consider a lack of competitiveness to be a serious shortcoming but there’s another ‘C’ word that can be very destructive and that’s comparison. Comparison is the death of confidence. We’ve heard many variations of that expression and in my experience, it has proven to be true. When we compare ourselves to so many of today’s media heroes, we feel sucker-punched, knowing we can never be as beautiful, as fast, as rich or as talented as they are.
The fashion and beauty industry has to be the worst offender in setting us up for feeling like losers. On the bright side, there’s an ever-so-slight change happening now to present women in a more realistic light in the media. Fashion and beauty magazines maintain no one would buy their products if we weren’t confronted with an image of perfection that can be achieved only with whatever they’re peddling. I don’t agree but they really don’t care what I think.
I’m encouraged by pictures of Helen Mirren, Diane Keaton, Maye Musk and Lauren Hutton displaying their earned signs of aging well. I recognize I’ll never achieve their beauty but I find them inspirational and even aspirational without being deceitful. Who among us can relate to pictures of anorexic teens with perfect skin, bodies and hair? That only serves to make us feel worse, not better about ourselves.
It’s always a good idea to feel motivated to try harder, whether this applies to our fitness, eating habits, state of mind or our appearance. But comparing ourselves to unattainable standards in anything can be soul-destroying and depressing. Knowing I will never be as beautiful as Jane Fonda doesn’t discourage me from admiring her intelligence, her energy or her approach to how she presents herself. There was a particularly funny episode of Frankie and Grace where Fonda dramatically pulled out her hair extensions, wiped off her makeup and yanked off her false eyelashes to demonstrate that we all need a little help, even those who appear to be so perfect.
The crucial C-word to incorporate into our everyday lives is confidence. Remember how confident we felt when we were little girls? Up until the age of about 10 or 11, we felt we were absolute perfection, invincible and undaunted. Then something happened. Was it peer pressure, hormones or life in general? Whatever it was, we need to recapture that feeling of self-esteem and confidence that we enjoyed as little girls. Some of us regain it after menopause when we’re finally free of the pressures of competing in the working world, mating and mothering.
European women exude confidence regardless of their comparative beauty, size or visible assets. That’s why they all appear beautiful. They walk with purpose and style. They too have fashion magazines and media influences that could erode their confidence but they choose to ignore comparisons with the perfection of youth and instead celebrate their innate beauty.
Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton are my personal style talismans. Even though they’re both thin, which I’m not, I love the way they each dress confidently, according to their individual and personal tastes. Helen Mirren loves colour and high fashion. Diane Keaton leans more toward neutral colours in a quirky combination of tailored basics tweaked in unexpected ways. Each of them has chosen to be true to herself and present with confidence. By the time baby boomer women have reached the age we are now, we pretty much have a handle on what works and doesn’t work for each of us. Finding inspiration for our demographic can be a challenge although I’ve found several websites and blogs by boomer broads that I can relate to that fill that need. Heaven knows, it’s not in the pages of Vogue or other fashion mags.
The other night I rewatched an Amy Schumer movie I really enjoyed because it brings the confidence message home. I Feel Pretty is about a young single woman named Renée whose self-confidence takes a 180-degree turn when she falls off her exercise bicycle and sustains a head injury that completely alters her self-image. Instead of seeing herself as ordinary, plump and somewhat invisible, she suddenly awakens to a perception of herself as everything she always wanted to be—slim, fit, funny, and brilliant. Even though she looks exactly the same as she did before her fall, her behaviour is profoundly different when she perceives herself as beautiful. It’s all a state of mind. I highly recommend watching this light-hearted movie.
Women are often criticized for not supporting other women in business and I have never found this to be the case. During my 40+ years in the corporate world, I always found other women to be unfailingly supportive. We’re sisters in the struggle for equality with men in salaries, promotions, recognition and responsibility. One of our greatest challenges is to ignore the unfair comparisons, accept the challenge to compete with men and do it with complete and utter confidence. So, of the three C-words—competitiveness, comparison, and confidence—confidence is the C-word I like best of all.