Jess is an acclaimed writer, speaker, author, and entrepreneur, helping shift the way we think, see, and talk about women and girls. She advised on Barbie’s latest body evolution and has served as Dove’s Global Self-Esteem Ambassador for the past decade. Her TEDx Talk “The Confidence Myth” explores the messy, simple, and often overlooked truth about cultivating confidence.
We asked her what confidence “looks like” in young women, and she told us she could only tell us what it might “feel” like. We like her style.
Here, she talks about fostering girls’ confidence, inspiring healthy body images, and what the current girls’ empowerment movements mean for young women.
1. When we talk about confidence for young women, what are we aiming for? What do confident girls look like?
It’s hard to say what confidence “looks like,” but it can feel like a sense of inner knowing — that you are worthy, you are capable, and you are able to bounce back from anything life throws your way. Having confidence is a lot like filling your gas tank for your car. You can’t fill your tank up once and then drive forever. You must continue to fill the tank. Confidence is the same way. You must create moments in your life to build confidence so that that feeling can be replenished over time.
2. Why is it so hard for girls to love their bodies/themselves?
There are plenty of factors that influence a girl’s body image – from media to family to peers. We often think, “If I had more confidence or looked a certain way I would have a boyfriend or girlfriend, get better grades, be popular, etc.” The list goes on.
One of the biggest misconceptions about loving ourselves is that it’s a destination you can arrive at and stay at. However, self-confidence is a journey and a belief system – self-discovery is the real foundation for confidence. Embracing the road bumps and messiness helps you grow and lay that foundation. Personal growth has no time limit; we will always have things to learn and love about ourselves.
3. What are the mixed messages today’s girls are getting about confidence and where it comes from?
In the age of social media, many girls tend to measure their lives against those of other people’s filtered realities. When it comes to online media, it’s important to think critically about what you consume and how to navigate the distracting messages. It’s important to remember that our online lives are a filtered reality of our actual lives.
We can change the images we see by simply changing the images we put out there. We are responsible for a large amount of content online. Through our social platforms we create a massive amount of content. So we first should start with ourselves and make sure that we are putting forth the messaging we want to experience.
4. Where does true confidence actually come from for girls?
We spend so much time talking about ‘getting’ confidence that we often ignore the most important component – the how. In reality, confidence is a journey, a manner of traveling, not a destination. True confidence is about knowing who you really are. It’s about owning your flaws and being vulnerable. It’s raw and authentic.
We often hear hollow messages like, “You go girl!” “Be true to yourself!” “Be confident!” They are what I call, “S.F.S.N. – sounds fabulous, signifies nothing.” These messages tend to ignore the most important part of the journey to confidence, the HOW we get there. The real. The raw. The messy.
5. Recently, you helped Mattel launch the new Barbies. Can you talk about that initiative, what it took to get there, and what it indicates in terms of our social climate?
It’s important for girls everywhere to see themselves and their world reflected back to them in the product and content they engage with. I am so proud to have worked with Barbie on this new evolution of the Barbie body. This change, this moment, signifies inclusivity – and I’m excited for girls to have more options to play with.
Making systemic change is about progress not perfection. Making change is hard, whether a business or personal change, but whenever a girl can see herself and her world reflected in culture it’s a good thing. And this is just the beginning — there’s plenty more work to be done.
6. Where do you think the confidence and girls’ empowerment movements are going?
It’s so amazing to see how open the brands I work with are to creating a positive shift in the way women and girls are portrayed in the media. This openness shows that the media is looking to show women and girls a better world through the messages they receive.
I’m seeing good things happen in the media everyday, but there are always those moments that remind us of all the work that still needs to be done. I think anytime we can bring humanity back into the conversation, and we can be less like robots and more like people, we can help companies see that the girls and women who are seeing their products want the same thing. They want the connection. They want to feel seen and recognized and celebrated. There’s enough space in the larger culture to celebrate all kinds of girls.
7. What are the worst things dads can say and do to undermine their daughters’ confidence?
It can be very damaging to try to limit a girl’s interests and potential. There are so many stereotypes about how a girl should behave, what toys she should play with, and what colors she should wear. By keeping a girl’s (or boy’s) passions and curiosities confined to a limited set of options, you confine her future and her confidence.
8. What are the best things dads can say and do to build their daughters’ confidence?
Encourage her! Explore her curiosities with her – pay attention to what she is passionate about and what lights her up. Also, let her fail, and let her learn from failure. By supporting her and accepting her in all of her complexity and multidimensionality, you validate who she is as a whole and send her an important message: she is worthy and she matters.