Try this little experiment: Get up, put your shoulders back, hold your head high and walk like you have your own personal wind machine. It never fails to make me feel better. But all too often, I find myself prioritizing speed over swagger, and I forget what it’s like to actually enjoy inhabiting this body that I’m in. And as I slouch toward middle age, I know I need to resist the temptation to self-consciously retreat into my shell. So I reached out to Louise Green, a personal trainer based in Vancouver, to help me resuscitate my physical confidence. “We can’t hate ourselves to a better life,” she writes in her book Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have. “We must be positive and champion ourselves, through every stage, from within.”
What are the building blocks of physical confidence? Where does it come from?
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Having the right kind of support can help set you up for success, but physical confidence has to start with yourself. It comes from accountability, discipline and showing up for yourself. People who have physical confidence get out there even when they don’t want to — they get in the water, they go for that run, they push themselves to achieve their goals. When you are wavering, wondering whether you’re tired or too busy, think about the times you did work out or tried a dance class and how confident you felt afterward. You always feel so much better than if you had just gone home and ordered pizza. The thing is, when you fail on what you say you’re going to do, it diminishes your confidence.
What affect has physical confidence had on your overall self-esteem?
For so long I based my self-worth on how I looked; I was always trying to look like a certain ideal. And like many women, I was having a very difficult time achieving that. I couldn’t lose the weight. I’d be devastated and then I’d fall off the wagon and return to old habits until I’d feel even worse and start the whole diet cycle again. I was in a constant state of failure. Then, in yet another attempt to lose weight, I joined a running group — runners always look so lean on magazine covers. When I arrived at the first class I felt like an imposter — until I saw my coach. She was plus size. For the first time ever, I saw this woman who looked like me achieving her athletic dreams. A light bulb went off for me: I realized that this body that I’m in is okay, I can do this. Being able to tap into my physical power gave me such confidence. And because I’m always pushing myself a little bit further and achieving new things, my self-esteem is so much stronger than it was.
I’m pretty familiar with that imposter feeling. What’s the best way to get past that self-consciousness?
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There’s that saying — great things never happen in comfort zones. Now I really want to be careful about shaming people, because some people are perfectly happy with where they’re at and don’t want to be uncomfortable and that’s fine. But if you want to take it to the next level — whatever that is — you’re going to have moments of discomfort. The best way to get over feeling self-conscious is to face it, step out of your comfort zone and walk through that fear. The more we push through, and just do it, the more confident we become.
Can striking a power pose — like throwing your arms up in victory or putting your feet up on a desk, boss-like — actually help?
I really believe in the power pose. Our body language does affect how we feel, so even if you aren’t feeling confident, those poses will help you start to feel more powerful. Fake it till you make it does work, especially if it’s something that aligns with your goals.
Sometimes in social settings or on public transit, I’ll catch myself trying to make myself physically smaller. I’m practically folding myself up.
When you feel yourself doing that type of body language, you need to open up. Everyone deserves to be seen and have space in the world. If you’re on the subway, grab the bar above your head, take a wide stance. Take up space and be seen.
What are some other things I could do?
Try something new, maybe something that scares you a little bit. Try Bollywood dancing or archery. Push yourself a little further, do things a little differently, let yourself be surprised at what you can do. Get out and move your body and reap the benefits of the endorphins that come with that. Self-confidence is like a muscle — it constantly needs working.
Kathryn Hayward is a fortysomething senior editor at Today’s Parent, and a mom of two.