Women and Self-Esteem: Fake It Till You Make It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Girl, Stop Apologizing" by Rachel Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do women have such a hard time building self-esteem? What steps can you take to build up your confidence?

In her book Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis says that for women, self-esteem can be built by dressing to match how you feel on the inside, faking a confident attitude, and spending time with people who build you up. These acts may be difficult or feel fake in the beginning, but she says you just need to “fake it ’til you make it,” or in other words, act confident until you feel confident.

Keep reading to learn how to build up your self-esteem.

How to Grow Your Self-Confidence

Hollis argues that confidence is a skill because it is fluid. You aren’t born confident or insecure, but your confidence levels fluctuate over time and you can adjust them with effort. 

Hollis makes clear that confidence is important to success because if you already believe that you’re bad at something, you’re unlikely to even attempt it. In her experience, there are three distinct areas where you can develop confidence: how you look, how you act, and who you hang out with.

(Shortform note: Self-confidence is more valuable to success than most people realize. According to Psychology Today, self-confidence decreases fear and anxiety, increases motivation, builds resilience, improves your relationships, and allows you to connect with your authentic self.)

How You Look

The first area where Hollis believes you can develop self-esteem as a woman is in how you look. Right off the bat, Hollis addresses the idea of vanity. She makes the distinction that caring about what you look like does not make you vain; rather, caring what other people think about your looks is vain.

She emphasizes that confidence requires knowing who you are, and part of that is knowing what you like. She encourages you to present yourself on the outside in a way that makes you feel the most like yourself on the inside.

For instance, Hollis explains that she feels most confident when she is dressed up. She enjoys makeup, eyelash extensions, highlighted hair, and hair extensions. She enjoys wearing high heels and having her nails done. She has two friends, however, who prefer a much more casual style and would feel uncomfortable if they were styled like Hollis. 

How to Develop a Personal Style

Hollis explains why having a personal style is important, and the juxtaposition she uses between her style and her friends’ makes a clear distinction between caring about how you look and caring about how others want you to look. However, she doesn’t explain how she found her personal style. 

If you don’t yet have a personal style, or you want to change your current look, there are lots of strategies to help you find what is right for you, for example:

Assess your closet: Pick out your favorite items of clothing—the ones that make you feel like a million bucks. You might have only two or three favorite items, and that’s okay. Lay them out side-by-side, and ask yourself what they have in common. Use your answer as a theme to buy more clothing. For example, if all of your favorite dresses have a high waist, look in that direction for future purchases.

Experiment in the dressing room: Try on clothes that are out of your comfort zone. Nobody has to see them but you. You may find that something you would ordinarily pass by is perfect for you.

When in doubt, ask for help: If you don’t know how to do makeup but want to try, reach out to a friend or acquaintance who is skilled in this area, and ask her to teach you. Not sure which clothes flatter you? Take a friend shopping with you and ask for honest feedback. If you do choose to have someone help you, be sure that you’re not blindly following their advice. They should serve as a resource, not a model to imitate.

How You Act

The second area where Hollis believes you can develop confidence is in how you act.

There’s a popular adage when it comes to impostor syndrome (the worry that you lack the skills or talent to do the job in front of you): “Fake it until you make it.” Hollis believes in this strategy, although she takes issue with the phrase “fake it” because “faking it” means you lack skills. Instead, she advocates accepting opportunities for which you don’t feel entirely qualified and using the skills and experience you already have to learn the job along the way.

Hollis believes if you don’t take chances and push yourself out of your comfort zone, you won’t grow.

For example, when Hollis was an event planner, she dreamed of hosting a big event at Sundance Film Festival. She was offered an opportunity to cater an event at the festival, which she saw as a foot in the door. The problem was, she had no catering experience. She said yes anyway. She believed that even though she had not catered before, she had enough other skills and connections that she could figure it out, and she did. The following year she was invited to host her own event at Sundance. If she hadn’t taken that chance and “faked it,” she wouldn’t have accomplished her dream.

Impostor Syndrome

In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, she argues that women are more likely than men to experience impostor syndrome and are also in greater danger of limiting their success because of it. 

Sandberg notes that women are hesitant to apply for positions if they don’t feel 100% qualified. In Hollis’s case, she was partially qualified for the Sundance catering job because she was an event planner, but not completely qualified because she had never catered an event. She pushed through impostor syndrome and figured it out on the job using the skills she had.

Impostor syndrome can take several forms. Consider these findings from Lean In:

-In reviews of their own performance, women tend to rate themselves lower than others would, while men tend to rate themselves higher than others would.
-Women are more likely to attribute their success to hard work while men often attribute their success to innate qualities, such as being smart.
-When men fail, they tend to blame outside factors or an action/inaction (such as not preparing enough). When women fail, they tend to blame personal qualities (“I’m not smart enough,” for example). 

Remember, these are self-limiting beliefs and can be combated with truths.

Who You Hang Out With

The third and final area where Hollis believes you can develop confidence is in who you hang out with.

Building upon her foundational behavior of immersing yourself in a supportive community (see behavior 1), Hollis stresses that who you hang out with can have a great effect on your confidence. She believes that if you hang out with insecure people, you will doubt yourself. If you spend your time with confident and successful people, that will rub off on you as well.

(Shortform note: Surrounding yourself with positive and successful people will lift you up in several ways. These types of people are less likely to succumb to self-pity when they face challenges and instead model responsibility and perseverance. You will be presented with more opportunities for professional growth because you’re filling your network with people at the top of their game. Finally, spending time around success feeds into the Law of Attraction and will draw more of the same to you.)

Women and Self-Esteem: Fake It Till You Make It

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Rachel Hollis's "Girl, Stop Apologizing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Girl, Stop Apologizing summary:

  • Rachel Hollis's lessons she learned while building a multimillion-dollar company
  • Why "having it all" isn't something you should aspire to
  • Why women need to stop trying to fit society's idea of a "good woman"

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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