A few days ago, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I stopped abruptly at a picture of a girl; she had perfect skin, gorgeous hair and beautiful makeup.
I thought, “Damn, she’s stunning.”
I was also stunned to realize this girl was someone I had known for many years, a friend from college.
She was certainly attractive, but the façade I saw on my iPhone screen only vaguely resembled her actual appearance.
How many filters and photo editing apps did it take to get there?
That moment sparked a series of thoughts and a few very stimulating conversations with friends about confidence, the unrealistic beauty standards women are held to, what impact 21st-century dating culture has had and, ultimately, why women will never reach the sense of self-confidence they deserve:
As women, we not only compete with ourselves, but we also compete with other females.
Competition is healthy, but the problem is we aren’t just competing; we are also comparing.
We compare ourselves to other women we see in public, and we constantly look at all of those women online.
But, the majority of those online photographs are just fantasies.
Media is edited, altered and unrealistic. So, in reality, try as we might, we can’t compete – not in a healthy way at least. We will never measure up.
As the lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred, so does the way women perceive themselves.
We think we aren’t enough, even though the girl online we secretly envy doesn’t even look like herself.
All eyes on me
Women are inherently jealous. It’s in our nature to assume that as men, when you nonchalantly look over at another woman, there is something about her you want, something we don’t have ourselves.
Oh, you like her boobs? Yeah, I saw you looking. You like her, don’t you? You like her more than me? Why were you looking at her then? Why can’t you just be happy with me? I can’t believe you would do that.
This relationship is going nowhere. Kidding, only kidding.
While we know (or, at least, want to believe) you have little control over that wandering eye, we can’t help but feel insecure when you browse around.
We wish we had her abs, her boobs or her ass -- that internal dialogue above happens on the regular.
Men will never know this feeling of internal self-ridicule, at least not to the extent women do.
This is because we live in a world that values intelligence and power in men and beauty in women.
Intelligence and power are universally agreed upon concepts and can be self-confirmed.
Beauty, on the other hand, takes a greater amount of external validation.
The beauty bias
Not only does seeing ourselves as beautiful take external validation, it’s also relative. We’ve all been there.
We’ve all been told we are gorgeous, attractive or sexy by someone we care about, only to respond with a bashful, "Thank you," and immediately turn inward to think, "Yeah, right."
Sure, someone else may see that space in our teeth as adorable and endearing, but as women, when we see ugly, that’s it.
It will take a hearty amount of convincing to make us believe otherwise.
Me against the world
There is a sizable gap in confidence between men and women.
We all know men — whether it be hardwired into their brains or simply a reflection of society’s tendency to dote on male children (even in America) — are more likely to pursue challenges because they are more confident, not more competent.
Confidence affects the way we perceive ourselves in someone else’s eyes, and it impacts the risks we take and the overall goals we set for ourselves.
So, to live in a culture that puts so much weight on external beauty — beauty impacted by outward validation — is to invariably set women up for failure from the start.
As women, when we do not succeed, we blame ourselves.
We see our failures as something we did wrong, and these failures, in turn, affect our confidence.
In general, men see their failures as a result of external elements, things that were out of their control.
Didn’t get a second date?
Girl: I probably said something weird. Ah, I suck at this whole dating thing. Maybe I should just stop trying to date for a while.
Guy: Eh, she wasn’t that cool anyway.
See what I did there?
Send message or keep playing?
How does modern dating play into this self-confidence conundrum? Two words: options and accountability.
It’s obvious that apps like Tinder have dramatically impacted the way our generation dates. Think he has a wandering eye?
He also has a wandering finger. That cute line he fed you 15 minutes ago? He also sent it to six other girls.
Take the New York City dating scene, for example. In NYC, it's all too easy to grab drinks with Girl A on Monday, take a lovely walk around the Williamsburg Pier with Girl B on Tuesday, get dinner in SoHo with Girl C on Thursday and hit up the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Girl D on Saturday.
I’d venture to assume this scenario isn’t unique just to NYC, either.
We realize men have options; we have them, too.
But, as women, we rush to assume we did something wrong when a guy doesn't text back after that great date.
There are too many options and no accountability. Suddenly, your confidence just took a nosedive.
Yellow brick road
How do we overcome this confidence challenge? Where do we close the gap between how we see ourselves and how we should see ourselves as women in a society that is, quite frankly, built against us?
To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I do think it begins with a shift of mindset. Limiting beliefs about ourselves limits our capacity to reach our full potential.
Increasing self-validation is a step in the right direction to increasing self-confidence.