We Live In a Toxic Confidence Culture

We Live In a Toxic Confidence Culture

Ben Pechey explains why ‘I wish I had your confidence’, isn’t the compliment you might think it is.

As a fashion critic and bold dresser, I often get complimented on my appearance, to some I dress in a confident exuberant manner. In an average day, I can get plenty of notice for a look that I deem quite sedate, I am very aware of the impact my dressing has in day to day relationships and conversations with people. 

A couple of weeks ago, I wore a black and white jumbo polka dot jumpsuit with a yellow striped Breton top underneath, this to me is a very casual everyday look.

Someone crossed the street specifically to say “you look amazing, but I could never wear it, I wish had your confidence”. 

Of course, I thanked her, my mother raised me well after all, but it really made me stop in my tracks. I thought about that phrase all day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a true compliment. 

Regardless of what we wear, on certain levels, we are all confident social beings. Yes, I admit we will all have differing levels of confidence. We are all capable of doing whatever we want to do. I don’t think it is just confidence that is stopping us, and to assume that this is the case, is nothing short of toxic. 

It is wild that people assume that I have an added ability to pull off outfits. There is a certain amount of blame culture in the phrase “you look amazing, I wish had your confidence”. People see me in a bold outfit and are envious, perhaps even a little bit jealous. 

They assume that I have a hidden advantage over them, I am somehow a stronger person due to my outfit choices. There seems to be a resignation, an assertion even, that they can never unlock this higher level of freedom. This toxic confidence culture causes us to think of people in hierarchical ways, that some people are just more confident than us, and they will always have an edge. 

I often think about national treasure Gok Wan, who in his seminal TV programme; How to look good naked always told us that it ‘was all about the confidence’. Now, I do agree with Gok, we do need a certain amount of affinity with ourselves to pull off more daring looks that sit out of our comfort zone. Yet there is another layer of issues at play here. We’re urged that the only thing missing in our existence is the confidence to do whatever we want. I disagree and think that this assumption is causing us to think the issue lies solely with ourselves. 

Even if we are full of confidence, we never know how other people will react. When I try a great outfit in the mirror, I already know I am into the vibe I have planned. I know my own perception of myself will not stop me wearing it.

I have not always been so free in my dressing. In the past, I was held back by one thought, and this will absolutely hold others back; what will other people think of me if I wear this? 

You see we hold an enormous amount of information about ourselves in our heads. How we are treated and seen by others feeds into this and is important to our conscience. We are talking about reputation. Yet, in reality, and I hope you are sitting down for this revelation, you don’t exist. 

Let me clarify.

The way you think others think and see you does not exist. Every single person that you meet and know will have a very different view and opinion of you, that you cannot change. This true version of yourself that you hold in your mind’s eye, only in reality exists for you, and very close family members. 

Okay so that may have been a bit deep, but to make my point I needed to highlight this issue. 

The arc of my argument should now come into full force here. We don’t need much more confidence to wear what we want. We need to realise that people don’t think of us as we do, and in reality never really have or will. So you can wear, do, say and be whatever we want, because as long as we please ourselves, then nothing can stop our ascension to becoming our truest version of ourselves. 

My secret to dressing the way I want has never been about confidence. I have long known that I cannot change how other people view me. Yes in some cases my outer appearance can shock, and to some heterosexual men, I am very unnerving. However, I am never going to be able to please all people, so focusing on pleasing myself seems like the best use of my time and effort. 

We have no control over how anyone else sees us. Think about this. Quite possibly we may not even be remembered. It should feel like a weight lifted off our shoulders because it means, that as long as we make ourselves happy, we cannot go wrong. This seems incredibly liberating, and why has it taken us this long to realise this? 

So I come back to my beloved Gok Wan, who had it kind of right, but I would just like to update it ever so slightly for 2019. 

“It is all about the confidence, to please yourself, and yourself only.” 

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