So the other day, I had one of those self-confidence sapping moments I am wont to experience every now and then. I was walking back to my car after a lovely lunch with former colleagues, wearing my current favourite outfit: red and white message tee, navy Veronica Beard suit, red loafers, and carrying my new red bag.

I’d felt like a million bucks when I left the house that morning. But as I hurried to my car, past a long row of tinted, plate glass windows, the kind that are perfectly mirror-like, I caught a glimpse of myself. Horrors. Leading with my chin as I do when I’m walking quickly, I looked round-shouldered, and thick through the middle. And for a moment, I thought, “What.. am.. I.. doing? An old lady, in skinny pants and message tee, trying to look cool, but succeeding only in looking like mutton dressed as lamb.” I know, I overreacted. As usual.

But, if we imagine my self-confidence as a deep bathtub filled with water, then that moment was like pulling the plug. And in the ensuing few minutes until I had scurried past the long row of windows, meanwhile sneaking two more peeks at my side-ways reflection, and inwardly groaning, I swear I could hear gurgling as the last of my metaphorical water/confidence slipped down the drain. Glug. Glug.

The beginning of my non-photogenic phase back in 1958. Ha. Poor baby.

I know you’ve heard all this before on the blog because it happens to me every once in a while. Some trigger occurs, and I wallow for a bit. Not in self-pity, but in self-doubt. It usually doesn’t last long. These confidence sapping moments are transitory. Maybe I should say self-esteem sapping moments, since psychologists define confidence as “trust in our own abilities, capabilities, and judgement” while self-esteem refers to our “ideas about our own worth or value.” (source.) Whatever we call it, I lost it for a few days because of a brief moment last week.

It’s pretty much back now, but it started me thinking about how fragile my self-image is even now at age (almost) sixty-two. Most of the time I trundle along, pretty confident in my abilities, pretty aware of my own value. Trying to maintain a “realistic but positive view” of myself. Which is what psychologists recommend. Too little confidence leads to an inability to achieve our goals or lead a happy life, too much and we stray into narcissism territory. And I started wondering how other people navigate their moments of self-doubt. And what triggers the doubt to begin with.

A sad looking me in so many ways on a canoe trip back in the eighties.

So I asked my walking buddies this morning what it was that sapped their self-confidence. Like me they’re sometimes slammed by negative body image. One friend said she had a moment just like mine recently. She had her picture taken on an evening out with her husband, wearing a new dress that she loves, and which she thought looked amazing, and made her feel amazing… until she saw the photo. Sometimes it’s criticism from others that hurts, and leads to the doubt. Especially criticism from close friends or spouses. And most annoying, we all said, is implied criticism that is served up with a rueful smile and an easily deniable delivery. You know, those sly comments that make you want to ask, “Just what do you mean by that?” But you don’t because it sounds petty or defensive.

Trying to be realistic and not get caught up in negative thoughts is important, one friend said. Yep. And what also helps, we all agreed, is supportive family and friends. Those compliments about the new hair cut, or the outfit, or whatever, are a gift some days. One friend said that she hated to admit how much she relies on friends for this. “You mean, like comments on how beautiful you look this morning?” I asked. “Or how much fun you are, and how we enjoy your company?” another friend quipped. “Yeah. Like that,” she smiled back.

But, you know, I also think that no matter how supportive family and friends are, if we don’t believe in ourselves then their comments don’t help. At least that’s how it is for me. I need something else to screw my self-image back into a healthy “realistic but positive” place. I need to get my perspective back, to change how I see myself. Developing a plan to tackle whatever issue crops up almost always works for me. And sometimes, when my self-image has taken a beating, taking photos for this blog helps. Weird as it sounds. I’ve learned that eventually, after lots of tries, most days I get a good shot or two. And I can look at the terrible ones and laugh because I know it’s one view, one shot, one perspective… there are always others.

Last year looking buxom and bloated during my EF crisis of confidence.

See that shot of me above? No photographer could have made that Eileen Fisher top and that flowy scarf look anything but unflattering. A week or so later I took this shot of me, below, all dressed up for a family wedding. I like this photo. When it appeared on the blog my Mum called me and said, “Susie, what a beautiful picture on your post. You look just like a movie star.” Ahh, thanks Mum. What a difference a week makes, eh?

All dressed up and ready to party. Not Lana Turner, except in my mum’s eyes.

I’ve had a lifetime of being unphotogenic. Partly because I always felt embarrassed when someone took my picture, so I’d smirk, or slouch making myself look round-shouldered and pot-bellied, or close my eyes, or look down triggering three chins. I didn’t realize I could take a good photo until I met Hubby, and even he used to get exasperated trying to get a good shot. Taking my own photos was a revelation. I stopped feeling silly, after all it was only me and myself in the room.

Self-confidence is something I’ve always struggled with. Obviously appearance is not the only thing that contributes to feelings of self-worth and confidence. Working hard and achieving realistic goals, positive and constructive feedback, success in our endeavours, all kinds of things give us confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Teaching helped me, oddly enough. Standing in front of thirty teenagers does not sound like a recipe for instilling confidence, but finding something that I felt I was good at and loved doing was a god-send for me. Still, appearance and body-image have always been where I’m most vulnerable. And blogging has really helped with that. I’m sort of curating my self-confidence. I have a ton of accumulated photos taken for the blog. Lots of crappy shots of myself, some pretty good ones, and some that I look at and feel really pleased with. It’s particularly pleasing that the best photos I have of me at this point in my life are those that I’ve taken in the last four years. Not the ones from years ago when I was much younger. Some days I look back at those younger photos of me slouching, smirking, with three chins, and I think, don’t worry about getting older, silly, it’s not as if you were a movie star back in the day. Ha. Those shots keep me from idealizing my youthful self.

I should have remembered all that last week when I caught sight of myself in that window. Maybe I should have risked embarrassing myself. I should have stood there on the sidewalk, and turned to face the window, taking a good look, knowing that a side view is NOT my best angle, and knowing that if I turned this way and that, one of the views would satisfy. Eventually. Then I should have said to myself, “This is you at (almost) sixty-two. You’re not Lana Turner, but you’re not bad.” Then I could have happily hurried along to my car.

“We all need to take more selfies,” I announced to my friends this morning on our walk, “Seriously. Lots and lots. And laugh at the bad ones because there are many more good ones. Works a treat on the old self-image.”

And, I should have added, we should store those photos, all the good ones and the odd not so good one, just to keep the self-image realistic you understand, on our phone or computer, in a big folder labelled “Curated confidence… use as required.”

Then we need to go camping out in the bush for a week or so and forget about the whole thing.

Now it’s your turn, my friends. I’ll ask you the same questions I asked my walking buddies this morning. Do you still have moments of self doubt? What triggers loss of self-confidence for you? And how do you navigate those moments?


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54 thoughts on “Curating Confidence”

  1. Interesting post! I generally have always been a confident, positive person. However every so often – last night actually – I look in a mirror outside of my home and am really not that happy with what I see, even though I was when I left home. I think it happens to most of us. I also hate most of my photos. You look great in that suit btw. Lise

    1. But, you see, that view of me in my suit is only from my best side. If I'd taken a side-ways shot it would have been waay different. Ha.

  2. Stupid mirrors…. what do they know anyway? LOL I understand entirely. I have lots of good moments followed by bad moments. Mostly it's a weight issue for me, and trying to lose some of it is simply not working out. BUT, if I lose the weight then loose skin will take over and I won't like THAT either. LOL Aging ain't for the faint of heart when it comes to looking into a mirror.

    1. Losing weight is a complex path isn't it? So many, many people are unsuccessful. I heard a documentary a year or so ago that said the average weight loss over several years for people who went on diets was ONE pound. Most gained all of the weight back and more. Plus if we lose weight our faces look older. It's a minefield!

  3. I think you look fantastic in your navy suit. Trust your mirror, not window reflections! We are surrounded with messages and media that showcase youth and often diminish those of us who are well outside that age group. But we are a growing segment of the population and I hope that starts to change the images we admire. Focus on all your positive traits, the contributions you have made in your life. That is what truly matters.

    1. Thanks, Deanne. While I applaud the move to put older women in advertising… they're all just as beautiful now as they were beautiful when they were young… and they're all thin. You're right we have to focus on our positive traits. Kindness, sense of humour, intelligence… whatever.

  4. You look fabulous of course & I wish I took such a good photo these days but it would be a strange person whose confidence didn’t faulter at times . I know mine does . I try not to focus too much on my appearance , without giving up completely . But still , the odd glance in a mirror under harsh shop lights , when I’m not smiling , can be disheartening . Aging is normal & we will be much happier if we accept that & roll along with it . So much other stuff is more important . Your intelligence , the knowledge & skills you have accumulated in your life & travels , the love & respect of your friends & family ( & former pupils ) , your sense of humour & last but not least your health . Too much is made of beauty in these celebrity led times . Even bloggers & Instagram folk pop up looking younger than they did a couple of years ago , which is odd 🙂 Your post today is a reminder that none of us are perfect & we all have doubts .
    Wendy from York

    1. That's a good way to put it…focus on our appearance less without giving up completely. I'm trying to wear less make-up, to stop stressing about my hair, and dress comfortably… without giving up. Bit of a tightrope walk.

  5. We all suffer from these moments. I think it is quite normal as we age. Our reflection in the mirror doesn't match up with the reflection in our minds.

    When this happens to me I remind myself that I am healthy and have a roof over my head with food to eat. Things could always be worse. These other so called problems are very trivial in the grand scheme of life.

    I too look back on some photos of myself from blogging a few years back and think I look better now although I wonder if that is because I've finally learned my angles and have better lighting.


    1. Good point, Suzanne. My lighting is better these days which means I look worse in my blog photos… I guess I was doing accidental soft-focus.I can't imagine why Bloggers and IG users try to manipulate their photos so much. I always imagine meeting someone afterward and having them say I look so much older in person! Ha.

  6. I think you look great in your outfit. A quick glance in the store window is just that. And Eileen Fisher is great for hiding my figure when I have one of those days when I feel bloated. I have had self-esteem issues all my life so far! My parents were especially critical of me when I was a young child. When I needed glasses at age 9 because I was reading in bed under the blankets with a flashlight, my father proclaimed in the eyeglass store that he was choosing the UGLIEST FRAMES he could find to punish me. That started me down a long road of feeling completely ugly. I have had to find this feeling as long as I can remember. On the positive side, I do try to dress nicely and put together when I go out of the house.

    1. I read in my research yesterday, that confidence can be built from positive experience, but self-esteem is much more difficult to alter once it's negative. I'd certainly go along with that.

  7. Oh…can I ever relate to the words you wrote. Self confidence? Self esteem? Positive self image? Not much of any of those things at many points in my life BUT I practice giving pep talks to me just as I used to do for students who needed it at certain times in their lives. Self doubting times find me jotting down on paper all the things that are going well in my life including gratitude for my health and opportunities to enjoy our home, travel, shop for wardrobe updates and read great books. You look beautiful and trendy in your outfit and I wager received many admiring glances from people you walked passed. Photographs (and store window reflections) are a split second moments in our lives and shouldn't bring the angst that they often do when they capture unflattering images…get rid of the bad ones and keep the good. Isn't that advice that can apply to many other parts of our lives? Cheers, Alayne

  8. I can so relate to your post. I really did LOL at the comment… "I think, don't worry about getting older, silly, it's not as if you were a movie star back in the day" I groaned a few weeks ago when a photographer took a family picture at my daughter's graduation last week. I hate how I look but both my daughters want that picture since we don't have many of the four of us. I guess I'll just have to remember that I wasn't a movie star back in the day.

    1. Looking at photos back when I was younger always make me realize that it's just one perspective captured in the photo. And make me relieved.

  9. First, I love your style choices, and you NEVER look like mutton. Second, I absolutely know what you mean about a sudden unflattering glimpse shattering self-confidence. Just had it happen today–it was a picture of me on a hike, so I wasn't spiffed up, but boy did my 65- year-old boobs look matronly. The irony–I've always been small-chested!

    1. Oh dear. I remember an Oprah show from years ago about bras and how low our boobs should be. The things we have to worry about!

  10. I gobbled up this post. It connects so perfectly with my own struggles of self worth and self confidence. For what it's worth, I loved that outfit with the tee, blazer, and red shoes. You really rock it. It was also fun to see the older photos of you–the baby photo made me smile out loud.

    You're right about selfies/blog photos helping somehow. I have given this advice to my sister as well. Sometimes it feels like a narcissistic exercise to take photos of myself but in my heart it's a creative expression and when I am creating something, I feel most at peace. The fact that it also makes me feel less critical of myself just makes it a win-win.

    Thank you for posting this. As soon as I post this comment, I will sign up to receive more from you. It's a joy to discover your blog. Thanks for visiting mine and commenting so we could finally "meet."

    – Sherry

  11. Self-esteem is indeed tied to body image for so many women, and that extends well into middle-age though many of us don’t like to admit it. I might suggest that you are fortunate if you only feel your self-confidence seeping away occasionally; some of us find it happening regularly and have throughout our lives, often a function of weight. Other reasons: the voices of “not good enough” in our heads, and commentary from assaholic men — until we have the good sense to dismiss their nonsense.)

    I totally understand the feeling you are expressing, these feelings become even more challenging as we grow older as women, but I will say that personality and intelligence and compassion and character never the less shine through. You are fortunate again, clearly, to have cultivated and to be in possession of an abundance of all of these. And besides that, you are quite beautiful! You should bask in it!

    1. Thanks, for the kind words, DA. That critical voice in my head is not my husband's or any man's. The women in my family have always been quite pointed in their comments.

  12. Hi Sue
    "Too little confidence leads to an inability to achieve our goals or lead a happy life, too much and we stray into narcissism territory."
    Isn't this the truth!
    Reading all the comments and your blog, I see I'm in good company! Having a learning disability didn't help my self esteem when growing up. At this age it has made me stronger in many ways….some days! 😉

    1. The article I was reading went on to talk about how parents need to help kids be realistic in their self-assessment. Too much unfounded confidence can apparently be damaging. Made me wonder if we're not producing a whole generation of narcissists.

  13. I loved reading this post, perfect timing too as I am joining my best friend and her family for a week vacation at the beach. After a long slump of not caring, I bought several new outfits at bargain prices and am looking forward to feeling fabulous.

  14. You look great. You are dressed excellent. These are objective facts.
    We are not static,we talk,walk,smile,frown (your childhood photo is so adorable),gesticulate….we express ourself in so many ways and we are unique. It is not only conventional beauty,it is charm,personality,inteligence,knowledge,experience,sympathy….. that counts
    But,little worm of suspicion is laying in everyone of us and,from time to time,it lifts its ugly head-I completely agree with Wendy-when I'm not smiling and catch my reflection in a window….well,I better begin to smile 🙂
    I can't identify what exactly makes me sometimes dissatisfied,something trivial,a remark or bad mood….We have learned in psychology how emotions and frame of mind play important role in the way how we see ourselves (or someone else)
    I'm sure that in a couple of years,looking at photos from today,I would be sorry that I didn't enjoy more (and not be so critical and focused on bad sides) how I look now.
    Sometimes,everything one needs is a different perspective

    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. I find it really hard to NOT be self-critical. I always thought I would age out of that… but it hasn't happened yet.

  15. Trying not to give the mean critic in one's head space to ruin a mood, or more, is an ongoing fight but so worth it. For me frequently the mean critic is harking back to much earlier in my life, and specifically the voice of my loving but hyper-critical mother. She had no idea the negative messages she was giving me, I'm sure.


  16. Gee, I thought I was the only one with these "moments". Ironic too since I often try to emulate your style…even bought the Veronica Beard suit, thinking it looked great on me till I caught a side view reflection. Yikes! I thought – I just don't have as long and lean of a leg or great looking ankles like Sue, my middle it much thicker, maybe because I am older, on and on. Now I really doubt wearing it; hard to get "that" image out of your brain.
    Lack of confidence, self esteem or whatever you call it, my slide can start with a bad reflection or photo or it can start with looking at other women and comparing myself – "If only I was _____ (insert thinner, taller, shorter, prettier, hipper..) like her."

    1. You haven't seen MY middle, girl. I remember saying to Hubby one night after my bath, that we always see other women at their best, and we see ourselves at our worst getting out of the tub, hair sticking up, everything wrong on full display. That's why having a few shots from our best side is so affirming. Wear your Veronica Beard suit with pride!

    2. Way too hard on ourselves. As long as our main guys think we look great… My husband seeing me get out of the shower (yikes) or getting ready for bed (insert eyebrow wiggle here) is one of those rare times I am thankful for how our eyesight has deteriorated over the years! I imagine it is a little bit like that vaseline on the lense soft focus photography used in '30's.

  17. So true that a comment can ruin your confidence. My son's wedding is tomorrow. It's a casual affair in a bookstore in downtown New York. My hairdresser of 35 years asked to see a picture of the dress, wrinkled her nose and said the neckline needs to be lowered. It does have a somewhat high neckline and I do have a 66-year-old chin so now I dread wearing this beautiful Elie Tahari dress. I considered shopping for another dress but I have decided that I will have such a big smile on my face that no one will be looking at my chin.
    On to my skin – earlier this week I did some routine lip waxing (oh the things we have to do). The facialist looked at me and said my skin is dehydrated and she could bring my glow back with a collagen treatment. My logical mind says she is trying to upsell her services. Well you know where my illogical mind is going…

    1. Really? Wow. That's a bit presumptuous to say, even if you have known her for a long time. I love my hairdresser, and trust her judgement about my hair implicitly. But we have very different taste in clothes. Keep the dress… I love Elie Tahari clothes.

  18. I try not to get down on myself. That said it is very hard sometimes when you look in the mirror as you try on clothes in a store. Somehow the years flew by and my skinny youthful self is no longer there. I have learned to buy clothing that hides my middle. I am thankful every day for the important things in life. I think it is important that we complement others. Sometimes one nice comment will make their day. You always look great in your photos and I enjoy reading your blog.

  19. I went to go see the movie Book Club with MY Book Club. Afterwards, I was struck by how critical women are of themselves and each other. I was blessed to be raised by a warm but no nonsense mother who often said "It's nice to be pretty, but it's more important to be nice." Of course, I like to look nice. We all do. I feel fortunate that this critical self talk and self loathing I hear around me does not take up a lot of space in my head. By the way- Candace Bergen made me laugh out loud. Her line about eating ice cream made my day!

    1. I saw that movie the other night with my book club. Ha. Candace Bergen was the best. Everyone else paled in comparison to her… even Diane Keaton.

  20. Sue, I'm so happy you thought about and posted on these topics — our bodies, our clothing and styles, our confidence, our self esteem, and selfies. They're so front-of-mind for almost all of us.

    Second, I hope you DO KNOW that window reflections are not very accurate portrayals of what we actually look. Double glazed windows can expand by double digit percentages the width of our body images. For instance, there's a double-glazed glass door in my house that makes me look like I weigh (not exaggerating here!) 30 pounds more than I really weigh. I've learned to laugh at it and be glad I'm not 30 pounds heavier than I actually am.

    And then there's the Power of Posture. 😉 The older I get, the better I look in every way merely by standing up straighter, pushing my shoulders back, and sticking my tits out. At 72 years old, these efforts don't actually make me look ridiculous, at least I don't think they do. I think this effort with my posture just helps me look taller, move more loosely and look and feel more youthful. I'm also doing some physical therapy this spring for a pinched nerve in my neck that focuses on back and neck postures, and it's helping me in more ways that merely medical.

    And no, you don't look the least bit muttonesque. You are one of the coolest looking women I know. 🙂

    Ann in Missouri

    1. Oh.. that is so good to know about double glazed windows. Maybe the one I was looking into was triple glazed. Ha.
      I hear you about posture. Being tall and sooo skinny as a teenager I always slumped. And that came back to haunt me in later years in the form of upper back and neck issues. Too many years of skiing and paddling with poor posture, not to mention all those years of marking. I focus a lot now on better posture, dropping my shoulders, and angling my boobs up in the air is what a female sports medicine doctor told me years ago. That plus physio every so often and nightly back and neck stretching. Still… when I'm walking quickly I lead with my chin. My mum is the same. My brother used to say that Mum always walked like she was heading into a strong wind. Ha. Me too.
      Thanks for the kind words. I guess you must be getting ready for your trip soon?

  21. Sue, I hoped to get back earlier and comment on this post because there's just so much that resonates for me. The rhythms and activities of travel aren't working very well for commenting, though (nor, for that matter, for responding to comments on my own blog), so please just know that I think this is a very fine and necessary post, and I thank you for it.

    1. Thanks, Frances. Hope your trip is wonderful… and don't worry about the commenting. It's hard enough to write posts when travelling let alone worry about anything else blog related.

  22. This is something I’ve pondered on recently as how we feel can be so intertwined with how we “think” or perceive we look. Why do we feel amazing in an outfit one day and think it looks dreadful a month or so later ? I also heartily agree that whilst I may be happy looking straight on in a mirror, catching a glimpse of my side view, especially in a shop window, can make me wonder what happened in a few hours! 🙂
    I think a lot of my feelings are because I’m heavier than I’d like to be, especially, as others have commented here, around my middle.
    On the plus side I’m rarely unhappy with my hair or my make up now, when for years I was generally unhappy with both! I think I’m less concerned perhaps. Although better quality make up and hair products definitely help.
    One conclusion I have come to is that unless they are unwell most people look the same most of the time … I notice my friends lovely outfits, how good their hair and make up looks I don’t ever think they don’t look good, they look like themselves. So, I guess that’s how I look too, that is, pretty much the same regardless of how I’m feeling! Also feeling happy is the best way to look good!!
    Another great topic and discussion here Sue, thanks for writing it. Love the picture of young Sue with her lollipop!

    1. Funnily enough, despite numerous hair angst posts, I don't worry about my hair as much as I used to. And my make-up never. Hair products have really helped. But as much as I cheered the invention of the flattening iron, I rarely use mine now. You're so right…we all just look like ourselves.

  23. …. and btw Sue, having met you twice IRL, the first time it was incredibly hot and humid, the second pouring with rain ( to begin with at least) neither are easy weather to dress for and you looked great on each occasion, you may have felt differently though, I realise now. I know I felt less than confident, especially on the first occasion, in the heat. … and somewhat bedraggled on the second! 🙂 I think it's really useful that we're talking here about how we feel, in relation to how we look…. and to realise that so many of us feel exactly the same.

    1. Thanks, Rosie. Those were two very opposite weather days, weren't they? By the way… loved your navy cropped pants and sweater when we met in Stratford. And that linen tunic when we met in Ottawa. You didn't look bedraggled on either day, but very pulled together and chic.

  24. I most certainly do have doubts about my looks all the time. I ask myself – what am I thinking trying to be a fashion blogger. I look exhausted half the time. Then I remember I AM a fashion blogger and I'm setting my own rules in my tiny corner of the internet. LOVE that picture of you at the wedding – gorgeous! xx

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