Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Self Confidence and Women

When my daughters were young, parents were inundated with the notion that we needed to build our children’s self-esteem at every opportunity. This spilled over to youth sports, where it became the norm to distribute trophies to every child on every team at the end of the season. At last count, we still have over 3 dozen trophies stored in our basement.

Everyone’s a Winner

The rush to join the self-esteem movement wasn’t embraced by everyone. My husband insisted that the trophies were overkill and sent the wrong message; giving an award for just showing up marginalized it for everyone. Just as the carnival hawker shouts “Everyone is a winner”, you quickly surmise that they’re giving out the equivalent of a cheap trinket to all players, but very few win the big stuffed animal.

What do all these trophies have to do with self-confidence? By inflating everyone’s every move as worthy of a trophy, we’ve raised a generation where many expect constant recognition for everything they do, breeding disappointment when rewards and the big prize, such as the dream job, don’t come easily. At the other end of the spectrum, it can lead people to question whether they ever deserved any of the rewards they received.

Esteem or Confidence?

Self-esteem refers to ones sense of personal worth, and is influenced by other people telling you how great and talented you are in words and actions. Self-confidence is ones sense of their skills/abilities and belief in them to accomplish things. Building self-esteem isn’t a bad thing, but it cannot be a substitute for building one’s self-confidence. The problem is that the force-fed self-esteem tactics don’t provide a realistic view of how to develop a true sense of self and self-confidence.

The ways that girls are frequently complimented more on how they look, express themselves and include others are exemplifies how self-esteem is both conveyed and perceived by girls. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t translate into developing self-confidence. Take a look at the impact of how the media portray women. Media images of women and models perpetuate unrealistic “ideals” that can lead to body image issues and eating disorders, impacting self-esteem. However, someone who is more self-confident is less likely to feel compelled to match these ideals.


Self-confidence is something each of us develops by defining who we are, continually improving ourselves and overcoming obstacles. Typically, one will have high self-confidence in some areas and not in others. For example, I am extremely comfortable talking in front of any size audience, but still endeavor to compose consistently successful grant proposals. Believing that you can accomplish what you set out to do coupled with the request technical skills will take you a long way to achieve self-confidence.

While I am confident in many areas, I am not immune from pressures about physical appearance. I still find myself looking in the mirror, wondering if I look good enough. Usually, I shrug and remind myself that I’m the one that I have to please, smile, and go on my way.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.