Are you struggling with feelings of self-doubt or criticising yourself for not being 'enough'? Let’s look at some ways to build confidence within the female experience when the world is swollen with perfectionist standards

It feels like we’re living in a world where women can do nothing right. The TikTok criticism of Rachel Zegler’s comments about her portrayal of Disney’s Snow White and the empowering choice to prioritise leadership over marriageability this week has led me to wonder about how women can step away from self-doubt when there is a multitude of external traps. In Rachel Zegler’s words,

“She's not going to be saved by the prince and she's not going to be dreaming about true love.”

A similar social media attack on Barbie’s “anti-man” stance recently also feels like something that puts female power at its core intention is somehow never quite up to scratch. America Ferrera’s immortal Barbie speech on womanhood encapsulates the female experience masterfully.

“It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault. I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.”

So, how can we centre ourselves in feelings of self-worth when the world can feel like a vortex of fault-finding? Here are a few suggestions to reduce the punctures of perfectionism.

1. Be curious about conditioning

Hands up if you carry ‘good girl’ conditioning. Yep! It has taken me a lot of work to realise there are many faces of womanhood, and the ones that come with a ‘nicer’ varnish aren’t any less valuable than the ones that come with an unromantic edge. That’s not to diminish the importance of being kind, it’s simple to recognise that women are often subjected to assumptions and criticisms that can lead to a rejection of certain parts of themselves that are seen as ‘unideal’.

In her article, What is feminist counselling? integrative counsellor Jodi Pilcher (BACP Accred) talks about her experience with a female client struggling with ‘likeability’ issues and the struggle between being accepted and speaking her truth. In this example, Jodie talks about the value of feminist counselling as a tool of recognition; we all embody messages from our upbringing to both survive and be seen as acceptable in this world.

The individual issues experienced were a reaction to wider cultural messages and power balances that can only be understood when we keep in mind what it is like to be a woman in the Western world. It is also important to recognise other inequalities that can be at play, such as race, or social status, that can intersect with these realities and create additional power imbalances.

Curiosity will only go so far, but it can help our understanding of why we may internalise external criticism and find it hard to believe in ourselves.

2. Step away from comparisons

This may mean spending less time on social media as self-doubt can stem from comparing ourselves to others. It’s only natural to do this to some extent, but observations of other people are subjective and we can only be presented with a filtered lens of that person’s world. Wonder about the value that scrolling is adding to your life. If you feel good about it then great! But if it’s draining your energy and making you feel ‘less than’, it may be time to unfollow a few accounts or simply spend less time on there.

Instead, celebrate your unique traits and how you contribute to the world in your own lovely and deeply personal way. This doesn’t have to mean grand gestures or big milestones (although it can do), but bringing a smile to someone’s face or doing something that feels good to you are ways of appreciating your uniqueness without worrying about how other people are going about their lives. This can help when it comes to moving away from feelings of self-doubt as there’s no one else that you’re trying to ‘pitch up against’.

3. Stop bending over backwards (or do it less)

People pleasing to gain a sense of acceptance can get the better of many of us. And in many ways, it’s only to be expected as most of us crave that heart-warming feeling of a sense of belonging. But if it means we’re forgetting how to say “no” when we’re running at our maximum or end up doing something that simply doesn’t fit in with our core beliefs, we’re putting what other people need and want before our own sense of self-worth.

If you’re concerned that people-pleasing patterns are becoming overwhelming or interfering with your everyday life, you may find speaking with a one-to-one counsellor helpful.

4. Reframe your thoughts

When we are intentional about improving our quality of thoughts, we can actively change the way we speak to ourselves for the better. This may look like having a deeper awareness of the kind of things you say to yourself. If you believe that you can change the way you think about yourself, then you probably can! That’s not to suggest bypassing real, raw feelings or reframing every situation to be seen through a positive lens, it's about catching those obvious (and sneaky) thoughts that shed you in an unnecessary light. It’s OK to make mistakes and as America Ferrera said not fold yourself in half to be worthy.

Rapid transformational hypnotherapist, Grace McGeehan talks about the power of thoughts in her article, The power of affirmations.

By replacing negative self-talk, negative thoughts about ourselves and negative beliefs about ourselves, with more positive, powerful and specific ones, it can have a profound impact. It all comes back to the power of our thoughts!

What kind(ish) things might you say to yourself, today? My final thoughts are simply to congratulate yourself for your actions and efforts, even if they aren't always considered a success by the outer world. And what does this really mean, anyway? You are worthy of self-worth. And when you live by this mantra, it will let others know this is how you expect to be treated.