Finding confidence amongst the most beautiful women in the world

Abby Koshollek

Confidence is something I think about a lot. Probably way too much. I know right away when other people have it and I am envious in comparison that I don’t. My default reaction to another woman’s fearless aura is to wish I was more like her. It took me almost four years in college to not get nervous or overthink speaking up in class even when I knew I had the right answer. I like to think that I am more sure of myself now, but still I find I have to pump myself up by blasting my Lady Power playlist before a meeting or event or even walking to class in the morning. I often psych myself out by internally saying that I am unprepared for a situation and everyone else around me instinctively knows what to do, how to act, and what to say.

Of course, this thought that everyone is in on some confidence secret that I don’t have isn’t true. In my mind I know this. I tell myself this before starting a new job or experience and I still get nervous. I’ve had conversations with countless friends and mentors that prove to me everyone is shaky in their confidence. Everyone views themselves as out of place at one point or another.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern in São Paulo, Brazil. As a city of 12 million people, the energy was incredible. The skyline was all consuming and you were both a living part of it and viewing it around you at any given time. New York might be the “city that never sleeps” but in São Paulo, some of the clubs don’t open until 6 or 7 in the morning for the after, after, after parties. The myth that Brazilian women are the most beautiful in the world was true. The beaches were straight out of a Lonely Planet guidebook and the people were some of the most welcoming I have ever met. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and incredibly intimidated.  However, although a monster at first, as time passed, Brazil became the place I felt myself slowly becoming more confident in every action. After a while, I began to feel unapologetically womanly, fierce, and empowered in ways I never have before in the US.

Why did it take a summer of indulging in the best meats, fried pastels, and sugary caipirinhas and still wearing a miniscule swimsuit bought from a man selling them on the beach for me to feel like my body was no longer a burden? Why, on the long bus rides home from work, did I not compare myself to the professional women around me with their pin straight hair and unique sense of style? Why was I less afraid to chat up guys at bars even though I barely spoke Portuguese?

Yes, I was in a place that I never experienced before, so I had little knowledge of the unspoken cultural norms about fitting in before coming there. Yes, there was the natural honeymoon phase of every travel experience where everything was cool and the best. But I think it was something more.

One of the very first conversations I had there was with a woman that helped coordinate my internship as she picked me up from the airport. As we drove into the city and into my temporary home, I questioned her about the people I would meet and what they were like. She told me that people would like me because I was American but before they found that out, they would assume I was Brazilian. “Anyone can be Brazilian” she remarked. She was referring to the great diversity of races and ethnicities, genders, body shapes, and backgrounds that Brazilians are proud of. Of course there were, and still are, problems with racism and discrimination however, the general mindset of anyone belonging to the country and anyone being welcome to be themselves in Brazil was something I haven’t really experienced before.

On a Brazilian beach, everyone wore tiny thong bikinis or tight trunks, regardless of age, shape, or size. That would not happen in most places in America, partly because of our different values for how bodies should or shouldn’t be shown, and partly because Americans are focused on perfection. Growing up, I didn’t like my body and it took me a long time to get to a place where I could look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. In Brazil, I felt as if the people around me were ok being their authentic selves, and women liked how they looked, valuing their appearance but with less of an air of bringing others down in the process. In America, the beach is usually a stressful place for people, especially women and girls, as comparisons run high while self esteem runs low. In my experience, Brazilian beaches were a great equalizer where the other women are beautiful, but so are you. This summer, I truly internalized what it meant when they say, “someone else’s beauty and confidence does not diminish your own”. Just as anyone can physically be Brazilian, anyone can be their unique beautiful self without taking it away from another. For me, this was liberating.

Now back in the states, these issues are constantly on my mind. This semester, I am TAing for a leadership course centered around community building. One of the concepts from the course is a Southern African philosophy called ubuntu. It roughly means “I am because we are”. Our communities are most vibrant when each of us individually is our best and vice versa. So how do we do this? How do we create a world where we feel like everyone can belong and everyone can be their best, most confident selves? I want the women in my life to feel truly themselves when they go out into the world and to function at their highest potential, no matter where they are in the world. I want women I have never met, and never will meet to do the same. Although a world that lacks negative comparisons and values individual confidence will be hard to achieve, I believe the first steps are to empower women to know their own agency, especially those women who have been and still are marginalized the most. I am excited to begin my own journey with Find Your Power and to aid women in gaining access to information that will enrich their lives and better themselves. If we want strong communities for the future, we must put our efforts into encouraging strong and confident women now. When one of us does better, we all do.