Having confidence is a lifelong process marked with ups and downs. Though the famous and successful often seem to emanate self-assurance from every pore, for many, confidence has been an ongoing evolution. Below, 25 women, from Michelle Obama and Gal Gadot to Serena Williams and Judge Judy Sheindlin discuss overcoming their insecurities and what it felt like when they established a voice.
“I wasn’t always so sure of myself. [Laughs] I still have moments where I’m not, but I got tired of that feeling. At the end of the night, I’m the only one that has to deal with me, and I realized that fighting spirit that my grandmother had was in me. I grew up around matriarchs and strong women who stepped up and provided for the family when the men weren’t there. They were leaders. Being surrounded by women like that, I knew it was in my blood to be the same way.” — Vibe, March 2015
“I guess they couldn’t relate to me because I’m Black, I’m strong, I’m powerful and I’m confident. My arms might not look like the girl over there or my legs might not look like someone else or my butt or my body or my anything, if they don’t have a problem with it then I look them in the eye and say, ‘if you don’t like it, I don’t want you to like it. I’m not asking you to like it.’ I like it and I love me and there’s other people that do look like me and they have to love them and I’m not going to sit around and harp on those people that feel so negatively.” — Essence, December 2016
“A lot has happened in a short time, but I think my greatest accomplishment is my continued will to live authentically. If you are trans and/or gender nonconforming, your (way of) life persists as a question in frequent need of answering. To answer the question with love and confidence — over and over — is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Trans is tough, but it’s beautiful.” — Interview, March 2016
“I’m not tired of talking about hair in the sense of it being an empowering thing. I know when I used to chemically straighten mine, I did it because I wasn’t comfortable with my natural hair. I thought it was too poofy, too kinky. So for me, personally, when I started wearing it natural, it felt like I was blossoming because I was letting go of all the dead hair and all the parts of me that had rejected my natural state. But, you know, it’s not like that for all black girls. Some have their hair straight because that’s just how they like it, and it doesn’t mean that they accept themselves any less.” — Teen Vogue, February 2016
On finding her voice: “It had to be [when I was] very young, but I’m sure I wasn’t cognizant of it at the time. And I think that I was one of the fortunate women who found my voice early because I had an older brother, and I was very close to my father — and to my mother too. I was always involved in discussions at the dinner table, and I was always neck and neck with my brother whenever there was an activity. So if my father was playing catch with my brother, I was right there. If he taught him how to box, he taught me how to box. I had this wonderful reinforcement from the men in my life, even though my mom was always somebody who encouraged both of us to express our ideas — she talked to us as if we were little people and not babies or kids.” — Women’s Health, August 2012
“One of the first things people usually ask me is, ‘Gabourey, how are you so confident?’ I hate that. I always wonder if that’s the first thing they ask Rihanna when they meet her.
‘RiRi! How are you so confident?’ Nope. No. No. But me? They ask me with that same incredulous disbelief every single time. ‘You seem so confident! How is that?’ … I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time. And my mother and my father love me.
They wanted the best life for me, and they didn’t know how to verbalize it. And I get it. I really do. They were better parents to me than they had themselves.
I’m grateful to them, and to my fifth-grade class, because if they hadn’t made me cry, I wouldn’t be able to cry on cue now. [Dabs tears] If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented.
And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable. [Dabs tears] So when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!” — Gloria Awards and Gala, Vulture, May 2014
“I have three siblings who are all 10+ years older than me. I was an accident, or as I prefer to call myself, a ‘blessing.’ My two sisters and my brother were so loving and attentive to me. They spoiled me with attention, brought me on dates when they were in high school, introduced me to great art and music, and taught me how to have confidence.” — AAFCA, May 2016
“My number-one thing is that [confidence] doesn’t just happen. You shouldn’t feel discouraged if you’re not waking up and feeling amazing about yourself. That’s not necessarily how it works. It doesn’t take one shopping spree to give you that confidence. It’s a developing process. Everyone goes at their own speed. For me, it’s just something you have to continue to work on. It’s a growth and a process. As long as you take every opportunity to learn more about yourself and fall more in love with yourself every day, you’re doing good … For everyone [getting in tune with yourself]’s different. For me, it’s kind of been about fashion and experimenting, and trying things has made me less afraid of what other people think of me. I just do whatever the heck I want to do. Whatever I feel at this point — I’m unafraid. I’m ready to be out there and be different and take fashion risks. Like I said, it comes in time. For me it was fashion, but for some people it’s sports or the arts.” — Nylon, July 2015
“Just in my day-to-day, something like self-confidence and self-love is not a destination I just arrive at. It’s more of a journey. Where Monday I’ll feel shitty about my body and Tuesday I’ll feel like the hottest bitch in the world, you know? I think it just ebbs and flows.” — The Daily Beast, January 2017
“Honestly, it’s an evolution. I didn’t have the confidence I have now during my teenage years. I had all of these wild ideas that I spent a lot of time trying to convey and convince myself of. But over time you evolve and become really, really comfortable with who you are. Don’t apologize for it! Stand firm and stay consistent. It’s okay to be versatile and play around, but make sure you really clue into what you’re good at. If you there’s something you have a strength in, hold tight to it.” — Teen Vogue, September 2013
“I think each of us has to look at the root of the issue as to why we cannot feel good about ourselves often enough to celebrate ourselves.
It’s larger than what’s happening in the moment of receiving a compliment.
Everyone has to figure out why they don’t agree with what’s being said. It’s a self-confidence thing.” — Glamour, August 2017
“I’m lucky. I grew up not thinking too much about gender. My mom raised my sister and me to be confident women with aspirations. And I always felt capable. I’m not saying that I’m stronger than most men. Physicality has its own rules. But we all have the same brains; we can achieve the same things.” — Marie Claire, June 2017
“When I get asked the same question over and over for years, the words of my answer begin to lose their meaning, even for me. Talking about confidence has become, to me, like listening to the flight attendant go through the in-flight passenger safety announcements. I could be leafing through a copy of American Way as I speak. I open my mouth and glib phrases like “supportive parents” and “strong sense of self” leak out. People seem mollified, but who knows? Maybe they are tuning me out too. For the record, I, like everyone else, have had moments when I felt unattractive and stupid and unskilled. When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, “You have to stop.” Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet. I happen to believe that no one inherently deserves anything, except basic human rights, and not to have to watch an ad before you watch a trailer on YouTube.” — Why Not Me? September 2016
“Regardless of how much confidence I have gained as a performer and human, I have an overactive self-awareness that sometimes makes it hard to be around other people without feeling emotionally hypersensitive. You learn to have a personality for being around strangers and even family and friends, but I definitely find time to myself where I feel most at ease, even if my mind is ruffled that day. The Internet and digital communication has provided a salve in that I can engage with others in a more distilled and customized way, though that can be dangerous if you entirely replace all face-to-face interaction.” — Splitsider, March 2016
“You know, because you started on Broadway, there’s something about having to go up and do it every night, no matter how you’re feeling, having to tell the whole arc of a story and not just scene by scene the way that you do on film. I feel more like I understand acting in a different way. It’s totally different when you’re shooting something. But only in the past six months to a year have I felt like I can really try these different things. I think I was really scared of that for a long time. And if something was really challenging, I thought that I was just going to fall on my face and embarrass myself. I’m just less scared of that now, of failing.” — Interview, 2015
“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone…Other people’s words are so important. And then without warning they stop being important, along with all those words of yours that their words prompted you to write … Recently I came across a new quote. It’s my screensaver now, my little scrap of confidence as I try to write a novel. Is is a thought of Derrida’s and very simple: If a right to a secret is not maintained then we are in a totalitarian space.” — Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, 2009
“Every night at the dinner table, my mother would ask us to write a speech about what we would do if we were president, chief minister, or prime minister — every day would be a different world leader she’d ask us to play. At the end of dinner, we had to give the speech, and she had to decide who she was going to vote for … Even though my mother didn’t work and didn’t go to college, she lived a life vicariously through her daughters. So she gave us that confidence to be whatever we wanted to be. That was an incredibly formative experience in my youth.” — Women in Leadership panel at 92Y, September 2015
“I think the ‘faking it till you make it’ thing is very real. If you don’t have confidence, pretend to be a person who does, and eventually you will have confidence because you’ll see the fruits of your reaching out to people.” — The Rookie Podcast, June 2017
“Confidence is 10 percent hard work and 90 percent delusion — just thinking foolishly that you will be able to do what you want to do.” — Vogue Diaries, February 2010
“Confidence and leadership are muscles. You learn to use them or you learn not to. If you are afraid to speak up at a meeting, every time you force yourself to do it, you get better at it. If you’re afraid to take your seat at the table, every time you take your seat at the table and you realize no one tells you to go get back to the back row, you learn to do it.” — Forbes, September 2016
“Ultimately, I think the #1 thing that draws me to someone is their sense of freedom. Freedom and confidence are two different things, in my book. Confidence is overrated — it can be faked, whereas freedom is fearlessness. Freedom is being more or less okay with wherever you’re at, at any given point in your life or your day or your hour, be it really sucky or really great or somewhere in between (and there are a lot of in-betweens.) The single guiding principle that I try to follow, assuming blindly that the rest will fall into place, is to operate squarely in the present. I think it’s one of the most difficult things for anyone to do.” — Into the Gloss, October 2014
Judge Judy Sheindlin
“I’m convinced that independence is a woman’s only path to happiness.
That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be on your own; the point is knowing that you could make it on your own. And the only way to possess this confidence and control is to have a profession or a vocation that gives you pleasure and makes you self-supporting.” — Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever, January 2000
“It makes you feel good, first of all, to understand what the heck you’re doing with your life. And it also makes you have confidence in what you’re doing. And I think having a confidence in your actions is extremely important because you can feel downtrodden for a long time, but once you get that confidence that what you’re doing is valuable, is useful, is practical, is helping others — and it can be any kind of job — when you have a good feeling about what you’re doing, I think life will be good.” — MSNBC, November 2015