self worth

25 Famous Women on Confidence

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Building 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, developing 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 their voices.

1. Janelle Monáe
“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

2. Serena Williams
“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

3. Hari Nef
“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

4. Amandla Stenberg
“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

5. Michelle Obama
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

6. Gabourey Sidibe
“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!” — Vulture, May 2014

7. Ali Wong
“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

8. Zendaya
“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

9. Jessica Williams
“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

10. Solange
“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

11. Demi Moore
“From my perspective, I’ve got a very professional reputation. I’m strong and opinionated, but I’m not difficult in the sense that ‘Is my motor home big enough?’ It doesn’t bother me. Time will outweigh the moment. Besides, if you’re a woman and ask for what you want, you’re treated differently than if you’re a man … It’s a lot more interesting to write about me being a bitch than being a nice woman.” — Vanity Fair, August 1991

12. Gal Gadot
“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

13. Mindy Kaling
“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

14. Aparna Nancherla
“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

15. Katie Holmes
“Confidence is something I’ve had to grow into. You can be confi­dent in certain areas of your life, but then you have to work on other areas. The more focused I am about achieving a goal, the more my confidence goes up, because then I’m mentally organized about what I want to do. If I’m not feeling sure about something, I sit down and work on exactly what it is I want to accomplish and all the different ways I can achieve it. When I break a goal down into steps, it seems possible. That helps me look at it from more of a rational perspective instead of, Oh my God, I can’t do it.” — Shape, November 2019

16. Zadie Smith
“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

17. Indra Nooyi
“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

18. Nicole Kidman
“I’m far more raw and honest now, because before I used to be so scared. So now I’m just like, ‘What the hell. Share, share ideas, share.’ And it’s not safe to do that sometimes because you’re suddenly exposed. But, at the same time, it makes you feel closer to people.” — Vanity Fair, May 2019

19. Tina Fey
“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

20. Grace Potter
“At any given moment in my life, I think I’m doing great. Even when I was painting houses and waitressing. I’ve always had this inner dialogue with myself that I’m in the right spot and that I’m doing what I should be doing. Whenever the alarms go off in my head saying, ‘This is not where you should be’ and ‘This is not where you belong,’ I instantly acknowledge it and listen to that voice because its always seems to always lead me in the right direction.” — Shape, September 2019

21. Tracee Ellis Ross
Am I good enough? haunted me. It still does. As a little girl, I taught myself to smile so my top lip would disappear because I thought that’s what a pretty girl looked like. She had smaller lips. But you know what helps? Having a tribe of people around me who love me and see me even when I can’t see myself. And one of the things I do now, when I leave people, is ask myself: Do I feel better or worse?” — The New York Times, November 2018

22. 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

23. Alicia Keys
“Every time I create something, I feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I might experience self-doubt in the process, but once I’ve finished, I feel very confident. I still have that childlike wonder.” — Harper’s Bazaar, August 2019

24. Jennifer Lopez
“I feel very proud that I’ve survived as long as I have in this business. At this point in my life, I’m trying to give myself more credit. It’s hard when people are always telling you that you’re not good at things or saying, ‘Why is she successful?’ You get a lot of that when you’re a successful woman. You don’t get that as much when you’re a man. The thing about people, women especially, is that you can have 12 people telling you you’re amazing, but that one person kind of putting you down, that’s the voice that sticks in your head. I think sometimes people try to make you feel like you’re a fraud. And maybe you’re afraid you’re one too. Then finally you go, ‘Wait, I’m not lying. I’ve been doing this a long time. This is not a mistake. I worked hard to be here.’ And you know what? Congratulations to myself. Not in an arrogant way, by any means. It’s like, ‘You’re doing good, baby. Give yourself a break.’” — Harper’s Bazaar, January 2019

25. Lana Del Rey
“I’m proud of the way I’ve put parts of my story into songs in ways that only I understand. In terms of my gauge of what’s good, it’s really just what I think. I have an internal framework that is the only thing I measure it by. My own opinion is really important to me. It starts and stops there.” — Pitchfork, July 2017

25 Famous Women on Confidence