1. Are you enough?

    Skydiving builds confidence, but so does dancing and tennis.One of my recent columns kicked off some emotional discussions among women I know about the scourge of bullying.

    I singled out people who denigrated the actress Demi Moore for showing off her gorgeous body. What was so surprising and sad was that many women my age still have raw feelings about things that were said or done to them as teens. It is also alarming that the problem has gotten worse. We have all heard about the father who lost it upon hearing that his handicapped daughter was bullied daily on the school bus. Then there was the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, the young Irish girl who was hounded by her classmates until she killed herself in a fit of depression. 
    I started to wonder why some things cut so deeply. It seems to me that we women constantly ask ourselves “are we enough?” So, when people make us feel not beautiful, popular, slim, smart, or sexy enough, we can be crushed. Alas my darlings, most parents are lousy at preparing any of us to deal with the harsh reality of the popularity sweepstakes.
    Malcolm Gladwell makes the point in his book The Tipping Point that sooner than anyone’s parents would like to believe, peer groups become the ultimate influence on all of us. He cites the book The Nurturer Assumption by Judith Rich Harris which says that the personalities of children are shaped by their peers.
    What I have noticed is that the children who have the best social skills are those who coast through life. And there is the rub. How do we teach children to be dans sa peau, or to feel good in their skin? Social skills are subtle and not easy to teach. Sensitive teachers and camp counselors can help, but bad ones can damn an awkward child to social hell.
    If you listen to beauty experts or any of the world’s great “dames”, they always say the true secret to making it in this world is confidence. I know they are right. Getting though this life relatively “unscarred” is about having the stuff to stand up to bullies, and maybe even being able to stop bullies in their tracks. But where does this elusive confidence come from?  
    I have noticed that many ‘experts’ are silent on the subject. Most of my life I have been called a confident woman. I didn’t — and still don’t always — feel that way. But, I did realize early on, that “fake it till you make it” was good advice. You can never make others like you, but you can work on the skills that can make you feel better about yourself. That does give you confidence.
    It may be superficial, but wearing the right clothes can help you blend into the crowd. These days it’s easier, as trends are quickly available at all price points. If you’re fashion individual, go for it. But most people with shaky confidence feel better blending in.
    If only more parents would stop trying to tell their kids that people teased them because they are jealous. It does not help, and often it is not true. It would be better to figure out why their kids are getting teased. I suggest moving their children to a more accepting and nurturing atmosphere. Bright children do better in environments that reward their intelligence. A nerd or outcast in one school can do just fine in elsewhere. Why let a person develop a bad self image? Obviously this matters, as so many are scarred for a lifetime. It’s sad and often unnecessary.
    We have to stop bullying, but I think it is just as important to teach women how to be strong, vital, and confident as young girls. Mean girls often grow up to mean women. Studies show a high incidence of bullying in the workplace is done by women bosses. An old high school friend had a terrible experience with a mean girl boss who tried to wreak her confidence. She put her down constantly and gratuitously. Once she even compared her academically to her (the boss’s) young son. Another younger friend had the ultimate boss from hell — the meanest mean girl. She would torture my friend with personal insults and an excessive workload. She liked to hit her with surprise projects as my friend was on the way out the door at 7 or 8 at night. Then she would want to be girlfriends and go out for drinks. My advice to both of them: get out as soon as you can. Maintain your self confidence through talking with friends who love you and doing things you are good at, but call everyone you know as you look for a new job!
    Getting out of a bad situation is not being a quitter. I was brought up never to quit. And the thinking used to be that you had to learn to get along with all types of people. I still think it’s important to learn how to go along to get along. Sports, clubs, and other enjoyable activities are great for that. But I have also learned that certain people are dangerous and mean. They don’t play by the same rules as the rest if us. The smartest thing to do is to get away from them. The best thing my father ever did for me was get me out of gym class. I hated it. I am far from lazy, but I hate sports. I loathe getting sweaty and wet in the middle of the day. I took ice skating, dance, swimming, and host of other lessons to keep active. I walked hours as a teenager. By removing me from what I considered a “hostile atmosphere” my father kept me from feeling helpless and developing a complex. Thanks to my father, I have never hesitated to say thanks but no thanks to any situation that made me uncomfortable — from dating to work. My father was really good at letting me know there was difference between sticking for yourself and being a pain in the butt. My mentors finished my social education by explaining that life was not fair and there would always be mean girls. The trick was never to play their game. They explained I had to learn to stand up for myself without becoming mean or whiny. I was not happy to hear this , but they were right.
    No one is immune to criticism or slights. Recently Kathy Lee Gifford on The Today Show recounted how Victoria Principal, the actress and beauty expert, made a remark about Kathy Lee’s figure while they were at some function. “You have a beautiful body Kathy Lee, but…” She went on to ask if Kathy Lee had “problem with dairy”. Perhaps Victoria Principal meant to be helpful. Perhaps she was being catty. But she was definitely on thin ice. No one wants to hear about their alleged physical shortcomings when they attend an event.
    I can’t count the women over the years who have said rude things to me in public. I still remember with clarity the lovely women who tell would tell me that the acne I had so carefully covered with makeup was caused by the make-up itself, or by something I had (not) eaten. Some were trying to be helpful, some were not. All the remarks were inappropriate and hurtful, as none of their “advice” was solicited or private. By 16, I had a fabulous doctor and clear skin. Now I smile when women tell me I have beautiful skin. I do, but I worked for it. And as soon as my skin cleared up, mean girls found other things to pick on. 
    The number of indignant and hurt friends who have told me what other women dared say about their weight, clothes, makeup, hair, children, work or personalities would fill a tome. Some have been truly shaken when the remark has come from a close friend or family member. Thanks to dear older friends, I learned many years ago to let most hurtful remarks roll off me. I stay far away from those who make them. It sounds glib, but you have to get over it!
    Darlings, confidence is a gift you give yourself. Parents can help, but the best person to nurture you — is you. If you have scars, heal them. I’ll tell you a secret: happy people attract good things and feel more confident. Forgive and forget is the worse advice ever. Forgive maybe. Let whatever hurt you go. But never forget. Stay far away from toxic people. They seldom change their hurtful ways. 
    Find your talents and develop them. Excellence builds confidence. Glory in your beauty, darlings. Believe me, you are beautiful. Find the experts who can help you shine. Nurture yourself. Surround yourself with love. Shine your light for others. You are enough!