Style, Self-Expression, and Self-Esteem

Style, Self-Expression, and Self-Esteem

I’ve been asked whether I consider myself a confident person, and if so, from where do I believe that confidence is derived. I’ve also been asked similar questions about self-esteem. Throughout my conversations, I’ve noticed that people often use these terms interchangeably, and that their meanings are sometimes conflated.

I think of confidence as a more variable thing; it can change from situation to situation, and may depend on different factors. I may be confident in my dancing skills, for instance, but not so much when it comes to singing. This is based on such considerations as my level of experience with each activity, the fact that disco moves are always trendy, and the general reaction of the crowd to my karaoke performances.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, acts more as a foundational basis: it’s the fundamental regard you have for yourself, an amalgamation of cognitive and emotional self-appraisal. To me, confidence is more “success” oriented — it’s about trusting yourself to be successful at something — whereas self-esteem entails a kind of resilience in spite of success or failure. It’s the basis for how we think, feel, behave, and relate to ourselves, others, and the world.

While both of these dimensions are important, I think that self-esteem is the stickier and trickier of the two. Building confidence can be as simple as practicing or honing your skills, gaining more experience, or even setting goals to achieve “successful” outcomes. I’m not saying these guarantee unwavering confidence, but to me, the process has a clear beginning. Building self-esteem, however, is daunting and arguably less straightforward. How do you know your worth?

In my experience, tackling self-esteem necessitates the freedom — e.g., the time and space — to be one’s true self. The more you can be yourself, the more opportunities you have to get to know yourself — including what brings you joy, happiness, and fulfillment. Cultivating this kind of awareness has absolutely equipped me to make better decisions, both large and small, because my intentions are clearer to me and I feel freer to act on my real motives. In contrast, when I don’t feel the freedom to be myself, my intentions are muddled. I become distracted by things I think matter (but actually don’t), and this confusion causes a great deal of inner conflict and cognitive stress.

Of course, the kind of freedom I’m talking about doesn’t usually exist ready-made. I’ve had to forge and maintain my own by actively shaping my environment. I make more room in my life for the people who love and accept me as I am. I ask myself: does this person cause me to question myself, or second guess my decisions? Does he or she ask me to change, or try to “fix” who I am? Do I feel like I am being held to his or her expectations, rather than having the space to form my own?

Part of “being yourself” means devoting time and energy to the things that bring you joy. Practicing regular happiness (because it does take practice) not only enriches you in the obvious ways, but can also lead to greater self-awareness. Having more self-awareness means you’re able to take in more critical information, which can ultimately foster better decision making. And better decisions can perpetuate the cycle of happiness even further (1 + 1 = 3 when it comes to self-love).

A big thing that brings me joy is expressing myself through clothing and fashion. Those of us who have felt stifled or unable to be comfortable as ourselves often find an orgastic release in the form of self-expression and creative output. We don’t just channel how we see ourselves into that output, but also the frustration, the anger, and the heartbreak that comes with feeling repressed. There are many ways in which I feel my sense of style is so integral to who I am; it is at once a part, as well as a representation, of my identity.

And yet, paradoxically, fashion is also not so serious at all! It offers me a catharsis from the superficial. Having fun with my appearance makes me feel free from any expectations that are placed on me. How we look is fleeting, changeable, and ultimately, far less important than who we are inside. Right? Right.

And so personal style, I have found, is one avenue that offers me the chance to work on both confidence as well as self-esteem. In an age where being different can be dangerous, I especially admire brands that proudly support self-expression and bolster communities based on the love and acceptance of true selves.

For its #HATESUCKS campaign, iconic streetwear brand Skinnydip London teamed up with Stonewall UK to throw the biggest PRIDE 2017 party in London, celebrating equality for all and LGBT communities across the globe. Skinnydip created a special collection in honor of Pride, drove their #HATESUCKS taxi through the city streets, and welcomed donations to spread the awareness and reduce LGBTQ stigma. You can check out their blog for a special recap of the festivities and some awesome inspo.

“As a brand, we’re all about being young, fun, unconventional, and not really caring what people think. Skinnydip is a word that perfectly captures that philosophy.”
– Skinnydip London cofounder James Gold

Featuring accessories from Skinnydip London


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  1. yishui

    good thoughts on confidence vs self-esteem; ive always just thought of them as synonyms

    also yessss sparkles & iridescent EVERYTHING!

    • van

      Thanks, love! I know the distinction is not super important, but just something I found interesting in my conversations And yes, shiny stuff for dayssssss!

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