I feel like I will have a love-hate relationship with magazines forever. There’s always been something about glossy, pink reading material that’s set my heart a-flutter, and since 1999 (when my mum refused to buy me Sugar but allowed me to purchase a copy of Mizz under the premise that she read it first) I’ve been drawn back in every once in a while by front-page promises of the BEST DIET EVER and HOW TO LOOK AMAZING EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T.
At 14, the magazines I read mostly featured questionable articles about how to make boys like you. For example, did you know that they hate girls who only order a salad? It’s true. Every single boy in the history of the world shares this view. All of ’em. GET A BURGER: he’ll respect you for bein’ a gal with a big attitude and a big appetite.
I tried my best to remember everything I was told. Certain stuff was sexy and certain stuff was not. I made notes in my diary about how I was supposed to expose my inner wrists when conducting chats with the object of my affections because then he would see my vulnerability and want to take me under his wing like a massive manly eagle. I tried very carefully to study boys’ eyes when they spoke to me in case their pupils were at ALL dilated, because big pupils meant BIG CRUSH IN RETURN.
It was all very stressful and not entirely conducive to organic conversations. I wondered if boys ever read similar stuff in their magazines. Did they even buy magazines? Did they come across articles about how to look as good and be as un-annoying as possible? I kind of doubted it.
Then, from the middle to the end of my teen years, I felt like the magazines changed their tack. I wasn’t being told to be cute and appeasing anymore. Instead, they insisted I should be confident. CONFIDENCE IS SEXY! the front covers screamed, as if it had been gross until then. Makeover pieces would end with paragraphs about how confidence was the best self-improvement of all. Instead of reading about how to get beach-body-ready, I was now reading about how being ready for anything with my devil-may-care attitude was the way forward.
The thing is, I’m not confident. I never have been. Is being sure of yourself and possessing a decent level of self-worth an appealing quality? DEFINITELY. But when my teen bibles – the same ones that had interviewed boybands every week and never forgotten to ask “What’s the least attractive thing a girl could do?” before publishing the answers for impressionable 14 year-olds to obsess over – started to tell me that confidence was actually what I should have aimed for all along, stuff got confusing.
The term’s used all the time now. Maybe it was before and I never noticed. And then magazines picked up on it and now it’s just floating around, designed to make us feel better but again making us feel worse. If I said “But confidence is sexy!” to someone, I’d really be saying “You shouldn’t worry about your thighs/your shaky voice in group situations/the fact that your hair does that weird curl thing first thing in the morning.” I’d mean “Instead of worrying about what’s attractive and what isn’t, just try and get on with it.” I’d mean it to help, and I think people and magazines and tweets mean to help, too.
But I guess my hatred for the CONFIDENCE IS SEXY! comment stems from the fact that it feels like yet another ladder rung for us to try and grab, one that most of us probably lose grip of a lot. It doesn’t feel DESIGNED to help. It feels misguided. “Oh, you weren’t already struggling to keep on top of all the things you need to be? HERE, have another characteristic to add to the pile! Kick your shyness to the kerb because nobody likes it!”
Confidence is good, sure. Confidence is the aim, probably. Confidence, Cohen, if you’re a fan of the OC. But confidence is sexy? It makes me feel nervous and as if I’m still 14, trying and failing to reach something that flies away whenever I get close to it.