I used to be a features writer for Bliss, the magazine for teenage girls. I adored the job, which came with all sorts of perks and perturbing moments. I saw JLS perform live over 15 times. I met Taylor Swift and her mum. I attempted to interview various Made In Chelsea cast members on the beach at Camber Sands, while a gale force wind blew sand into my face, which meant I could only see out of one eye and developed a lecherous looking squint, addressing them as if I were Benny Hill playing a pirate. But when I wasn’t getting distracted by the beautiful celebrities, the best part of the role was meeting the readers themselves and writing features about them and their lives. My favourite part of the job was when I got to talk about confidence.
We’d usually include one big confidence feature a month, covering different areas within it, such as insecurity about friendships, love and school, as well as general wobbliness. I felt as though I’d been entrusted with something huge. I wrote for every teen I met, for my little sisters, for me at 13, for me at 23. I researched the subject, speaking to counsellors, behavioural psychologists, relationship coaches and career advisors. Their advice overlapped, and it always came back to the same core belief: confidence is all in the mind.
This is why I’m surprised that Harvard researcher Dana Carney has debunked her theory on power posing. Carney coauthored a paper on the subject with Amy Cuddy, who went on to present the concept in the most watched TED talk of all time. Fellow Pool writer Viv Groskop wrote about the report and how the findings were compelling and convincing. If you can stand or move in a way that you think is guaranteed to make you feel stronger, and make people pay attention, you’ve already won the confidence war. It’s like a fairytale. Imagine being nervous about a big presentation, only for a wizard to pop up and say “Worried that people will doubt you? Just hold this magic bean in your palm and everyone will pay attention!” Then the wizard would reveal that the bean was just a bit of rolled up Blu-Tack, and it was all you all along.
Proven ability is important, but ultimately we can go a long way just by believing that we’re as good as everyone else. Unfortunately, girls and women start at a disadvantage
As a scientist, Carney has a responsibility to let us know when her findings turn out to be false. But I don’t think it matters whether or not power posing truly does boost testosterone, or reduce stress. If we believe that a series of poses will make us strong and effective, they probably will. The world takes us at our own estimation, and if you walk out onto a stage, or stand up in a boardroom with the unshakeable belief that you have a right to be there and deserve respect and attention, you will deliver. If you think about what might go wrong, who might challenge you and why there are a million other people who could do a better job, you’ll bomb.
I usually perform well in sit-down, written exams, but I failed my driving test, quite dramatically, on two separate occasions. Whenever I sat in the driver’s seat, I felt like a fraud, and I questioned my right to be there. I learned that if you look at a bus on the other side of the road, and think “Oh no! What if I collide with it?” your instructor will wrestle the wheel from you with an expression of exasperation because you are strangely capable of making your panicky prophesy come true. I used to live with a girl who was such an idiot that she’d routinely leave the hobs on and the front door unlocked, but she could drive. I think it’s mainly because she’d never entertained the idea that she couldn’t.
Proven ability is important, but ultimately we can go a long way just by believing that we’re as good as everyone else. Girls and women start at a disadvantage, because from birth, we’re told how we can fix all the ways we’re not perfect – but confidence doesn’t come from getting the perfect partner, or the top grades, or the dream job, and if you believe that achievement is what will make you sure of yourself, you’ll never feel like you’ve made it. Success comes from tuning out the doubt, from trusting that who you are is more important than what you do. This is hard, and sometimes you need to take a shortcut to believe that the universe is on your side. Serena Williams is one of the greatest athletes of all time, but she’s rumoured to wear the same socks at every game for “luck”. I don’t think “luck” is anything more than a way we can convince ourselves that our faith in our abilities is greater than our propensity to self doubt. If power posing is a ritual that can make us trust our hearts when our own heads doubt us, it doesn’t need science to prove it, or debunk it. It’s the ultimate confidence trick.