Singer Marina Diamandis on How Confidence Is Contagious
It’s taken me around 32 years to learn that it’s okay to like myself. It feels like a brazen act in a society that often profits off of people with low self-esteem, people who are conditioned to think that being themselves is never enough. For many, a confident, secure woman is still seen as a threat.
Inner confidence is new territory for me. I’ve known confidence for many years through the lens of ambition and belief in myself, but most of this energy has been focused on external events associated with achievement in my career. It feels important to share my own experiences, because my journey to confidence has been long and messy.
I was a determined teenager. By the age of 16 I had made a secret pact with myself that I was going to be a singer, and I became single-minded about how I would achieve this. It’s a long story as to how I got to the point of releasing my fourth album, but one thing I can say is that I went through a lot — multiple failures, tough losses, and major sacrifices. The interesting part, though, is the amount of doubt and resistance I met from people in my life along the way. It wasn’t enough to be talented. As a young artist and a woman, I had to continually defend what self-confidence I had.
Around the age of 22, my professional career took off and I began to garner a lot of attention from record labels. I didn’t have a manager at the time, so I decided to take all of the meetings with industry representatives on my own — a fairly unique situation. I met with nine different labels, after which I found out that A&R executives (the people within a label who scout for and sign talent) were branding me with that old familiar term for assertive women: “crazy.” I ended up signing my first record and publishing deals on my own, with the assistance of a lawyer. Ten years and four albums later, I’m still with the same label. The accurate term here is not “crazy.” The accurate term is “confident.”
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Over the years, this seemingly innocuous term has popped up a lot in my working environment, as I’m sure it has for many other women across industries. “Difficult,” “ball breaker,” “bitch,” “pushy,” “bossy,” and “diva” are a few other descriptions I’ve heard as of late. These words are still being used in reference to successful female artists and this needs to change. Our perception of female artists all together needs serious updating. Think of it this way, if a man in tech earns $1 million dollars by the time he is 25, he may be labeled as an “entrepreneur” or an “innovative businessman.” In the same way, we need to realize that artists are their own businesses. The female musician you are calling “bossy” is likely employing 30 or more people.
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I think a big part of the problem here is that women are expected to be “nice.” And when we deviate from this ideal, we illicit strong reactions. We shouldn’t just teach young girls to “be nice” — we should teach them when to be nice. And, importantly, when not to. Changing our perceptions of female confidence isn’t just about equality and who gets to succeed in professional settings, it’s about teaching girls about safety and self-preservation.
I’ve also learned that it’s definitely not about changing ourselves to be more likable. In the past I’ve felt conflicted about being confident. I was concerned that I would be perceived as intimidating or self-centered. And in reading Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me?, I realized that I wasn’t alone.
She writes: “People’s reaction to me is sometimes ‘Uch, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.’ But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.”
That really resonated with me. I started to realize how many times, even as an adult, I’ve subconsciously made myself smaller around certain people to accommodate their self-esteem issues. Such bending of character is common among women. But this behavior hasn’t evolved out of nowhere — it’s deeply ingrained in our history. This is why women who use their voice in public are often targets for abuse. Women have been shamed for speaking out and not fitting into male-centric ideals of how we should look, live, or think since ancient times. I see this all the time because imagery is often a key component of a female artist’s career — whether she likes it or not.
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As a woman, being considered “beautiful” is somehow considered to be at odds with being intellectual, innovative, or business-minded. It is also so frequently assumed that female artists don’t write their own music or come up with their own ideas because of how they appear. To be a confident woman has always been to challenge the status quo that we are not equal to men. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in my career and my life.
Confidence is not something you’re born with. It is built up over time from the positive and negative experiences in our lives — the powerful result of this being that hard-won confidence is also hard to destroy. It isn’t always loud or forceful. It’s not about popularity or winning. Nor is it about putting others down to make yourself bigger. You don’t need words of praise or support from others to feel it. You only need you. And I think the best part about finding and harnessing this power within yourself is that it gives other women permission to do so, too.
MARINA’s album Love + Fear will be available April 26. Preorder here.
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