Confidence in Restraint

I was reading a cool piece in the current New Yorker on Scarlett Johansson. Yes I know, a movie star, but it was a cool riff that got me thinking about youth, stardom, womanhood, mystique and controlling one’s own image and persona. It got me thinking about confidence, especially as it pertains to younger women.

Of course the article makes much of SJ’s appearance and Hollywood’s history of creating sultry goddesses. It also recounts her particular personal brand (since her debut as a child star) of precociousness.  Neither of which I want to focus on.

An element of her confidence is based on twin tendencies that are independent of age or glamour, namely, restraint and boundary setting. Yes SJ makes careful but varied choices about roles, but what I mean by restraint is that she has managed to avoid the trap of self-parody, of coming on too strong, and of being predictable.  She’s said “no” when and where she’s needed to in her acting and spokeswoman career, the mark of true confidence.  She is “sultry”, but also seems to find ways to understate that (as in the movie “Her”, in which only her voice appears).  Restraint, leaving them wanting more (or surprising everyone with a non-characteristic or low-key role), and saying less rather than more is an aspect of real self-confidence.

In addition, while of course SJ maintains her personal boundaries partly through her platoon of handlers and publicists who buffer her from fans and the media, she seems to have a strong internal sense of what’s ok and not ok for her.  We don’t all have the publicity apparatus.  But she seems to have made clear from her teenage years what her boundaries are, and that’s something we can all do.  It’s good for us, keeps us safe, and avoids over commitment. And it also bespeaks confidence.  Confident people understand that “No.” is a complete sentence. It’s good boundary-setting, good restraint, and helps us manage our personal brands confidently–whether we’ve been on the Hollywood red carpet or no.

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