'Just Be Confident Girls!': Confidence Chic as Neoliberal Governmentality

Laura Favaro


Confidence is the new sexy

(Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, 2014)

In our injurious patriarchal cultures, unconfidence is almost inescapable when inhabiting womanhood. However, recently the promotion of selfconfidence has surfaced as the site for expanded, heightened and more insidious modes of regulation, often spearheaded by those very institutions invested in women’s insecurities. This notably includes consumer women’s magazines. Contemporary publications are marked by an intensified preoccupation with taking readers ‘from crisis to confidence’, offering even dedicated sections (e.g. ‘confidence revolution’ and ‘Bye-bye body hang-ups’ in Cosmopolitan UK) and issues—see, for example, Elle UKs

L. Favaro (*)

Department of Sociology, City, University of London, London, UK © The Author(s) 2017

A.S. Elias et al. (eds.), Aesthetic Labour,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-47765-1_16

January 2015 ‘Confidence Issue: A Smart Woman’s Guide to Self-Belief’. Clearly, this sector is a fundamental player in the confidence movement- market, bringing together a range of interested parties, not least ‘love your body’ (LYB) advertisers like Dove (see Gill and Elias 2014), and enjoying an extensive audience reach, both in terms of numbers and geography—a reach increased to unprecedented degrees by online versions.

This chapter asks: how is (the turn to) confidence articulated in magazines for—and mostly by—young women? What does the rise of self-confidence as primary imperative for the production of successful femininity suggest about the operation of power at the current conjuncture? I focus on five popular websites/online magazines produced in the UK but globally accessed: cosmopolitan.co.uk, elleuk.com, femalefirst.co.uk, glamourmagazine.co.uk and sofemenine.co.uk. The analysis is divided into two main sections, each exploring a different data type: first, 80 editorial features applying a ‘love your self’ (LYS) approach and, second, 30 interviews conducted between December 2014 and July 2015 with writers and editors of these publications.1 Uniquely, then, the chapter throws light both on confidence texts and on those producing them in widely read media spaces. Participants were all female, white, mainly in their mid-twenties to early thirties (coinciding with the target readership), middle-class and London-based.[1] [2]

The analysis interrogates what I have labelled ‘confidence chic’—point- ing to the gendered, classed and commercial nature of the phenomenon under study, as well as its entrenchment within economies of visibility (in new media, neoliberal times; see Banet-Weiser 2013). I apply a feminist discursive Foucauldian-influenced approach, a key concept being that of ‘governmentality’, namely the contact between the (objectifying) technologies of domination of others and the (subjectifying) technologies of the self (Foucault 1988). Ultimately, this chapter argues that confidence chic is an emergent gendered technology of neoliberal governmentality variously related to proliferating feminisms.

  • [1] This chapter is part of a larger research project that additionally examines online magazines produced in Spain, and which includes a third data type: user discussions about sex and relationshipson the sites’ forums/boards. ‘Confidence chic’ is pervasive here too, with typical peer-to-peer advicebeing: ‘just be confident girls!’
  • [2] My utmost gratitude to all the research participants.
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