Friday, May 12, 2006

Confidence in confidence alone...

LIKE MARIA in 'The Sound of Music' I have confidence in sunshine. I have confidence in rain. I have confidence that spring will come again, but besides which, you see, I have no confidence in me.

I'm a great fan of that song. It brings back hugely happy childhood memories of curling up on the sofa , watching Maria dance towards the home of the Von Trapps swinging her guitar and getting ready to face the Captain and his seven children. (What's so fearsome about that?)
It also reminds me of pushing my clapped out, second hand, rust bucket of a bike up the hill towards Grianan Fort, my aunt and sister beside me.
The sweat lashing off us, our wee legs knackered from the exertion of the cycle run out from Rosemount, we would sing the words loudly and push ourselves to our limits to reach the Fort- where we would settle down to a picnic of custard creams and Kia Ora.
Those days, in the brilliant sunshine, as we looked down over Donegal and Derry, we really did feel on top of the world. We had confidence.
When someone told us we looked nice, we believed them. We didn't shrug our shoulders and reply that we looked like we had just been dragged through a hedge backwards.
If someone said we we could sing or act well, we rewarded them with an encore- performed with such over enthusiasm they would wish they had kept their mouths shut.
If someone commended our work, we boasted about it to everyone who would listen. We didn't care if we came across as a 'spoof'. We were taught it was perfectly acceptable to be proud of your achievements.
I wonder when that changed and we all stopped believing just how fabulous we really are?
Most days when I see my niece, Abby, I will ask her at some stage who the best girl in Derry is. With no hesitation whatsoever she will reply with her own name before skipping off not even giving the question a second thought. Of course she is the best girl in Derry. Everyone is always telling her that- why would she believe any different?
I know someday though, and it saddens me, that she will stop believing the hype. Someday (probably when she is a surly teenager and telling us all to "Shut up") she will question not only if she is the best girl in Derry but whether she is even the best girl in Shepherd's Glen?
The truth is that there comes a time when being boastful, confident and contented are no longer considered to be desirable qualities in the modern woman, and without the positive affirmations of our youth we start to question everything about ourselves.

It may sound melodramatic of me, but think about this. When was the last time you met a woman truly content and happy in herself? It amazes me to meet beautiful women who can't meet the gaze of others because they think they are ugly. It angers me to have conversations with women peppered with phrases like "Ignore me, I'm stupid anyway", and perhaps it angers me so much because I know I'm one of them.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a relatively new friend when I revealed my greatest secret. I'm actually quite shy. Painfully shy in fact. (It was, in hindsight, ridiculously stupid of me to have chosen a career in journalism given this personal affliction).
I'm constantly afraid of not sounding intelligent enough- of not making much sense. I'm afraid that if I say the wrong thing the powers that be that will strip me of my academic accolades realising that there was some dastardly mix up in the exams office. ("Sorry that was meant for the other Claire Allan. The one with her name spelled the uncomplicated way- Clare Allen".)
The better solution I believe is to do all we can to make sure young people, and young women in particular, never forget that sense of self belief we all had when we were wee. Someone should ask us all on a daily basis whether or not we are the best girls in Derry and we should force ourselves to reply that we are.
Maybe if we say it often enough, and loud enough, we will start to believe it ourselves.
Failing that, I'll hoke my old bike out, brush up on my Rodgers and Hammerstein and start singing as I clamber up the hill to Grianan Fort.

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