Reader Request: Building Confidence Beyond Stature

“Sometimes because I am so petite, I feel like a kid compared to the “grownups” at my workplace. Have you ever had that feeling? Do people ever say you look younger than you are? I get it a lot and it definitely lowers my self esteem. Could you do a post about confidence?” — Anonymous


Dear reader – I can relate. Being extra petite and youthful looking can definitely hinder one’s confidence. I work with tall, well-spoken and put-together individuals, and at times it can feel daunting. When I first started working, I was asked my age several times by clients…mortifying.

It’s rumored that taller people may be more successful in the workplace than their shorter counterparts, due to greater self-esteem and social confidence that possibly comes with height. Although I somewhat agree with this theory, it only means that petite women like us need to put in a little extra effort to find our confidence and achieve our own success. I’m still learning as I go, but here are some things I personally keep in mind:

Look your best, carry yourself well, and be a valuable contributor.

1. Look Your Best

First off – take care of your appearance. Groom yourself. Wear clothes that make you feel good. What works for me:

  • Use makeup to enhance your natural features. I’m a huge believer in using makeup to help one look more mature (especially on Asian eyes). 
  • Wear apparel that fits and flatters your figure. Fit is the premise of my blog, and the most important aspect of an outfit. A woman can look striking in a cheap black suit that fits her to perfection, or could look like a mess in an ill-fitting designer ensemble. Front, side and back view photos can help gauge the true fit of something. 
  • Have a “go-to” ensemble. Everyone has “off” days and lazy days, so prepare simple, foolproof combinations for those days. My go-to work outfit is a ruffled blouse tucked into a pencil skirt, plus Ann Taylor perfect pumps. 
  • Wear heels. Without a doubt I feel longer and leaner—and subsequently more confident—when wearing heels. 3.5 inch heels are the perfect height for me. Practice walking and make sure the shoes fit (use inserts if needs be), as nothing feels worse than shoes slipping off with every step.
2. Carry Yourself Well

The way you carry yourself transcends size or age. The points below are things that I’m working hard on to improve. Sometimes you’re not aware of these things unless someone else points it out (usually, however, only someone who truly cares about you – like a parent – will point out such things): 

  • Stand up straight. Good posture is critical for petites. A straight back, shoulders, and neck can instantly add inches.
  • Project your voice. Many petite women whom I’ve met have delicate little voices that accentuate their size. I’m not suggesting shouting at the top of your lungs, but it’s important to speak confidently and audibly. Also factor in the height of whom you’re talking to, because taller people are further away (no joke… I speak louder to taller coworkers or else they have to bend down to hear).
  • Be engaging and participate. Try to maintain eye contact during conversations, listen actively, show genuine signs of engagement, and encourage yourself to actively participate and contribute vocally to meetings and discussions at work. 
  • Greet with confidence. Everyone appreciates a warm smile and a firm handshake. During a mock interview, my college career counselor pointed out how my weak little handshake may be mistaken for a lack of confidence.
3. Be a Valuable Contributor

Despite the above two sections, the bottom line is: If you’re good at what you do and bring value to your team, you will command the respect of others –regardless of how tall you are or how you look. There’s an executive at one of my clients who is shorter than me, is hopelessly unfashionable, slouchy, and soft spoken. But those who work with her have the utmost respect for her.

When opportunities arise to ask questions, give suggestions, or share an experience – try to push yourself to say something, even if you’re shy. People remember and respect those who contribute. When you have the respect of those around you, confidence should come naturally.

Readers –  Can you relate? Please share your own experiences or advice.

When you purchase through the links on this blog, I may earn a commission. Thank you for your support!

When you purchase through the links on this blog, I may earn a commission. Thank you for your support!

For Daily Posts

Leave a Comment


  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Great post! Like many others, I can relate to this post. Sometimes I even go as far as lying about my age. The other day a lady asked me how old I was and I said "20". Her eyes almost popped out of her socket. FYI- I am 24. Imagine if I told her my real age- her head would've fallen off! She thought I was still in High school. All I really want is to look 21 (legal). I dont want to be in my 40s to finally look legal! I don't want my life to just begin then… Sorry just had to say that.

    Anyway, great post! Just had to leave a comment =)

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  2. NikkiSho wrote:

    wow!! this is the truth…u said it all and i love the pictures cos it tells more…good job!!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  3. Though you're shorter than the blonde woman in the photo, you definitely command more attention (imo) as your clothes fit like they were made speicifically for you; hence your rule #1. 🙂

    This was a great post. I'm so glad to be reading about so many others' experiences; I've always kind of felt like I was the only one that felt like a kid among adults at times.

    I've been eyeing my closet lately wishing I hadn't spent so much money on flats… Haha.

    Thanks Jean! You're gorgeous.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  4. Lucia wrote:

    It's quite surprising how much confidence a pair of heels can lend! I'm still in college, so I generally stick to flats, but on the rare occasion that I don pumps or wedges, I walk with definitive purpose.

    Your "before" pics are always so amusing!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  5. This is such a great and helpful post. Although my work environment is not as formal as yours but I can relate to some of your points here. I've never had any problems with my petiteness. One thing for sure is that when I took time and dressed my best in the morning, I felt great that day. I totally agree with you on very points. I also am working on my posture. Sitting all day in the office doesn't help either. I am sure everyone will find this post very helpful. It's all about the attitude and the way you carry yourself. BTW, I am just curious, how tall is your co-worker :)?

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  6. What a great post Jean! I agree with all of your points. And I have to say that for me, my youthful look/small stature has never been a factor. I worked in the IT world for many years before I went into consulting, all of my colleagues were men in their 30's-40's and now all of my clients that I work with are VP's and COO's who are in their 50's. I never once felt intimidated by them. Actually, I've been told that I've intimated quite a few of my colleagues because I have such confidence in my work and my abilities. (which in turn gives them confidence in me) I've never been questioned about my age. I went from graduating college to managing a team to managing an entire region to becoming a Director in all of 5 years (and in a very large corporation, not some small business where moving up the ladder is easier). Not many people, tall or small can say they did that. I never allow people to think "oh she's so young" because the moment they hear me talk, all they know is that I have my sh*t together and I know what I'm talking about and trust me, people do listen. It's ALL About the way you carry yourself. I can tell you from the amount of people that I've managed there are people no matter what, too tall, too short, overweight, or whatever it is that they are self conscious about, allows that to hinder them in their career. Your tips are fantastic for everyone, not just petite ladies.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  7. Jen wrote:

    Thank you for another incredible post! Great advice and photos. :] I don't feel self conscious about my height (I'm 5'2") but contend with a young Asian face, looking like a teenager when I'm really 26. Still need to practice more with makeup, so looking forward to your upcoming post. :]

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  8. Angie wrote:

    thanks for this article jean – it is very hard to live with people calling us "bonsai" and all sorts of other things that may start out endearing but honestly can bite. you carry yourself well and now realize what a difference good posture makes!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  9. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments…I read and appreciated every one of them! I enjoyed hearing about your personal perspectives and absolutely loved reading your anecdotes : ) We come from many different backgrounds and have many different career paths, but seem to all be able to relate on one point or another.

    And thank you first time commenters (Dianna, Small Attorney, and others) for saying hello and leaving a note.

    @Anonymous Glad you came back to read this! After getting your comment I thought hard about this topic and jotted down notes every day for the past week to share in this post. Best of luck to you as you further your career : )

    @Anonymous and RL – I'm still embarrassed by my rudimentary skills, but I'm expecting an eye makeup lesson in a month and will come back to post step by step tips : )

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  10. prosephina wrote:

    Very true! Dressing one's best automatically make that person feel more confident about herself, and that sense/attitude is then conveyed through body language. Being assertive also helps, but it takes practice.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  11. Thank you for all the useful advices. I've always felt a bit lack of confidence and a bit shy in front of people. But I will definitely try all your tricks!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  12. Jackie wrote:

    I am excited to see this post here! Yes, I can totally relate and I agree that dressing the part is the key to looking one's age (or thereabouts).

    I like to wear lipstick to look older.

    About confidence; it is a little intimidating to be the ONLY little women in the room. I find myself in that environment ALL THE TIME, and not only am I the smallest, every one else is about 20 years older than me =* It's scary, but just like any other fear, the only way to beat it is to face it. Also, being a martial artist helped me a lot with my confidence. My body is different, that doesn't mean it's weak or lesser than anyone else's.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  13. Elle wrote:

    This is such a great post and you made some really excellent points. I am still trying to learn to apply makeup since I didn't grow up wearing it but I've been trying to dress better for my shape since I do get asked about my age a lot especially because I travel for trade shows and people often don't take me seriously because of my appearance. It's really frustrating but I have been using firmer voices and my professional knowledge to demonstrate my competency. It is frustrating because for some people it comes easier but I hope one day I'll get there. 🙂 Thanks again for this great post.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  14. Anonymous wrote:

    This was an excellent post. I'm in my late 20s and people still question my age occasionally. I sometimes wonder if I'm taken seriously at work. I will definitely be trying out some of the tips, especially the makeup one. Jean, as someone who has minimal experience in makeup, can you post step by step instructions on how you did your eyes? I love the look but finding good makeup tips for asian eyes is hard.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  15. Great tips! You're awesome, Jean. <3 : ) You look so cute in the "before" photo! Feminine, fitted clothing really DOES make a big difference for any woman! It really affects anyone's self-esteem. You're completely right - the first step is to properly groom yourself because as bad as this sounds, most people won't take you seriously if you're not looking up to standards.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  16. Isela wrote:

    I am petite, and last year I learned to dress accordingly to my size and body type…and what a difference!
    Some people believe that putting attention to the clothes is very superficial, but actually pays off really fast, people looks at you differently.
    By the way, I love your blog.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  17. Wonderful post! I can also relate – every summer I inevitably get asked if I'm an intern. When I was pregnant, I got dirty looks from people bc (I'm assuming) I looked like a teen mom. Even now when I go out with hubby, son, and mom, people assume my son is my mom's son. I appreciate (kind of) looking youthful but hate when it's used to undermine / judge my person.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  18. Chloe wrote:

    What a great post, and it's definitely something I grappled with as I worked up the ladder at my customer service job. When I was hired at the age of 21 I was not only the youngest in the entire team by 15 years, but I was immediately made a manager so I was in charge of people much, much older than me. I was also in charge of handling all training–so I was teaching people that were much older than me!

    I cannot even tell you how many times a customer would immediately head straight for my 45 year old co-worker and ask, "ARE YOU THE MANAGER?" and my co-worker would always have to laugh and say, "Nope, she is!" and point at me. Shocking!

    It was always amusing, but also a slightly horrifying reality-check that first impressions and appearances count…and people would much rather take their issues to a 45-year old that works there five hours a week versus a petite blonde girl in her 20's that works there. We always assume that the older person is the one in charge and knows everything, even if they aren't and don't.

    You gave *fabulous* tips in this article. I used to struggle with wanting to dress my age (because come on – we're only in our 20's for a small time!) but also wanting to look professional to have people take me seriously. It's definitely a challenge, and I'm glad to finally be hitting the age of 30. I can wear nice things and no longer feel like a kid dressing up in her mom's old clothes- whew!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  19. What a great post!

    <3, natasha @ twenty-something blog

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  20. Great points! I work with teens, so it's definitely tough being so petite because it's easier to be mistaken for a teen. If I hear an older woman say to me "someday you'll appreciate looking so young" again… I'll punch them in the knee! I don't find that to be a compliment at all. It's actually kind of belittling.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  21. Winnie* wrote:

    This is undoubtedly my favorite post of yours, Jean! As I started working at this place since about 3 months ago, I believe people still think I am interning there or some sort. It's a casual working environment where nobody wears heels or dresses up. So I cannot do much about it either. Sometimes they just call and ask me to do random things – I feel as though if I "looked" more like them they would not do the same to me. Reading this makes me further realize it's still a long way for me to learn to express myself and contribute in a way to make people feel that we are all "equal".

    This post really cheers my up. Thank you 😉

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  22. DSK Steph wrote:

    This is such an amazing post J! Eprops!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  23. Anonymous wrote:

    Long time follower, first time commenter. Great post. As a young, small attorney (27, 5'1", 93lbs) in a male-dominated practice area, I often find myself giving advice to clients and presentations to colleagues who wonder (outloud[!]) why they are getting advice from a girl. Whenever I have to speak in public, I try to stand tall to project my voice and, even though it can be daunting, I avoid hiding behind lecterns/podiums whenever possible because it is dwarfing and makes me disappear. That said, I believe that being prepared and mastering your area of expertise is the single best thing you can do to boost your confidence. It works for me- every day. d.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  24. Claud wrote:

    Jean, thank you for a great post!!!

    I agree with above post, being told that I look younger than my age, is such a compliment for me. We should embrace our younger look and be proud of it.Confidence comes from within regarless of how short, young, cute we look. ^.^

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  25. Anh wrote:

    You make such valid points, Jean! It's amazing the difference in the two pictures, and I know that it is so, so, so true. I do have my sloppy days at work sometimes but it hugely impacts how I feel and so I've learned to limit them.

    Before I can conquer the world, I have to look the part, right?! 😉


    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  26. Anonymous wrote:

    i was the anonymous person who asked for this post and let me say THANK YOU. It was definitely comforting to read your post as well as well as everyone else's comments. I agree with the person who said this post deserves some sort of award. I think having confidence is the most important thing and reading your blog definitely helps me! Thanks so much again 🙂

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  27. Tisha wrote:

    Love the before and after pics.:)

    I'm the editor of a magazine that is known to cater to an older crowd, so it's a little tough sometimes that I look younger than I am. I just let my work do the talking. I work in Manila, but when I'm at our New York office, I hear things like, "Oh, you're so cute!" or "You look like you're 22!" (I'm 31!) I've learned to take it as a compliment. I know many older women who are flattered when people think they're younger than they are so I shouldn't really complain.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  28. Thank you so much <3

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  29. Dianna wrote:

    Hi Jean! Although I'm a longtime reader of your blog, I don't believe I've ever commented, but this post really struck a chord in me for a few different reasons. The first is the post's relevancy to my own situation at work. More specifically, I work in a white male dominated environment and have struggled at times to find a confident voice. Your post was very helpful in reaffirming certain goals I have set for myself in my pursuit of building greater confidence in a personal and professional setting. The other thing that I just have to say is how self assured and charismatic you come across in your videos. There's a quiet confidence that comes across that is just great! Your videos are also a wonderful reminder to me on the importance of speaking clearly and slowly. Something I've struggled with since I was a child is the tendency to speak way too fast. Thanks for writing up such a great post! I am certain many readers will benefit greatly from it.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  30. Justine wrote:

    Great post! And thank you for reminding us to stand up straight. I forget all the time

    Just Better Together

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  31. R.L. wrote:

    I agree with the ladies before me! Such a wonderfully helpful post, Jean (as usual)! I wish I had some useful advice to contribute but I'm still on #1 of #3. I've learned so much about fit and shopping smartly from your blog and the petite community.

    My very Asian mother instilled in me the "virtue" of being low-maintenance, which has its advantages, but I'm now in my early 20s and sometimes feel overwhelmed at the amount of make-up knowledge I need to catch up on. I know you don't consider yourself a make-up guru, but I'd love to see more beauty videos as well if you ever get the chance. Your make-up especially here looks so sophisticated yet natural 🙂

    This is definitely one of my fav blog posts!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  32. Edwina wrote:

    Great post! I wouldn't consider myself as petite, but I'm the "average" asian girl, about 5'3 with quite typical body structure. Heels make the biggest difference at work. I wear my uggs to work during winter and change to heels when I'm there. One time, I changed back to my Uggs for a coffee break because we had to walk outside and it's freezing cold in canada. I was too lazy to change back to my heels when I got back and figured that I wasn't going to see anyone special. When I took a washroom break later on the day, I bumped into my boss and it's obvious that he noticed something different about me lol.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  33. Doris wrote:

    This blog entry deserves some type of Award.

    It was extremely well thought out and effectively delivered. Thank you for sharing.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  34. Ms. E. wrote:

    Love the pictures. I am a teacher and sometimes parents do not seem to want to take me seriously. (eerr why is a teenager teaching my kid?).

    My students are almost as tall as me (or maybe even as tall as me) I have to wear heels EVERYDAY even on casual days…uggh my feet always hurt..haha I really need to get some pants/skirts tailored after this post!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  35. Jen wrote:

    Fantastic post! I'm asked this question SO often as well so I'm glad you made a post about it that clearly points out small things that make a big difference. 🙂

    I agree 1000% about the makeup, speaking clearly, clothes that fit, heels, and of course the confident body language and attitude!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  36. Naomi Eve wrote:

    When I started my new job a few years ago I made the effort to dress quite nicely (for me!), even though everyone in the office wore jeans and sneakers. When I wear jeans and sneakers, I look 12 – but heels (usually just the 2" box heels on my boots) and well-fitting clothing makes me look more like 27, apparently (I'm 30). My favourite story about being mistaken for being far too young was when someone asked me when I was finishing (high) school. I had a lot of fun asking in return "well I finished my Bachelors in 2001, and my Masters a few years ago, but I don't expect to have finished my PhD for a few years yet…"

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  37. Mindy♥ wrote:

    Awesome tips! 🙂 Thank you for sharing. With the help of your blog, I've been able to start loving my "petitness"! <3

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  38. Thank you to post ideas I can relate myself this topic. I am asian and working at Nursing home where not allowed to wear high hell & sandal That usually I wear a normal shoes & scrubs. when my first day at work in state Can't believe they starring me and annoyed asking my age. they don't believe 27 Mom and Married . they give me a new name: either Tiny & short stuff is kind I don't like it but i answer them back. Yeah Im short but cute :-)…lol… I have trouble to go shopping w/ size for me…. hehehe… when i found your blog and now little confidence to do something to make me happy… Good luck extra pettit. ur awesome

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  39. Banhannas wrote:

    There was this really deflating experience at the Clinique counter when I was in high school. My best friend and I went to get makeovers and all of a sudden the makeup artist asked if I was her child. First of all. I'm definitely Asian and my friend is definitely not. She thought I was adopted. OMG…
    I still get comments like, "Oh aren't you supposed to be in school?!" I really feel like punching someone in the neck whenever that happens but I just usually give them a warm smile instead. Every time I meet someone new I want to energetically pump their hand and go, "HI I'M HANNA AND I ALREADY GRADUATED COLLEGE SO PLEASE NO REMARKS ON MY AGE!!!!!!!!"

    I really love your post! Please make it into a sticky post for future reading. The commentary on the before and after photos makes it look like I'm reading a magazine issue. Heehee. I find it also interesting that the photo of you and your friend's skirts hit at different lengths. It shows that a properly placed skirt that is proportional to your body can really enhance one's figure!
    I really agree about your comment on eye makeup, that it can really brighten up your entire face. I also want to add that for rounder faces (like me) bronzer and blush are staples for me.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  40. Jessica wrote:

    These tips are extremely helpful and thus important. Everyone should follow your advice, even those who are not petite(I am 5'7"). Great advice! 🙂

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  41. I absolutely LOVE this post! The before and after pics are great. Thanks for the helpful tips 🙂

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  42. Fabulous post! I'm so glad to read this and see that other people feel the same 🙂 It's comforting! I worked at a bank for three years and people would always make snark comments about me looking "too young" and it always bothered me. Althought, I am not overly short, but the age factor always came up with clients. But everything you have described here is so true! If you look more professional and put together people will give you the resepect you deserve. I found that out really quickly. I'm so glad you posted this and and the photos really help too. Thanks for sharing!


    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  43. JCHokie wrote:

    Great post, I love the before and after. I'm not always good at finding pieces that fit perfect and settle for the "boxy" fit. I've started shopping at ATL & BR's petite sections more to help revamp my wardrobe. I also have trouble finding the perfect heels since I'm a size five and can't wear anything over two inches tall or I fall over. 😉

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  44. Cher wrote:

    I don't really feel that my height affects my self-esteem. I'm short, but I don't think that's something to feel bad about. I am envious of tall women though. They command attention like no short woman can. But I agree, how you carry yourself can really do a lot (whether you are short or tall). Stand straight, wear clothes that give you confidence (they don't have to be expensive). A little make-up can really help one look polished and put together, even if it's just a little blush and lip gloss. I don't necessarily endorse a full face of make-up if you don't need it, but I almost never leave the house without a little powder, blush, and some eyeliner. Eyeliner is key for me to not looking 12.

    I do get asked about my age, but it doesn't bother me (I am in my 30s now, so being told that I look young is pretty awesome. LOL), besides when they realize that I'm attorney they've got to assume I'm at least in my mid-20s. My voice does get me in some "trouble" though. I have a pretty young voice, which I've always hated. Depending on the situation and not that I purposely control it, I can get it to sound a little bit deeper but I'm sure it doesn't sound like that of a grown woman's. Once during a phone interview (for an attorney position), I was asked how old I was. Really?

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  45. Shen Dove wrote:

    This is an excellent post! I can definitely relate to not always feeling confident because of my size. I've been asked my age and even my height in work environments more times than I can count…

    But I do think that looking younger/being smaller is not always a hindrance in work environments. Making good eye contact, speaking up/contributing your ideas, and having a sense of humor about your youthful looks definitely help (because you will be reminded of it regularly)!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  46. Anonymous wrote:

    This is awesome and so true. As the co-op student in my office AND being petite, it was really hard to not be looked at like a kid. Dressing well is definitely the best tip, I find that when I dress well with more feminine clothes, I have a lot more confidence in myself. I haven't been able to make myself wear heels yet and the odd day that I try to, I get comments like "hot date tonight?" and it's not because they're trying to be mean, they just know by now that it's not my style to wear heels. Your third point is really key. I've noticed that everyone's confidence in my abilities has skyrocketed since I started because everything I've done has been to perfection so no one hesitates to give me a project now. Building my work wardrobe is still in progress!

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  47. grace wrote:

    Excellent advice Jean. I loved those before/after tips.

    I can say I can take these words to heart given that I'm so short. Luckily, it's not so bad since I work with a whole bunch of engineers, but I find just dressing right gives me the confidence I need to walk straight. I tend to slouch though looking at computer monitors all day, so I need to fix that…

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  48. Great post! I need to learn to not slouch so much.

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  49. It's interesting I've always had people assume I was much younger than my age but it has never affected the way I carry myself or present myself in the workplace. Of course my industry does not require a strict dress code and it's a pretty casual environment which is not as highly competitive as some. I think your points are dead on. As petites we definitely have to put in a little bit of extra effort.

    My experiences are that as a petite I do not get noticed as much. Usually this is a good thing LOL but there are situations where standing out or being "memorable" is important. These are occasions where I try to not "blend" into the crowd as I find for me personally it is very easy to be overlooked.

    What is VERY interesting is that my 6'5" tall husband is in an industry where the older you look the more seriously you are taken and while he definitely looks like a grown up he is much younger than his colleagues and is always looking to prove himself. So, it's not necessarily a problem just for petites 😉

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply
  50. I can totally relate especially in a very highly competitive work environment!!! I liked your before are so funny:)

    Posted 2.27.11 Reply

Get the newsletter!

What updates would you like?