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.

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  1. Monkey wrote:

    This was such a great read for me and from looking over the comments it seems to have struck a chord with many others also! I'm of average height, but projecting confidence at work is something I struggle with as well, particularly when giving presentations. I have a naturally soft voice and it's hard for people to hear me during normal conversations even though I think I am speaking quite loudly. So my goal for 2011 is to start speaking up! On another note, dressing better (ie. no tshirts, jeans, sneakers) helps a great deal in how people perceive me as well. I work in a lab environment so casual wear is perfectly acceptable, but I've noticed a big difference in how people treat me when I dress one way vs another. For me I just have to find a balance between well-dressed yet still be functional and not look like I won't get my hands dirty.

    Posted 3.8.11 Reply
  2. moxy wrote:

    This post is interesting, as I seem to have it the other way around. I stand 5'8" and tower over most of my colleagues; and from the country where I hail from, there are times when it feels like they don't think you're good enough when you're NOT petite!

    Posted 3.8.11 Reply
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Great post! I'm 5'0". 🙂 I want to add a bit on elocution: project, use a deeper/serious register where appropriate, and frame your thoughts so they are purposeful and concise. Don't ramble! Also, banish the terms 'uh' and 'um' and 'you know' and 'like' from your general work manner, if you can train yourself out of it! Goes a long way towards making each phrase you speak seem more mature, and well-thought-out. Good luck, ladies!

    Posted 3.5.11 Reply
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Great advice! I've just started my first professional job out of school and your blog has been very helpful to me in terms of not just how to dress, but how to act and to make the most of the 59 inches I have. One subject I could really use more guidance on though is makeup! Especially concealer; no matter what product I try, I don't seem to notice a difference. Also: doing a neutral eye-make-up look for daytime.
    Anyway, wonderfully done post; I look forward to reading more.

    Posted 3.4.11 Reply
  5. Rose wrote:

    First time visitor, and this post really caught my eye. Great advice, love your before/after pictures 🙂

    I also love your sense of style! Very inspiring! I've added to my feedreader 🙂

    Posted 3.3.11 Reply
  6. Brandon wrote:


    I just want to say that this is a very interesting article (my favorite i've read on here). The comparison photos are AMAZING! It is exactly what I was telling my girlfriend. I should point out I'm a guy, but I enjoy reading a lot of your posts. For some reason I really just like the idea behind women's fashion, it seems to have much more "power" then men's fashion. Not to say I don't like dressing myself, but for some reason the science behind a womans dress is just so interesting. It's an odd thing i've recently noticed about myself, but hey it's interesting nonetheless :).

    Perhaps I should explain how I got here. I have a girlfriend who is very petite and we often had discussions about the very thing this post is talking about. She'd always be telling me that she could never find clothes to fit and didn't know what to do. I'd tell her i'd see other petite women pulling it off, and that she should look at others. She has just had a lot of self confidence issues, and when she moved to the city she was feeling mortified whenever we'd show up places. So one day we just searched on google for information for petite style and we found your site! It's been very informative reading this stuff. She seems a lot happier lately. She's found some local tailors, has been buying shoes, and began shopping much smarter. Sounds odd me posting this, I just want to say thank you. It's like she's been given a second life, she is so happy lately. I'm glad you share this information with the world, it truly is helpful, and I hope others have benefited as much as we (she) has.


    Posted 3.3.11 Reply
  7. PetiteXXS wrote:

    Wow lots and lots of comments! Looks like this struck a cord with a lot of petite professional women out there. This is definitely one of my absolute favorite posts of yours, and I realized the same things through experience, but I wish someone had told me earlier! I'm a sloucher & soft-spoken by nature, so have to constantly remind myself to work on it. And the makeup thing, you already know that I've only just begun to work on that as well, but I agree that a little can go a long way to help us to look more pulled together. Thanks for braving to share your bare face to illustrate the point! And geez I'm always a little shocked to see how we must look next to our 'regular size' colleagues! You look perfectly polished and well-proportioned though, and that's exactly what we're all trying to achieve! 🙂

    Posted 3.3.11 Reply
  8. Hi,
    i have seen a very nice blog. i really like this blog. This is very important post for clothe shop.

    Thank you,

    Posted 3.2.11 Reply
  9. Vicky wrote:

    The rules apply to everyone, not just petites. I agree with them all. What I really don't get reading some of the comments here is why everyone think looking younger is a bad thing? I have NEVER ever in my life thought so, even when I was in my 20s. I have always taken it as a compliment when I was carded in the liquor store. So embrace!

    Posted 3.2.11 Reply
  10. A.Li wrote:

    Great post! I can relate to this as I am also petite. I agree with all the tips. Confidence does play a huge role!

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  11. Maddy wrote:

    Great post! This is something I struggle with as well so thank you for the post. I just hate the initial shock you get from strangers when you tell them your age. You wouldn't tell a fat person he/she is fat so why do they insist on telling us we look so much younger than we are.. It's like I don't already know it or something. >_< It gets annoying. Oh well, we can't change it so got to love it, right!

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  12. Irene wrote:

    What a GREAT post – I definitely don't feel my age. I find that people treat you differently depending on how you carry yourself (sometimes I even lower my voice when I mean BUSINESS!!!)

    Thanks for these great tips Jean…I definitely can't feel lazy about dressing better at work, there is a reason people say "dress for success!"

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  13. Rinny wrote:

    Thank you for the great post Jean. I love the comparison photo – clothing and makeup definitely makes a huge difference in the perception of age. As far as petite bloggers go, I'd probably be considered "tall" at 5'2", but I still feel very under confident in the workplace, especially since I'm going in for a lot of job interviews right now. And you have a great point about the smaller voices. I have to start reminding myself to speak more loudly – my bf always says I'm about as loud as a mouse =.=

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  14. aquav87 wrote:

    I absolutely am dying to find this Theory Joanie tweed skirt that you're wearing. I tried to contact Nordstrom Rack to help me find it, but they need a UPC code(I think that's what it called). By any chance you know what is this code? I have the jacket already, and I would be in heaven if I can find the skirt to match!

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  15. aquav87 wrote:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Posted 3.1.11 Reply
  16. April wrote:

    What an amazing blog post! I really loved the before and after pics! You still look fantastic without makeup, but even the little amount of products really brightened up your face! I'd love to have skin like you! Please make more posts like this! Soo much fun to read! <3

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  17. I am Khatu wrote:

    great post Jean. Are those ill-fitting clothes yours?

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  18. Petite-ish wrote:

    I love how holistic your blog is and what great advice. I totally look like your before picture, but fortunately for me, I get to cover it up with a white coat.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  19. Oh my goodness – reading this could not have come on a better night. I just lead an executive group meeting that went less than stellar and I was actually referred to as "little Lilly" by one of the executives – clearly a way to demean me and make me feel even smaller and less powerful than I already feel. I loved hitting him in the face with, well, I have my doctorate when he asked me what qualified me for the activity I was leading today. Though it helped a bit, I'm sure being taller and older looking might have also minimized his need to make me feel inferior!

    Thank you for these tips, Jean! Great blog!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  20. kileen wrote:

    these are great tips jean and the pictures are very helpful. i agree that dressing in clothes that look fitted for your body makes a huge difference as well as just standing and presenting yourself with confidence. thanks for the tips!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  21. Beans wrote:

    I am short (4ft 10) but it has been commented that when I walked into a place, it was like I owned the place. To show self-confidence do like many had mentioned before, carry yourself tall, firm handshake, speak low and deliberate and most importantly, know your stuff inside out. I find yoga helped w/ my posture.
    To ladies who are in your early twenties, at some point, people will stop asking you about your age :). Trust me on this. I know that you want to be taken seriously NOW and not having people focused on your age, if you implement all of what Jean talked about, you will see differences in how people treat you.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  22. Anonymous wrote:

    best post ever!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  23. This was such a great and thoughtful post Jean. I actually just struggled with this yesterday – My friend, her mom, and I went wine tasting and the server told me he thought I was trying to pull a fast one on him. I was so offended! Just because I'm short and look young doesn't mean I have to be treated like a kid. It's something I am trying to overcome. I've been sort of insecure about my height my whole life and I don't want to be anymore. This post definitely helped =)

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  24. Carolyn wrote:

    what a great post! especially love the before and after pics

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  25. Kandice wrote:

    Hi Jean, excellent advice. At 5 ft tall, I certainly share the same experiences. Two things that helped me include taking diction/speaking voice classes and weight training. I learned how to speak more clearly,
    lower my pitch, and speak louder from the diction and voice classes that I took. Speaking well is so important for a successful career. I’ve already taken many classes, but there’s still room for improvement. I may take
    more in the future.

    The other thing that helped me tremendously is weight training. As a result of weight training, I went from H&M; size 2 to size 4. Clothing now fits better and looks better on me. So clothing shopping has become a little bit easier (of course it’s still difficult for petites, as we all know). I also have a bigger presence now because I am bigger. Lastly, another benefit is that I feel stronger, which is a wonderful feeling to have. I currently weigh about 98 lbs and I would like to gain a few more, if I could. It’s going to be hard though as it’s not easy for women to gain muscles; it’ll take some serious training. Anyway, I highly recommend weight training; can’t say enough good things about it!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  26. Ping wrote:

    jean– what a great post! i love before and afters. i totally agree with you on the makeup! it makes such a difference and a little will do the trick. people will ask me if i'm tired/sick if i don't wear makeup to work. lol yes its that bad.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  27. calcho wrote:


    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  28. Stylepint wrote:

    Great post Jean and as shallow as it sounds, appearance and carriage is important in how you present yourself. You hit it right on the money!

    I have had experiences where people assume I'm young just because I'm short, but once we start a conversation they realize that I'm older than they thought. I try to be more social in group situations and it helps make me feel part of the crowd of peers instead of being the "child" that's seen but not heard. LOL.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  29. Peebees wrote:

    Wow! Who knew a little styling could make such a big difference. I have to give a presentation tomorrow so I might pay myself a little visit to Ann Taylor after reading this 🙂

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  30. Other tips from Aubrey:
    1) Walk down the hallways of your office like you own it (envision Olivia Palermo of the Hills)
    2) Dress for the job you want, not the job you have
    3) Drive a truck and see who dares to question your badass-ness then

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  31. Great tips Jean! All of this makes such a difference, especially the first before and after pic. The after pic looks a lot more sophisticated and work ready. You always look so work appropriate and chic!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  32. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm 21 and recently i went to a new place to get my hair cut. the woman cutting my hair looked at me questioningly and asked my age. to relieve her of shock, i told her i was 17. So much for that…she thought i was 13!!! it's hard to feel confident when people compare you to a pre-pubescent kid.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  33. kali wrote:

    Great post! I can relate too since I'm usually the "tiny one" of my friends and people I know. But confidence does help.. A LOT. Of course being overly confident is another thing though. =P

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  34. Karen wrote:

    I love your blog and while I rarely comment, I read it almost everyday. I felt the need to comment on this as it really struck a cord with me and related to something that happened to me this weekend.

    I was at the Ann Taylor factory store picking up a few key pieces for my work wardrobe and as I'm waiting to be rung up, the manager at the counter offered the woman ahead of me a huge discount on a sweater (90% off!). I had the same sweater in hand and when I asked for the same discount as the customer ahead of me, the manager scolded me and actually raised her voice and yelled at me like I was a child! It was mortifying to be yelled at like that. I realized it was because the woman ahead of my looked like a grown up, and standing at 5'1, I looked much like a teenager.

    Hopefully this is not a reflection of the Ann Taylor corporation, because I truly do love their clothes and everything else they produce!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  35. Erin wrote:

    Awesome, awesome, awesome post! I have personally overcome all of these issues, since I'm naturally very introverted and shy. I am actually a fill-in trainer at my company and often present to military customers. I find that the biggest thing that helps me is "Think Powerfully." That is, I think that I'm tall and powerful and commanding, and that helps me to act that way 🙂

    Thanks so much for this post!!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  36. Anonymous wrote:

    I just want to chime in that Queen Victoria was petite, around 4' 11" or 5' and we can be sure she carried herself with confidence and authority!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  37. Itsher wrote:

    I can definitely relate! I need to work on projecting my voice and showing the people around me that I can do the work. I'm a college student in my junior year and I am actively seeking internships, which luckily enough I actually landed myself one! Every time i go on interviews with men, I get intimidated. They're all relatively old -lol and TALL! I feel so intimidated and I feel like I cannot connect with them during the interview, which is probably the most important thing.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  38. Great post!

    I totally agree with your suggestions. I used to work on construction sites, in Portland, Oregon (where they don't see many Asians). A lot of contractors would ask me how old I was, they thought I was 17 or 18 and they would be shocked to find that I was 25! Unfortunately on construction sites, its mandatory to wear their one-size-fits-all safety vest and there are no safety boots with heels, but wearing makeup definitely does make a difference! How I carried myself was important too, especially since I had to tell big burly construction workers to do things my way!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  39. J-ezzy wrote:

    i know i have a napoleon complex just so people can listen to me! haha

    I love this post! I'm forwarding to my gf's 😉

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  40. Anonymous wrote:

    Just when I've been dealing with people questioning my age (and my maturity) these days, I see your post! I'm not petite height-wise, but I have a small figure and look more youthful than most people, and it drives me crazy sometimes when people ask me how old I am… especially when I'm trying to give a strong first impression. Your post is very inspiring. I've been reading your blog for some time now and I especially love these kinds of posts. Keep up the great work, pics, advice, etc!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  41. Julie wrote:

    I'm actually NOT petite at all, but I still think that this post is worth reading for all women. The advice you give carries well across the board (though I suppose heels might not be AS critical for tall ladies). Great post!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  42. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm not petite. I'm 5'9 but I love your style and the advice you give. Im straight out of grad school and I can relate to your situation. I am very young looking and I work at a University. It's hard enough not looking like one of the students but it doesn't help when male administration introduces you as " this is ___, she works in the ___, doesn't she look like she could be a student?" Dressing more business-like is very important to me – it sets me as an authority figure for the students and makes me feel more confident in meetings. I wear brighter colors than most and try to be style so I can be a little more relatable to students. Thanks for your great post!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  43. Paige wrote:

    I'm so happy I've found your blog! Your advice is amazing. I'm a physics professor and I've had students that are a foot and a half taller than me! Dressing well definitely helps me feel more authoritative and helps keep the line between student and professor from blurring.

    I do struggle with the heels dilemma–I love how they look, but in a laboratory class, I'm on my feet for hours at a stretch. I've ordered some of the perfect pumps that you recommended–I hope those are my solution.

    Another thing I struggle with is dressing for the cold–I have a half mile hike across campus and I have a very drafty office–it's hard for me to figure out how to be stylish and warm at the same time. How do you deal with the winter cold?

    Thank you for putting all the time and effort into your posts, they are a huge help!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  44. CynthiaC wrote:

    The voice is very important. I've found many petite women, perhaps from years of being seen as "young" or "cute" speak with very young-sounding voices (Note: I see this more with women of Asian descent who watch a lot of movies/television from their ancestral countries, likely because this type of voice is the equivalent of MallRat Speak/UpTalk/Valley over there) or go uber-extreme with the American MallRat/Valley Speak/UpTalk ("like, I'm sooooooooooo not going to text him back…EWWWWW".) Not a good thing. Speak slower, slightly lower and enunciate your words. If you aren't sure what you sound like to others, record yourself.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  45. Thank you so much for this! I may not be petite, but I'm very shy and soft-spoken and it sometimes seems like I get overlooked because of it. People cut ahead of me in queues as if they just don't notice me, and I often have to repeat myself to be heard. I also slouch, have trouble with eye contact and probably have a weak handshake… not good! Your tips are a great reminder that how we carry ourselves matters, regardless of size.

    (Ironically, I slouch because I used to hate being tall! I'm comfortable with my height now, but back in my self-conscious teen years it didn't help that I was noticeably taller than most of my peers… and a lot of my teachers. I guess it goes to show that no size guarantees confidence.)

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  46. A GREAT post and so many can relate. And you're so right, bottom line is if you're really good at your work, you'll always get respect.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  47. Tara wrote:

    This is a great post…when I first started teaching, I was in a big school district and constantly being asked if I was a student or a teacher. I still get annoyed, not only at work, but in my personal life when people think I'm a lot younger then I am…it can be really annoying!!

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  48. I teach high school kids so I have always felt a need to put more effort into my appearance in order to stand apart from my students and command respect. A few of my own style rules include wearing heels of at least 2" every day (usually 3+ now) and never wearing jeans on casual Fridays. Even though we can wear jeans on Fridays, I have only done so twice, and both times I felt really uncomfortable around my students. I also notice that when I wear jeans (even though I try to dress them up with blazers, scarves, heels and jewelry) the kids seem to give me less respect. The more "dressed up" I am at work, the more they respect me. The average teenager apparently picks up on the fact that an adult who closely resembles them needs to set herself apart to be an authority figure.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  49. nice:)

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply
  50. Informative insights. Glad to bookmark this one. The tips looks easy and very simple, really boost my confidence.

    Posted 2.28.11 Reply

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