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. Anon wrote:

    For the more artsy, I find bright and chiq hair that I feel proud of makes me way more confident because I just have to own myself; I’m noticeable, I’m distinct, and it’s a conversation starter that opens on something I’m confident about. It helps me be stand out and honestly makes the most slouchy outfits look chiq and intentional if they’re coordinated by color at all.

    If you’re thinking about it and feeling down then give it a try. People want to be kind and they feel comfortable complimenting hair choices, so you’ld be surprised how many people will say hi and maybe start a conversation. So if you have anxiety like me it makes every outing full of positive interactions and helps me retrain my brain that good things are as likely as bad. It makes me familiar because I’m recognizable so people are more friendly too! After you’re feeling confident it’s up to you what you do, but get in the habit of being friendly if it’s safe and you’ll be mistaken for someone taller. (People forget I’m short when I feel comfortable then suddenly realize it again and tease me. I get these comments a lot, and I’m just over 5’1″.)

    Posted 12.30.22 Reply
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    What if I’m not a girly girl and I don’t want to wear “feminine” clothes or high heels? What if I want to wear a menswear-inspired outfit?

    Posted 3.9.22 Reply
  3. Jen wrote:

    I work in an office environment and it’s very hard for me to be consistent with looking good everyday. This was very helpful and look forward to following it. It gave me a boost of confidence and a reminder that even though I’m 5’1, I can look just as good as a tall person.

    Posted 7.28.20 Reply
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I totally agree with your post. Women should not slouch at work and should stand up tall. She should dress professionally in form fitting clothes as they give others a first impression. I find it nice to wear a little makeup and always dress business casual and professionally for work. I don't ever wear jeans on Friday to work even though our company allows it. You never know what patients or customers you have to interact with daily

    Posted 11.25.13 Reply
  5. Jennifer H wrote:

    I'm only 5ft tall and no one will believe I'm 20 years old. It does really dent my self esteem, especially when guys tease me about my size. I laugh it off or ignore it but the teasing can be really annoying. I have a tall friend who is really stunning but hates being a healthy UK 12 and says she's "fat". She says she would love to be "petite and pretty like Jen" but guys admire her, not call her names.

    Posted 11.13.13 Reply
  6. Jean wrote:

    Moderated the original comment on 9/7/13 as I haven't visited this post in a while and did not see it. Sentiments like that are not respectful to women of different body types, and certainly don't reflect what this blog is about.

    Posted 10.29.13 Reply
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Very good advice! I'm only 5'1'' tall, and also just generally tiny. People always think I'm 12 even though I'm actually 15 years old. It's comforting to know that there are lots of other females out there as short as me!

    Posted 8.28.13 Reply
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    It is true the other way around too. At 5'10'' I often find myself surrounded by people – a lot of boys too – who are noticeable shorter than I am. Used to be a big issue for me because I always looked much bigger next to my smaller friends. Understandably, a tall woman will have a wider frame than a short woman. Due to this, even though I was underweight during my teen years, I still looked much bigger in pictures and felt bigger than other people and this added to my lack of self-esteem. Happily, I found a tall sportive boyfriend next to whom I can wear heels comfortably and that added to my self esteem greatly.

    Posted 8.21.13 Reply
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    This advice is so helpful, something I have been looking and waiting for, for many years. Thank you!

    Posted 7.13.13 Reply
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    I can totally relate to this too. I am 34 and pregnant and have taught degree students but only look like i am in my early 20s. Recently i met a guy in his fifties who completely ignored me and talked to my friend about her career. It was at a casual do so wasnt dressed up but i was really annoyed to be disrespected like that because i look young. It does knock you back. I have also had the " you are too young to be pregnant" stare. Great blog!

    Posted 6.13.13 Reply
  11. Caitlyn Wu wrote:

    I can totally relate. I'm 29 but everywhere I've worked people think I look like a teenager! I work in the wine business and customers will say to me, "Are you even old enough to be drinking wine or working here?" I even had a customer who refused to believe that I was a wine buyer for the store. It really is a gun shot wound to your self-esteem! Thanks for the post 🙂

    Posted 4.17.13 Reply
  12. Anonymous wrote:

    Wonderul post! I'm 25 but am mistaken very often for being in highschool due to my size. It can be very discouraging to be new to your career and constantly be given reminders about how young and green you look. And I feel that I have to work harder than most people in my field to look pulled together so that my clients will have confidence in me. Thanks for the great tips. So happy to have found this blog and know that there are other petite people out there!

    Posted 4.12.13 Reply
  13. Bonnie wrote:

    Great examples with your pictures! I just want to say I enjoy reading your blog. The before and after pictures really illustrate a point.

    Posted 2.24.13 Reply
  14. Davina wrote:

    After reading this blog I am so inspired to do more about my fashion style. You rock!! Hope to meet you one day.. 🙂

    Posted 11.23.12 Reply
  15. Karen wrote:

    Hey Jean, I just wanted to say thanks for this post! From the looks of the picture, I'm pretty sure we both work for the same firm and I definitely have had a similar experience with clients asking my age when I first started working. After a while, with all the hours I was working, I didn't wear much makeup or take the time to buy flattering clothes, and generally didn't pay much attention to my appearance. But after my first year, I was assigned on a client in NYC in the same building as ralph lauren and the experience of riding the elevetor to the top floors along with very stylish RL interns snapped me out of it! Having my go to flattering work clothes and taking an extra fifteen minutes to put on makeup definitely makes a difference in how partners, managers and clients treat you. And being only 5'3, always wearing heels definitely makes me more confident. I've only been a reader for a few months, but I've definitely enjoyed reading every week! Thanks so much!!

    Posted 10.20.12 Reply
  16. Thank you so much! I was looking to learn more on this subject. So glad I found your blog!

    Posted 10.15.12 Reply
  17. Anonymous wrote:

    I look just like your before picture! I've decided to do something about this and I'm so happy I've found your blog for inspiration.

    Posted 8.12.12 Reply
  18. Anonymous wrote:

    I LOVE your blog and this post is great! Could you do a tutorial for people just starting out professionally in terms of what business casual means vs. dressing very professionally, etc? I think you do it seamlessly but it's not so easy for me without looking like a lady politician.

    Posted 7.11.12 Reply
  19. Anonymous wrote:

    As a person in the medical field who has to walk around all day in the hospital, I prefer flats to heels. I do understand the need for more height, and I'm pretty petite myself (5'2" and 95lbs). However, I can't imagine walking in heels all day long in the hospital. I think you can make flats at the office work nicely with your outfit if you style correctly. You have amazing suggestions, but you can exude confidence wearing flats. I'm sure you know that confidence comes from within and that you're just trying to show what's inside on the outside (sorry to be trite), but flats can exude confidence even though you're petite.

    Thank you so much for you blog. I just had to get that out there. I really do enjoy reading it!!

    Posted 6.2.12 Reply
  20. Anonymous wrote:

    Thank you for this great post.

    Posted 5.28.12 Reply
  21. Anonymous wrote:

    Jean, I hope I don't come off as rude, but I've always wondered what you do for a living, if you don't mind sharing.

    Posted 3.10.12 Reply
  22. Angee P-B wrote:

    This is really helpful! As a student teacher in a high school, I am often mistaken for a 15 year old instead of a graduate student. (I've had detention slips and asked to the prom consistently!) the students there tower over me and the girls look older than I do (I'm 25 year olds, Asian and 5 ft)

    I love the style techniques that you bring because although I am young, I like to show my youth and vibrancy without looking like a teenager and your style does just that. It exudes confidence and professionalism with a hint of style. It is not overbearing but it definitely creates a statement and leaves a lasting impression. My students look to me as a role model and I like to show them that through my teaching, style and personality.

    Thanks and keep up the good work. =D

    Posted 2.16.12 Reply
  23. Sharey21 wrote:

    I can totally relate. I'm 20 years old, asian, 4'11'' and 85 pounds. I get comments saying that I look I'm 12, which is the most rudest comment I have ever heard and could never imagine saying to someone else. However, when I meet people that actually get to know me, they think I'm very mature for my age. It just shows how ignorant people can be. I absolutely LOVE your blogs and you make me feel as if I'm not alone. You probably won't see this comment since this post is rather old. But I am such a fan <3 thanks again.

    Posted 1.12.12 Reply
  24. Janet W wrote:

    Catching on the Best of 2011, since I started reading later this year . .

    I found purchasing a nice shoulder bag/purse helped significantly. This is the bag to carry my laptop, files, etc. to work and between meetings. I had previously used a more "manly" laptop bag that kept me looking off-balance, and short. I also found carrying stuff in my arms, also made me seem smaller in stature. I got some compliments on the bag, but more importantly, I received compliments that were general in that I looked more confident.

    (I bought a Coach Chelsea Leather Shopper and it is jus the perfect size)

    Posted 1.1.12 Reply
  25. Krecipe wrote:

    You are an awesome person with greater thoughts:) I love to read your blog as it feels like I find a real friend.
    I have 9years of work experience and people treat me as 1 or 2years of newbie. If I tell them about those 9years, they ask me " How old can you start working in Korea?(10 years old??)"…Seriously???? seriously!!!!! Duh!! 23 after graduated from colleage…dudes…What I do is try to ignore that worst feeling and focus on my job so that I can be the best. I believe sooner or later people will only care about my job not about my age(not real age though) or my looking. and who knows?? When we turn to 40….we might still look like 30 🙂 That's gonna be awesome!! Isn't it??

    Posted 12.26.11 Reply
  26. Thanks for the article. Bookmarked to my wife she really low this i'm sure.

    Posted 7.3.11 Reply
  27. Vivian wrote:

    This is probably my favorite post of yours thus far…
    I don't mean this in the wrong way, but I'm glad there's someone out there that I can relate to… I thought I was the only one who gets mistaken for a younger age and is always called small or short or skinny. Now, I know how to fix that and get others words like professional or put together. I can really tell how a tailored look looks like & I think I'm gunna go & find a go to tailor of my own now.. LOL. Please don't stop empowering petite women like us… Thanks Jean! (=

    Posted 6.22.11 Reply
  28. I've been following your blog for a little while now and you've inspired me to make my very own blog. This post was definitely one of my favorite since I am 4'11, weigh 97-100 lbs, and have an hourglass shape. It's definitely very annoying being constantly asked about my height or hearing comments like, "Oh you're so tiny!" You feel like you should try to act lighthearted about it but sometimes you just don't want to hear it! I'm glad you posted this because I love looking as polished as possible at work and i'm very confident in myself and my work, but it's nice to hear that someone else out there feels the same way! It gets tiring at times trying to constantly have to "keep up" just to feel like the rest of your average sized colleagues.

    Posted 5.30.11 Reply
  29. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi. I just found this post and it's very good. I'm petite and especially older people think I'm younger than I am. I've noticed that people in my age (I'm 26) does not seem to care so much about the relationship between age and being petite. Thank you for your tips. It's very helpful!

    Posted 4.10.11 Reply
  30. Fancy wrote:

    I love your blog and wanted to let you and your readers know that I think your tips are just as applicable to older women who are small and work in professional offices. High heels don't have to be too high; just high enough to give you that sense of a "lift" without hurting your feet too much. And to give your feet a break, a platform shoe or wedge can work well if it's not too casual. I have a closet full of Elie Tahari suits, but I've noticed lately that the quality is not as good, and that Theory makes a higher quality suit, so I'm switching brands. I buy whenever there's a really good sale. You look wonderful and have a great fashion sense!

    Posted 4.9.11 Reply
  31. Clarissa wrote:

    Oh my goodness. The first "before" picture is exactly what I look like. No make-up, pants that don't fit, flats and regular blouse. And I'm 5'3! Thanks for the tips!

    Posted 3.11.11 Reply
  32. Trish wrote:

    Great post, and I agree that confidence is everything. Being in nursing school, I only wear scrubs and yoga pants all the time so my appearance is still of a bum during college years but my friends tell me that when they first met me they were intimidated by me because I have so much confidence. Bahahaha for some reason I laughed because I know I can be awkward in front of people. But I have now come to terms with my petite self and my personality that I'm very comfortable in myself. Yay for positive self confidences!!

    Posted 3.10.11 Reply

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