Swagger Matters

Try this experiment: The next time you walk into a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, walk in like they hired you to be there. Put a smile on your face, throw your shoulders back, and keep your head up. Make eye contact. In your head, say, “Yes, I’m here. You’re welcome.” Just try that. See how it makes you feel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experience in competitive bodybuilding, it’s that swagger matters.

Let me give you an example. As a figure competitor, I will walk onstage in a very small, very bedazzled bikini and 5-inch heels. I am 47 years old, and I’ve had babies—which means I have hella stretch marks and loose skin. No amount of work in the gym or on my diet will change these factors. When I face the judging panel—10 to 12 very serious, very unsmiling men and women—I know they’re scrutinizing every detail of my physique. And, for that matter, so are the hundreds of people sitting in the audience. I will see the bank of photographers in the front rows, taking pictures that will live on in perpetuity on the Internet.

Sandy Smith Figure Competitor
USAs 2016

Now, I can tell you, I have almost zero natural swagger. I was the quintessential chubby bookworm who never outgrew the trauma of struggling to pull on a pair of tights and feeling miserably like I was stuffing sausage into a casing.  (Let me tell you, those feels stick with you for life. Even now, at 12% body fat, pulling on my compression workout capris gives me a little PTSD.)

So how do I do it? What’s my trick? There is no trick, sorry. There is only conscientious effort. A lot of effort. The reason I initially chose bodybuilding was to challenge myself in a way that was completely terrifying. I have always hated wearing a bathing suit. (Actually, I still do.) Growing up, I had a beautiful in-ground pool in my backyard; I rarely swam in it. Later, I missed a lot of opportunities to swim with my kids on family vacations to the lake or friends’ pool parties. So, wearing one in this extraordinarily vulnerable state seemed suitably terrifying. (It was, and is.)

But it was undeniably good for me. It changed me, for the better, in several ways. It gave me confidence–or at least the ability to project confidence–in any situation.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to do the same thing! Competitive bodybuilding is definitely not for everyone. But I bet you can think of two or three situations off the top of your head that provoke a similar level of anxiety, fear, or insecurity. Something that inflames every self-conscious nerve in your body.

Maybe you’re overweight and out of shape and beginning to step out on your fitness journey, walking into a new gym or group exercise class where everyone seems ridiculously, cartoonishly fit. Maybe you have to walk into a boardroom of new clients and make a killer high-stakes presentation. Maybe it’s a PTA meeting . . . a public speaking engagement . . . a new job. Whatever it is, the situation may be different, but the context is the same. Swagger changes you, and it changes how people interact with you.

Here are a few things that worked for me and will work for you too. Promise!

Cultivating Swagger

Fake It Till You Make It

For most people, it doesn’t come naturally. That’s fine! There are a lot of things we do on a daily basis that don’t come naturally, and we still do them. For example, it may not be your first impulse to be pleasant with a snotty coworker or patient with a difficult in-law. What do we do? We fake it. We are polite and considerate (one would hope), though it may take significant effort. Self-confidence isn’t much different.

People, especially strangers, only know what you want them to know about yourself. If you want people to believe that you are radiant with strength and self-assurance, carry yourself with the aplomb (real or constructed) of an Oscar winner. Only you will know that it doesn’t come naturally. In this case, perception really is reality; and the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.


pink hair
My outlandish hair.

That is, Mind Your Own Business. Don’t worry about what anyone else is thinking about you. You can’t control that anyway. And, chances are, they’re not thinking anything meaningful anyway! In situations where we feel uncomfortable, we tend to let ourselves be avalanched by myriad hypothetical things we suspect others must be thinking about us. Are they looking at my hair? Why did I wear it this way? Do I need a weave? A root job? A wig? Ugh…I should have worn a hat. You know how it goes. Maybe it’s not your hair; maybe it’s your butt or your shoes.

In reality, unless you have completely outlandish hair (and if you do, you should be used to people thinking about it), most likely no one is looking critically at your hair (or butt or shoes). And I promise you, if your swagger is fixed firmly in place, you won’t care what anyone thinks of your hair. Your hair is fabulous! And even if it’s not, so what? Stay focused; you have your own row to hoe. Hoe it like a boss.

Swagger Is NOT Arrogance

Arrogance is ugly and off-putting. Arrogance says I’m better than you. Swagger, or self-confidence, says I’m great, you’re awesome, we’re all super fantastic creatures and let’s give ourselves a round of applause. Yay us! Never confuse the two.

It Gets Easier

I’m not going to lie . . . implementing swagger is damn hard. But it does get much easier the more often you practice it. Keep the above things in mind and start working on your swagger. Make sure your inner cheerleader is on point; keep that voice in your head positive. And do it over and over.

Look for opportunities. The next time you’re walking through a restaurant to find a restroom, practice your swagger. Walk like you’re the owner of the place and you just found out these wonderful patrons voted you the Best Of in your city. You’re beaming! You’re beautiful! You love everyone and they love you! And more importantly, you love yourself (even if your hair is uncooperative and your butt isn’t as perky as you’d like it to be).

That’s swagger. Get some.

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