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Emily Stephens and the Secret to Being Confident

With all the pressures we feel to “live our best life” and “be our best selves,” it’s no wonder that we struggle with low self-esteem. It was so refreshing and inspiring to talk with Emily Stephens.

Emily wearing a 70’s style patterned dress (Credit: @jesssamperphoto)

C.G. Jung said, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

For a woman, accepting yourself completely feels, not just challenging, but nearly impossible. And, that feeling isn’t one that only one or two of us share.

Studies show that 50% of women feel more doubt than love toward themselves, and 80% of women struggle with low self-esteem.

And, this isn’t just an American problem.

Research conducted in the UK found that 85% of women don’t believe they are attractive, 62% don’t believe they are intelligent, and 56% don’t think they are liked by others.

With all the pressures we feel to “live our best life” and “be our best selves,” it’s no wonder that we struggle with low self-esteem.

Perhaps that’s why it was so refreshing and inspiring to talk with Emily Stephens, a 20-year-old college student and Instagram influencer with more than 100,000 followers and a love for 1970s fashion.

Emily wearing a wrap coat with faux fur sheepskin collar
Emily wearing a 70’s sheepskin style coat surrounded by 70’s homewares

On a campus full of thousands of young women, many wearing the latest fashion from SHEIN and Zara, Emily isn’t afraid to stand out.

“We weren’t created to be carbon copies of each other,” said Stephens.

But she didn’t always feel that way.

“I was the most insecure middle schooler you can imagine. I wanted to wear and do whatever the cool kids were wearing and doing. I thought that fitting in would make me happy. This continued into my early high school years. I am crazy about iced chai, but I remember trying to force myself to drink coffee because that’s what everyone else did. Then COVID hit in the middle of my junior year, and normal student life was gone.”

Emily was quickly bored with so much time at home, and she considered making videos to post on TikTok, but she was worried that people would make fun of her. Her compromise was to start posting videos but delete everything before she went back to school.

So, in 2020, Emily began posting “Mamma Mia”-related TikTok videos, which she eventually paired with '70s-inspired looks on Instagram. Because despite her history of wearing trendy clothes, mainstream fashion wasn’t her favourite. Stephens had developed a love for thrifting.

As a petite kid growing up in Tampa, Florida, she tried to shop at stores in the mall but the clothes never fit right. So, her mum took her to consignment stores and soon Emily learned to upcycle her clothing with small tweaks like fixing the waist, hemming the length, and sewing buttons.

“Having these skills allowed me to take charge of my own wardrobe. And, it helped me define my style. ‘Mamma Mia’ is my favourite movie and the fashion is impeccable. I started to realise that those styles make me happy, and I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I dress like that?’ That’s when I really got into thrifting.”

Emily in a blue jumpsuit and striped roll neck with carrying roller skates over her shoulder
Emily in a blue jumpsuit, rocking the 70’s skater look!

The more Emily experimented, the more her interest in fashion grew. She discovered vintage clothing and figured out what looked good on her body type.

“I love this quote that I heard on a TV show: ‘Your clothes are your inside on your outside, and you shouldn’t leave that to mass manufacturers.’ It really resonated with me. Each of us is unique and deserves to dress like our unique selves.”

Sharing her finds, her outfits, and her journey online quickly attracted girls from all over the world who felt the same.

Her community, whom she refers to as “dynamos” (a term from ‘Mamma Mia’ that also means an energetic person who is a force to be reckoned with), grew steadily as Stephens graduated from high school and moved to attend college in Nashville to pursue a degree in acting.

“There is a lot of crossover between acting and creating content. Whether I’m on a stage, on a podcast, or online, it’s all about communicating effectively and I learned to do that from being involved in theatre from a young age.”

In addition to her acting class, Emily has taken several business and sustainability courses.

Her university offers sustainability classes and entrepreneurial classes within the Environmental Studies and Business departments. Emily chose a sustainability class to fulfil a general education science requirement, and what she learned changed her life.

Emily dancing and playing vinyl on a turntable in a retro living room
Emily listening to a Mamas & Papas record on a vintage turntable

“Sustainability just made sense to me. God created this world for us, and we should take care of it. And, because I am so interested in fashion, it has been extremely revealing to discover the impact fast fashion has on our planet.”

Emily’s faith is of utmost importance in her life and is the reason behind her confidence.

“There’s nothing wrong with embracing trends, but you don’t want to gain the world and lose your soul. I’m empowered and confident because I believe I am who Jesus says I am. I will share that with others if they are looking, but more than anything, I want to create an open space where everyone is welcome. This is a place where everyone’s view can be shared because that’s how we all learn.”

The Dynamos community includes primarily young adults and teens who are learning to dress for themselves and not other people.

“I think it’s important to ask yourself, ‘Who am I dressing for? Am I wearing this because I love it or because I want validation from other people?’ Everyone has negative thoughts that can be self-destructive, but you get to decide whether you are going to listen to them or not.” You were created because the world needed one of you. I want to tell people Jesus loves them; fashion is just my way of connecting with others.”

Emily Stephens has many goals for her life, such as writing a book, starting a fashion label with her best friend, and launching a nonprofit. Dreaming big has become natural after reflecting on her life thus far.

“I, never in 4 million years, would have thought I would be doing this. To me, success is becoming someone my younger, middle-school self needed and could have looked up to,” said Stephens.

Emily standing in front of a crowd of disco lovers wearing a silver glitter jumpsuit
Emily at the disco in her silver sparkly jumpsuit (Credit: @seanworthstudio)

Perhaps that is the secret to confidence– becoming a person the younger version of yourself would like and caring less about measuring up to the women around you.

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