6 Lessons in confidence with 'Suits' star Sarah Rafferty

The actor on how she builds self-esteem, and recovers it when she loses it

The actor on how she builds self-esteem, and recovers it when she loses it

(Photo courtesy of Marc Cartwright)

Six years into filming, Sarah Rafferty is probably best known for her role as Donna Paulsen, a strong-willed, power player on the hit legal series Suits. But behind-the-scenes, the 45-year-old actress grew up with the typical beauty-related anxieties most of us can relate to. "I had frizzy hair and freckly skin, and I was chubby one year and super skinny and tall the next," she says. "I was awkward in my body and I had a headgear, head-retainers and braces, all that kind of stuff." That's why she's teamed up with Dove for its Look How Far We've Come campaign, which is dedicated to helping young girls build positive self-esteem and reach their full potential. On a recent trip to Toronto, we talked to Sarah all about how to build confidence and recover when you lose it. Here, are her six lessons.  

The struggle is real – for everyone

You might assume that Sarah has everything together all the time, but you would be wrong. She's actually really open about struggling with confidence. "Oh, are you kidding? she laughs. "All the time!" she says of the experience. "In some ways doesn't everybody to some extent?" she asks. "People think that I'm a lot like Donna, and they ask me how we're different. I say, 'well she has colossal self-confidence, and I'm an actor, and I'm riddled with self-doubt,'" she explains. The takeaway message: If you're struggling, you're not alone. Everyone has his or her moments.

One person can make a big difference 

"There was kind of a pivotal moment in my life in junior high school when my English teacher told me I should be a part of the public speaking competition," Sarah told us. He gave her a piece from Mice and Men, and she took it home, practiced, memorized it, and went on to win the content. "At that point, I started receiving feedback about the stories I could tell, about how I made people feel, and how I could be active," she says. "It really set me on my path."

You can change the narrative 

A big part of regaining her confidence comes from changing perspectives. "For me, when I have those moments of getting down on my body, let's say for example, my stomach doesn't look my stomach before I had kids, just saying," she laughs. "That bums me out, so I really have to shift that negative into a positive, and get really grateful for the fact that my body delivered me two amazing little girls," she says.

"It's a shift away from how it looks to what it does."

It's okay to be sad sometimes

As an actor, Sarah understands rejection is part of the game. Which also means picking herself up to rebound is really important. These days, she starts by giving herself a second to process. "I used to think that you had to recover immediately," says Sarah. "As I got older, I gave myself the space to be human, and to have a minute and be disappointed and feel whatever I'm feeling," she explains. Afterwards, it's time to move on and look ahead. "Then for me, it's about shifting my perspective onto something grateful for. It's really that age old saying of counting your blessings," she says. "That's what works for me."

We need to give each other different kinds of compliments

"On selfesteem.dove.ca there's this great section about compliments, and I learned that we spend a lot of time complimenting each other on how we look," says Sarah. Instead, she says we should really be complimenting each other on our relationships, for what we do, the people that we are.

It all starts at a young age

According to Sarah, who is doing the work with her own daughters, the conversation about compliments and building confidence should start early. Part of that is making sure young girls are exposed to different types of female role models. Once a girl has her role models, she should be asked why she looks up to them. "Say you choose a singer," says Sarah. "A lot of times, a girl will come back with something about how beautiful she is or about how she poses in pictures, so you steer that question into what else? What about her talent? What about her voice? What about her message do you admire?" she says. "You just keep shifting their values." She hopes that, eventually, that shift should help her value much more than appearances.

For more from Sarah Rafferty, check out our rapid round with the actor below.

(Photo courtesy of Marc Cartwright)

Life with Sarah Rafferty


Best thing you ate in recent memory? "I was at this Mexican-themed party and I had this amazing spicy cabbage. Super random. It was really good!"


What's your desert island beauty product? "SPF [laughs]. Anything with sunscreen!"

Describe your look in one word: "My look? Ah! What is my look? Real."

What's the biggest splurge you've ever made?: "The biggest splurges that I've ever made have always been experiences, so like crazy trips."

Love and relationships

Your celebrity crush: "Can I have a few? Mark Ruffalo, and Cate Blanchett. I have a crush on Cate Blanchett."

Culture and activities

The one book you'd recommend to everyone: "The Dalai Lama wrote a book called The Universe in a Single Atom."

Where is your favourite place on earth?: "In my bathtub with my two kids."