Exclusive: Freida Pinto on confidence, biggest achievement and how a pair of shoes changed her life

Hollywood actor Freida Pinto sits down with Stylist to talk Girl Rising, gender pay gaps and how a pair of shoes can change your life. 

Today marks an incredibly important date in the calendar: International Day of the Girl. It’s a day that aims to highlight the needs and challenges girls face while promoting girl empowerment. In celebration of this day, Stylist travelled to New York to sit down with actor and humanitarian Freida Pinto, to find out how the smallest of actions can enact huge change for so many girls. 

You’ll remember Pinto from the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire – where she portrayed Latika, who was sold into India’s sex trade. Now, the actor and Clarks ambassador is using her platform to work with charity Girl Rising, which aims to change the way the world sees girls.

There is a mountain of evidence that indicates positive change when you educate girls. For Girl Rising, this is through the narrative of storytelling; in particular a film about nine unforgettable girls that has since been translated into 30 languages. Alongside the film, there is a curriculum that has since been rolled out to schools and works on changing attitudes and social norms so that entire communities can stand up against gender discrimination. Girl Rising wants to shift the conversation from pity to empathy; with pity there is a layer of guilt but with empathy you are propelled to make change.

In a bid to raise awareness of Girl Rising, footwear giant Clarks is helping this cause not only through financial donation, but by building a conversation around the great importance of supporting every girl. Pinto explains how she’s getting involved. 

Inspiring girls

“When I was in Ethiopia, I met this girl called Hiwot,” says Pinto. “I was working with Planned International for a school in Addis Ababa to see the programme they had put in place on sanitation specifically. Building toilets for girls with doors so that girls could feel comfortable using the restroom on their period and giving them a safe space so they didn’t have to drop out of school on those days. It was a fantastic project but my flight was delayed getting into the city and so I was late arriving to the school and had delayed the children by an hour.

“At the end of the session I was really apologetic about it, I wasn’t proud that I was an hour late, but one of the girls – Hiwot – stood up at the end of class and said,‘With all due respect, I am really happy that you’ve come on a school day to learn more about what we are doing, but I would really prefer if you came on a weekend so that I did not have to miss my chemistry class’. Being told off in that moment was brilliant because it meant she was empowered to speak her mind and with confidence.” 

Confidence coaching 101

For some people confidence is innate, for others it’s something we have to work towards as a collective. “The first thing I always try to tell myself is that I’m not perfect, I am never going to say all the right things at the right time every time,” says Pinto. 

“There will be times in my life when I will be making mistakes that I will just have to accept, but here is what I need to learn about the situation and grow from it. How do I avoid making the same mistake in the future? 

“I hate the word perfect, by the way, because there is nothing perfect, there is no perfection. I think eliminating that pressure already starts making you feel comfortable because that’s when you realise that everyone does not have this down – even Michelle Obama doesn’t have it down, she has her vulnerable moments. Just because she is your figure of absolute leadership in the women’s space it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her low moments and her moments where she has made mistakes. So, once you stop idolising perfection, I feel that’s when you start becoming easier on yourself and can enact your own confidence.” 

Gender pay gap

It is predicted that in the US it will take another 175 years to reach gender equality. Pinto tells Stylist closing the gap is about “team work”. 

“I’m not doing it by myself,” she says. “For me the first step is exactly what Hiwot did for herself and it is what women need to do for themselves: speak up. At least in my industry, as actors, we need to be able to speak up, we need to be able to know that we are entitled to full transparency. We need to be told how much we are getting paid and if someone is getting paid – especially a male actor – more. You have a right to know that, too. 

“So I feel the first thing is empower yourself with the knowledge that you have the right to know and I think once you do that you can make better decisions for yourself.” 

Enacting change

For big brands like Clarks, enacting change is enabling Pinto to share the message of Girl Rising with their vast audience. But for individuals it can be daunting challenge to see how you can make change alone.

“We aren’t going to change the world overnight, but we can change people’s mindsets,” says Pinto. “You can sign up to the Girl Rising newsletter – that is one more thing you are doing today that you didn’t do yesterday to learn about change. You could host a screening at your house with your friends for one of the films, you could even take a young girl from your community into your office for an hour just to see what potential there is out there for her. 

“Spend some time with young girls in your family to enable them to think broader and bigger than they have ever thought before about themselves and their future.” 

The shoe that changed Freida’s life

Not everyone will remember getting their first pair of shoes, but for Freida, her first pair made all the difference. “My first memory wasn’t actually a childhood story and I wish it was, because it would have saved me years of pain,” says Pinto. “I was born in a very tall family, they all took the height but they only gave me the big feet. In school I was called ‘duck feet’ because I was the short girl with really big feet. My shoe size was beyond the range of normal in India, because they don’t really believe women have bigger than a size five,so I have always had to shove and push my feet into one size smaller than what was required for my feet. As you can imagine, this really damaged my foot health. 

“So in the early 2000s when Clarks first came to India and had its in own shops, it was literally the best news for the women within my family. I didn’t have to wait for aunts in Canada to bring them over for me or try and find someone that would make shoes to my size. These were never very fashionable though, and I was desperate for something stylish. 

“I had serious feet woes for the majority of my life, so my first pair of the correct size shoes was like a gift to my feet. It’s almost like your first love, if it doesn’t work, great, but you’ll always remember it was my first comfortable shoe in my entire life.”

“I was very proud to have a pair of shoes that looked good on my feet that were also very comfortable. The fact that I didn’t have to compromise on something and was able to wear a shoe that quite literally gave me a spring in my step meant I was finally able to be confident. We are constantly bombarded with images of women in high heels, and let me tell you the truth, they are not comfortable! For me, I felt free for the very first time and with freedom comes a sense of confidence – when you feel free in your body, confidence comes naturally.”  

Images: Getty / Instagram / Shelly Kroeger 

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