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A year ago, if you walked up to me and said, “Girl, that is a gorgeous skirt!” My response might have been something like this:

*bashful blush* “Aw, thank you, but girl, I got this at Macy’s when they were having one of their huge sales. It was only $15. I’ve had this thing for years. I need to go shopping because I need new stuff…”

*cue awkward silence*

A year ago, 99.9 percent of the time, if I received a compliment I didn’t just utter the only two words necessary (“Thank you”), I launched into a reasoning fit, a full-fledged campaign to explain myself away and shoot down any reason to have been given the compliment in the first place. I had no clue I was doing it and, to be honest, I don’t remember the turn of events that made me aware of it. But somewhere along the way I began to examine my interaction with others. It was/is nothing for me to compliment someone else. To express my appreciation of their wit or intellect. To fawn over the next woman’s style. To affirm the next person’s beauty. I actually enjoy it. But to receive such recognition, even in my newly enlightened state, has been and still can be most uncomfortable.

Like many women, it has been ingrained in me from youth to be humble. To smile and revel in someone calling me “Such a pretty little girl” when I was a child, was to think too highly of myself. To be genuinely excited and talkative about an academic accomplishment was to forget that God was the source of my success, not me. While I had no problems thanking God for equipping me, I didn’t quite understand the logic of repressing personal glee and I still yearned for even the smallest glimmer of pride in my loved ones’ faces.

I very rarely caught a glimpse.

So, I boxed up any shadow of pride in myself and set it on a shelf somewhere in the least used compartment of my brain. I unintentionally learned how to mask self-satisfaction, until one day I looked up and truly didn’t know how to be satisfied with myself at all. I hated being fussed over. I ducked for cover if someone even looked like they were pointing a compliment in my direction. What the heck were they seeing, anyway? I spoke more about my flaws than anything else. I didn’t know that there was a difference between self-esteem and arrogance until I reached my mid-twenties. So, I settled into a mindset purposely ill-equipped to accept compliments.

And so it is with so many women. We are taught to be docile and meek. To accept a compliment with a simple “Thank you” and a smile would be haughty. To know and play up our strongest suits is to define conceit. No, we are taught to be self-effacing. To explain away our good qualities, our accomplishments, our style, our beauty. We’ve become prize marksmen, shooting down with precision anything good with piercing ammo made of our flaws. There’s an intense subconsciously manic management of what others might perceive about us that so many women seem to develop from childhood. It’s debilitating and stifling and we don’t even realize it.

On the flipside, I caught a glimpse of the total opposite in men. A healthy dose of overconfidence in a man is just what the doctor ordered for business. It’s eagerly sought after in relationships. He better be sure of himself or fake it until he makes it if he ever wants to get the girl or close the deal.

Should women aspire to emulate men? Absolutely not. But the fear of being seen as conceited cannot overpower the basic self-esteem that every human being should be able to feel and exude freely. It’s quite alright to smile and say, “Thank you!” No explaining. No downplaying. Why downplay something so outstanding that it prompted someone to compliment you? It’s alright to be proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished. It’s a beautiful thing to be a beautiful woman and to own it. No one else can own it for you. There is no downside to simply accepting the good about yourself.

I have realized over time that how others feel about me and what they perceive is wholly a reflection of where they are, of who they are – however, right or wrong, good or bad that may be. I cannot sit shiva and worry for every misconstrued interpretation the next person has of me. And TRUST, there have been and will continue to be many.

I smile my biggest smile and say, “Thanks!” with as much heart as I can when complimented now and I stay G-checking the urge to explain myself away or downplay my good qualities. If I am a modest person, it will show in the way I live, not in how many compliments I Barry Bonds away.

La Truly is a late-blooming Aries whose writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. Armed with the ability to purposefully poke fun at herself La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and positive change. Check her out on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and her young women’s empowerment blog:

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