I recently boarded a plane where I had a 60-second encounter I can't get out of my mind. After a few days in Southern California, I wasn't quite ready to transition back to my standard boots, scarf, and jeans that cool San Francisco temperatures require year round. I had a killer tan, wore a new short t-shirt dress, and rocked my favorite pair of camel wedges. I have to tell you: I was feeling pretty good.
As I stood in line on a silent jet bridge, the beautiful older woman with a long gray ponytail right behind me gave me a compliment I wasn't anticipating. "I have to ask: how do you work out your legs? They are gorgeous. So lean and strong." At first, I didn't flinch and felt the rush of her praise. I told her about the combination of yoga and SoulCycle I swear by and thanked her for the kind words. But 30 seconds later something strange happened. I felt a need to follow up with the following words: "You know, I think it's really just the combination of the dress and shoes. Wearing wedges helps." Her face dropped as she replied, "You don't have to do that."
Immediately, I regretted what I had said. Why didn't I just take this compliment? As I tried to figure out what had happened, this skit from Inside Amy Schumer played in my mind.
I really work hard to stay in shape, and I love my strong legs. There was no need to follow up an authentic compliment with any sort of half-hearted disclaimer, so what was so hard about receiving these words? This woman was being genuine, but some part of me felt I had to shrink after this encounter. A bunch of other people had heard our interaction, and I was consumed by the fear that I sounded self-centered.
There's a quote from Marianne Williamson I've heard at many lectures and yoga classes over the years that perfectly sums up my thoughts on what happened: "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? . . . Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." These are words I do my best to live by every day, but it can be especially trying when it comes to my appearance. I have curves, and I'm muscular. My thighs touch, and I'm shaped like a "real" woman. It's been a long time coming, but I'm getting more comfortable with myself every day. Now is a more important time than ever for me to really hear these compliments. These were not empty words.
Playing small and being timid about my beauty or strength are not doing anyone any favors — especially me. Next time, I'll just take the compliment, respond with kindness and a smile, and use my long, lean, and powerful legs to walk to my seat with a little extra swagger.