Perfectly Imperfect 365 Days of the Year

An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:

My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months.  It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often.  In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours.  While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences.  It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365.  I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.

For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.”  You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes.  You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara.  You can change your eye color.  You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.

[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself.  However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head.  It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them.  It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]

This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults.  We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies.  If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.

Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen.  We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.

I am begging you to love yourself.  You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation.  You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like.  You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you.  These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow.  They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.

God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are.  Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world.  Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him.  You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.

If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful.  There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material.  Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good.  Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down.  If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.

I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.

Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.

If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down.  They are going to find reasons you are not enough.  Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough.  For God, you will always be enough.

If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you.  Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground.  For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth.  For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too.  Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane.  I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.

We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers.  We are counting the “likes” on our photos.  Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about.  People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.

It started with Photoshop.  I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software.  To what end did I need it?  Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff.  This was important to me.  What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.

Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though.  At least, I have never been able to master it.  Know what’s super easy?  Perfect365 and other apps like it.  It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from.  Having issues with your mouth?  There’s a mouth button.  Want to widen your smile?  Slide the bar to the right.  Want to whiten your teeth?  Slide that bar.

On the left, my face; on the right, Perfect365. Of course, you can use the app in less obvious ways, but for full effect, I used every enhancement option there was.

This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family.  Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets.  If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers.  Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.

Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward.  You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are.  We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel.  If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw.  Just remember, the best is yet to come.

#APerfectFit

I challenged some friends to skip their makeup for a selfie and see their real skin’s beauty. Your turn!

Health Gains (not weight loss)

Today, I want to clear up a common misconception.  Weight loss is not the same thing as health gain.  By that, I mean that the number on the scale is not an indicator of health.  Weight does not equal health.  Got it?

I realize that sounds contrary to many of the public health messages you face every day.  Everyone wants to lose a pound, and we want a diet or workout plan to make us lose pounds quickly.  That simply isn’t the reality of becoming healthy.

One of the biggest difficulties I face with clients is having them stop focusing on weight loss as the index of how well they are doing.  In fact, nearly all of my clients start going up on the scale before they start going down, but if they stick to working out with me, they will find they are looking better in their clothes.  Why is that?

Muscle weighs more than fat.  It is a simple fact of life.  While my clients think they are after weight loss, they are actually after fat loss, and the two are entirely different.  To lose fat and to gain muscle is often to go up on the scale but down a pants size.

So laugh at the health slogans advertising for weight loss.  Eat well (something I’ll work on defining in other posts) and stay active.  Build muscle and burn fat.  Recognize that there are plenty of indicators of health like your BMI or even just the amount of energy you feel like you have throughout the day.

Weight is simply gravity holding you onto this planet.  It is pulling on your bones, muscles, and organs, too, not just your fat.  Re-focus your energy on what really matters: feeling great!  Your diet and exercise habits are important, but the number resulting from gravity’s force on you is not.

#APerfectFit

Do Not Disturb

Do you ever have a day where it seems like every person you’ve ever known needs something from you?  I’m talking about the kind of day where you are one vibration away from chucking your phone into the garbage and moving to a cabin in the woods.  The kind of day where every effort to respond to your Inbox is mocked by another incoming e-mail.  The kind of day where one more person saying your name just might result in you checking yourself into an asylum.

Modern technology is incredible.  With it, we can perform open heart surgery.  We can travel by air and visit anywhere on our planet with ease.  We can be present on a laptop screen from thousands of miles away at family events.  Those are the big things that we take fore-granted.  I didn’t even mention the modern convenience of indoor plumbing, light bulbs, and air conditioning.  We are surrounded by incredible feats of human kind every day, and it barely gives us pause.

As a result of us forgetting modern conveniences are not natural miracles but rather manmade creations, we seem overly zealous to use them.  There was a time when coming home from work meant just that.  Now, your boss and co-workers have access to you 24/7, and for some reason, it is rude to simply ignore them.  It’s unacceptable in our society to ignore a phone call and just be with the people you’re with.  We have created this expectation to be accessible to literally every person we’ve ever encountered, and we feel guilty not responding to a text message.

There are so many great things that have come from this technology.  Being able to send grandma a picture, monitoring our heart rates, and calling 911 in any emergency are a few examples.  At the same time, we need to stop and think.

I advocate for a healthy lifestyle, and it goes so much further than your protein intake and energy output.  It goes into your emotional and social well-being, too, and I firmly believe I am negatively impacted by technology every day.  In our society, it has become acceptable for people to send text messages at literally any time of day – even one in the morning.  I can literally not spend a night in my bed asleep without someone trying to reach me to tell me something.  My generation doesn’t see anything wrong with that, and therein lies the problem.

I cannot tell you the last time I just got to be by myself or just got to spend time with someone else.  Instead of getting to relax with my cat, I face constant incoming messages from every outlet.  Instead of spending an evening with my roommates, I spend an evening with them and their best friends and boyfriends and whoever else they happen to be texting.

I’m not innocent.  I do the same thing, but I’m trying to do better.

Here I am glued to my first smartphone, circa 2009 when Blackberry was the "it" thing.
Here I am glued to my first smartphone, circa 2009 when Blackberry was the “it” thing.

I don’t think our generation has realized this is a problem, but it’s time we start.  One of my professors told me recently that the thing she misses most about her early teaching days is the chatter in classrooms.  She admitted that at the time, it was always a little irritating to get everyone to hush so she could start to lecture, but she says she misses that now.  Instead of looking around at students becoming friends and sharing their weekend stories, she steps up to the lectern and observes a sea of cell phones.  Students speaking to the friends they have outside of the classroom and ignoring the human beings beside them.

At 21 years old, I am starting to teach myself that it’s okay for me to need time to be me.  It’s okay for me to ignore a call or text message and just be present in the moment, not engaged in a virtual conversation.  It’s okay to leave an e-mail unopened until morning.  I do not have to be accessible when I get home in the evening, and people need to start being okay with that.  When I get in bed at night, I have discovered a wonderful function called “do not disturb,” and I now use it without fail the minute I get under the covers.  Whatever your funny drunk story, your emergency, your need of me, it is just going to have to wait until an appropriate time in my life.

I will no longer be a slave to virtual communication, and I challenge you to do the same.  If you don’t set parameters in your own life, nobody else will.  You can control when you are available, and people will adjust accordingly.  Health and wellness go beyond BMI.  Evaluate your lifestyle today; there is always room for improvement.

#APerfectFit

Body “Shaming”

Shame (n): a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong (Merriam-Webster)

I recently read an article about the difference between fat-shaming and skinny-shaming.  Although I respect everyone’s opinion, I found myself completely bewildered by some of the statements it made.  The general idea was that fat-shaming remarks stick, whereas skinny-shaming remarks might hurt but will be forgotten.  I want to share my take on this whole idea of “shaming” someone for their body.

As defined by the dictionary, shame involves a feeling that you have personally done something wrong.  We shame each other for our physical bodies on a regular basis, and for some reason, society perpetuates the cycle.  If you wear plus sizes, you have done something wrong; if you wear a double-zero, you have done something wrong.  There is no way to win when we tell people their body is something they should literally feel shame over because shame implies you acted incorrectly.  That’s right, there was an action that you took that was wrong, and in this case, that “action” is your body.  Your very physical being is wrong.

Anyone with a little self-confidence can see that this is absolutely absurd.  You did nothing wrong by being born into the body you currently reside in.  You might have mistreated that body by feeding it fattening foods or neglecting to feed it entirely, but you did nothing wrong by residing in it.

The idea that fat-shaming sticks more than skinny-shaming is also obscene.  There are women struggling every single day to make themselves eat a meal, and those women are very often underweight.  Do you think they do that because society’s skinny-ideal did not stick with them?  No.  It’s exactly the opposite.

We can argue and debate whether fat-shaming or skinny-shaming is worse all day long, but that’s just silly.  Body-shaming is wrong.  Feeling sad or guilty or embarrassed because you woke up in your own skin this morning is wrong.  Let’s stop shaming each other, fat or skinny or in-between.  Do not look down on someone because they have a few extra pounds, and do not look down on someone because of a protruding collar bone.  Instead, lift those people up in prayer.

Do not be ashamed of your body.  Love it.  You will not take care of something you do not love, and by taking care of your body, you can make a difference in your own life.  Look in the mirror and accept that person.  Yes, you might could lose some weight, and yes, you might could gain some weight.  The truth of the matter is no two bodies are going to be alike, but a healthy body makes for a happy heart.  Do not feel ashamed of your body.  Feel proud.  It got you this far in life, and if you love and take care of it, just imagine where you will go.

#APerfectFit

The Skinny-Girl Effect

The following word is an insult that people regularly mistake as a compliment: Skinny.

I despise being called skinny.  As in, “Wow, Tracy, you are just so skinny!”  I hate it.  I understand that being thin is the new it-girl look, but I want absolutely no part in perpetuating that belief.

If anyone is to blame, it’s my parents.  Genetics made me “skinny” and despite my greatest efforts, I cannot seem to escape that label.  I have tried everything.  From chicken wings to chocolate cake, it seems no food is powerful enough to make people stop calling me skinny.  Or tiny.  Or any of the other “compliment” terms they use.

 

Fun fact: Pageant girls can polish off a pound of wings a piece.

I guess I have more than my stellar genes to blame.  I like to workout and eat healthy most days.  I do not like to do these things for the sake of my metabolism and waist line.  I like to do these things because they make me feel good.

Let me repeat:  I do not workout or eat my veggies to impress you.  I do it for me.  I do it for the endorphins, which relieve the stress of being alive.  I do it for the increased energy, which helps me survive long days.  I do it for myself, which means I get to have me-time with no intruding voices.

Stop doing harm to women by using “skinny” as a compliment.  Try “healthy” or “beautiful” or “intelligent” or “generous” or “loving” or “kind”.  Every woman is beautiful, so do not disservice us with words about our size.  Do not make those words mean beautiful.

Women are powerful.  We have the ability to influence what young girls perceive as attractive.  If we stand together, society cannot tear us down.  So the next time someone calls you “skinny”, do not smile and thank them and tell them about your juice diet.  Do not let them label you with a word that describes your shape.  You deserve more.  We all do.

Pick your compliments with care.  Use them to build each other up, not to create painful constructs of what the female body should be.  I challenge everyone to use a compliment today that goes beneath the skin and looks at the soul, the character, the drive of the person, not the weight, width, or mass.

We don’t have to let the media tell use how to look.  We can have a positive effect on the body image of others.  It starts with you and me, but we can change the world.

#APerfectFit

Miracle Challenge 2015

Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.
Jim Ryan

September 1 – September 27 marks the days of a challenge whose causes are near and dear to my heart.  Miracle Challenge is a fundraising campaign for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals that emphasizes getting up and getting fit.  After selecting one of 5 different athletic “tracks”, you embark on a 27 day fitness challenge.  You receive e-mails every day with motivating quotes, motivating stories about children in the hospital, and a challenge from your fitness trainer.

For me, this challenge really puts things into perspective.  We all have days when we want to be lazy.  I’m guilty of having days I want to skip my workout and eat cookies instead.  The idea of this challenge is to be active for children who cannot run and play themselves.  This challenge asks you to run for kids who are stuck in hospital rooms, whose inability to get active is not laziness but circumstance.

Imagine being a child living in a hospital for weeks on end.  You cannot go on a bike ride in the sunshine with your sibling.  Maybe you can go on a stroll to the hospital’s decorative fish tank if you’re feeling well, but if it’s a bad day, you might not get to leave bed at all.  Instead of the rough and tumble days we imagine for most children, your days are spent with quiet artistic expressions and the comfort of a favorite movie.  Your parents have created this new construct of childhood and are doing the best they can to provide you with fulfilling experiences each day, but you know you are missing out on the fun your classmates get to have.

Being a child in a hospital is hard, but the kids you meet there are inspiring.  They face challenge after challenge with courage, but they need our help.  Please support my participation in Miracle Challenge today by going to
http://events.dancemarathon.com/participant/tracyelizabethmcgee
and donating $1.  Every dollar goes directly to CMN and impacts a child’s life.  My goal is to raise $100 during Miracle Challenge because that is the cost associated with a pair of hanging basketball hoops.  These hoops would provide children in the hospital with their own means of staying active, and I want to help provide kids with a normal athletic activity that makes some of their time in the hospital seem like just a day as a kid.

James MasonA special shout out to my friend, James Mason, who is going in for surgery this morning.  He is on my mind and in my prayers a little extra today.  I know his mom and I would appreciate you lifting him up in your own prayers.

Thank you for reading this message.  If you want to get involved in the Miracle Challenge, it’s not too late!  Go to www.miraclechallenge.org and register today.  FTK All Ways, Always.

Worth It

I have the best job of all time.  Working as a personal trainer means clients lay it all out for me.  They tell me what their fears and weaknesses are, and they entrust me with their goals.  I not only get to know their weight, their body fat index, and every other quantifiable measure of their health, I also get to know mentally where they are at.

My clients come to me with their own goal, and it’s usually to lose X number of pounds in X number of days.  I get that.  I always start by explaining it’s not as much about the scale as it is about your overall fat percentage, and we go from there.  I want to help them achieve their goals.  I know feeling in charge of their body will give them confidence in their life, and I also know losing the fat is going to improve their health in the long run by taking pressure off their joints and strain off their cardiovascular system and so much more.

At the same time, I have my own goals when I meet a new client.  I do not believe the number on a scale is as important as the client’s outlook on fitness following a package of sessions with me.  I have three goals with my clients:

  1. Meet the client’s goals (if they are reasonable).
  2. Educate the client on what is healthy.
  3. Give the client the confidence to continue workouts long after their sessions are over.

I recently received a Facebook message from one of my favorite clients, and it warmed my heart to hear about her progress.  While we worked together, she did start to drop pants sizes and meet her goal.  After her sessions with me ended, I continued to impact her life through what I had taught her.

That’s “great” not “fear” – iPhone problems.  Messages like this are why what I do means so much to me.  The number on the scale may be a quick and easy assessment, but it is not the best indicator of real health.  By teaching people what health should really look like – from the food choices down to the active minutes in their day – I have a lasting effect on my clients that goes far beyond the sessions they pay for.

I want my clients to know what a healthy lifestyle should be, and I want them to leave me feeling comfortable in a gym.  I may not get feedback from all of them, but I am so proud of those who have stayed in touch.

 

If you answered “yes” in the above poll, reach out at your local gym.  I’m sure there are staff members and trainers who would absolutely love to educate you on the equipment.  They will work with you to come up with a workout plan that makes you comfortable.  It’s their job, and I promise you won’t be the first person.  If you answered “I use to” in the above poll, I would love for you to comment and explain how you overcame the discomfort.  Everyone should be able to feel at home in the gym; it should be a safe, judgment free zone.

“Healthy” is a lifestyle.  To be healthy, you have to make decisions about your daily living, and you have to stay committed.  #APerfectFit