Love Your Reflection

Since I’m trying to re-establish blogging as part of my busy work week, I wanted to get back to the basics this week and remind myself why my work matters.  So let’s talk about the girl in the mirror and why we love her!

Worldwide, women are under pressure to meet beauty standards.  Those standards are different wherever you go, and even within a culture, everyone has an opinion.  That means you are never going to be everybody’s cup of tea.  No body meets every beauty standard.

So where should you be focusing your energy?

IMG_6800Instead of conforming to your society’s standards, take a look in the mirror and see what’s there.  Then, find a way to love what you see.

Easier said than done.  We all have our hangups – a freckle we can’t see past, a curve we wish would shrink.  You are your own worst critic, and that’s okay.  We all have the potential to make changes in our lives, and as long as those changes are healthy, it’s okay to make them.  Just make sure you make changes out of love for yourself, not out of pressure to conform.

So how do you love your imperfectly perfect self?  Here are a few exercises for those days when the girl in the mirror isn’t living up to the standards living within you:

(1) Take “time off”

Nobody has the energy to be “on” at all times, and time off is at the heart of my self-love practice.  Light a candle, power down your networking apps, and pour a glass of wine.  Sink into the tub or under the covers.  Open the book that’s been gathering dust on your nightstand or turn on a mindless flick.  Just be.

(2) Accomplish small goals

Every morning, I make my bed, and no matter what happens during the day, I have accomplished that one, very small, goal.  It sounds silly.  For me, it works.  No matter what else happens, I have done this one small thing for myself, and at the end of the day, I get to pull the covers back and escape.

(3) Quicken your heartbeat

Get a workout in!  The amazing thing about exercise is that it works if you’re tired or if you’re too hyped up to wind down.  A meaningless day that drains you of all energy or a strenuous day that wires you with stress can both be reversed with a little cardiovascular training.

(4) Phone a friend

Call someone who sees what you are having trouble seeing: you are amazing.  Let them remind you of all the good you bring to the world, the enrichment you give to their life.  We all need a hype man sometimes.  Embrace their compliments and love!IMG_6774

(5) Just dance

Okay, maybe don’t dance, but do something you love!  If you don’t have a hobby that you can’t talk about without smiling, it’s time to find one.  Find something that makes you feel good about yourself, that lets your talents shine.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are keeping the outside world quiet so you can clearly hear your own needs! 

How do you remind the girl in the mirror that she woke up flawless?

#APerfectFit

What does “wellness” even mean?

My definition of wellness involves physical, mental, social and spiritual health.  I  place the most importance on spiritual health, but I try to tend to all 4 facets on a daily basis.  Some days, one area needs a little more attention than the others, and that area gets prioritized.  This encompassing definition of wellness means it’s perfectly healthy to skip a morning at the gym for a brunch with your girlfriends if you’re lacking in social health that week.  However, you have to be careful to prioritize in a way that maintains the quadrants equally, instead of focusing on your favorite each day.

What do I mean by that?  When I was competing in the pageant system, physical health fought to become my single definition of wellness.  I was surrounded by girls with phenomenal bodies, and I was going to stand on a stage next to them.  I didn’t skip workouts.  It didn’t matter if I hadn’t had a real conversation with my roommate in a week or given myself some time to rewind all month.  I focused all of my energy on that one aspect of health, and it resulted in neglect of the other areas.

When I graduated in December of 2016, I had a lot to think about.  One evaluation I made involved looking at my beliefs and how they were driving me.  This 4-dimensional model of wellness is something I’ve always stated was part of my belief system, but my actions hadn’t been adding up.  I realized I still believed it was the best model of wellness for my life, but I was letting the picture-perfect models of Instagram alter my reality.  I was prioritizing based on the mindset I ended up with after scrolling past perfect picture after perfect picture on social media.  I knew I had to make a change.

I took a serious look at my mental health and recognized how harshly I was evaluating my body.  My physical health was no longer about true health.  It had become more about being as toned as the (often edited) photos than about BMI and clean eating.  This twisted perception of physical health was certainly impacting my mental health.  It was also hurting my social health, as I couldn’t skip a day at the gym.

In my last post, I admitted my physique isn’t what it once was.  Despite a few new curves, my body is still strong and healthy, and now, I have a mindset of strength to match.  My social calendar is always open to new bookings, and I can truly say I am happier than ever.  All that despite facing a new challenge in my life.

Working part time while staying on top of my MBA coursework has simply been exhausting.  If I didn’t have amazing people in my life building me up, it probably wouldn’t be going as well as it is.  As disciplined as I try to be, I don’t have time to do everything I want to do.  I am slowly becoming proficient at prioritizing, but it’s a skill I’ll be working to improve for the rest of my life.

There are moments when I see a fat girl in the dressing room trying on clothes that are no longer the size 0 I once wore.  There are moments I want back the abs that generated buzz.  They are fleeting and becoming more infrequent with each passing week.  My investments in social activities have resulted in waves of love and support, and my mental health is doing much better focusing on my daily successes instead of my physical appearance.

It’s difficult to talk about appearances when everyone’s perception has been effected by numerous positive and negative events.  Your body is the vessel through which you can impact the world, and physically taking care of it is important.  But I encourage you to recognize how much more there is to health than weight.

Tonight is going to be a candlelit bathtub and wine kind of night for me.  What do you need to do tonight to be well?

#APerfectFit

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!

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

Behind the Makeup

What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.
Scott Westerfeld

I have a confession to make: I don’t wear makeup every day.  In fact, I don’t wear makeup most days.  I wasn’t always like that, though.  When I was in high school up until my sophomore year of college, I didn’t think I could leave my bedroom without putting on a full face.  That included foundation, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara.

I don’t know what made me think it was necessary.  Perhaps it was because I received more positive attention when I looked my “best” or maybe it was just because this behavior was modeled to me by my mother.  Either way, I felt like I had to have on makeup to be the best version of myself, and I certainly needed to have it on if I wanted to feel confident.  Lawrence changed all of that.

My sophomore year in college, I met Lawrence, and he changed my life with a brilliantly simple statement.  He said what every boyfriend should say.  It was a particularly crazy day in college, and I didn’t put on makeup that morning.  After a long day on campus, I went by his apartment to relax and watch a movie with him and his roommates.  I’m sure the first thing I said when I walked in was, “I’m so sorry I look like this.  It’s been a crazy day, and I didn’t have time to put my makeup on this morning.”  That’s paraphrased, but what I said doesn’t really matter.  It’s what he said when he looked up at me that counts.

“You look beautiful.  I don’t know why you bother to wear makeup anyways.  You don’t need it.”  The way he said it was so casual, so matter of fact.  It was like this huge truth that the world had never told me, and here he was unveiling it in passing.  He had no idea he had just completely changed my life.  He still doesn’t know that he changed my life, and he probably never will unless he decides to read this post.  To him, it was just the truth, and that’s what made it so impactful.

After that, I quit wearing makeup every day.  I had to ease myself into it because for awhile my face just looked so naked.  I forced myself to stick with it, and day by day it got easier.  I began to love the face I saw in the mirror and realize it was beautiful in its own right, and that gave me a feeling of confidence and empowerment.

Lawrence continues to unwittingly reinforce my new behavior.  I know he doesn’t do it on purpose, but almost every time he says I am “beautiful” it’s on a day when I didn’t put on my whole face.  He seems to reserve that word for days I rolled out of bed and came over instead of days I dressed all the way up.  Sure, he’s said it a once or twice when I’ve been all done up, but he usually says “you look great” or “hot” or “nice”.  That’s why I haven’t shared all of this with him.  It would break the magic of him not knowing how much it means and just saying it because he thinks it.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to put on makeup and a cute outfit and feel super pretty.  Makeup is just an object, and (like food) it is neither innately evil nor good.  I just want to clarify to the world that I don’t always look like my pageant headshots.  In fact, I pretty much never look that way unless I’m about to go on stage.  I want to encourage every woman to try giving up makeup for a couple of weeks.  It’s not easy when it’s something you’re used to, but it’s worth it if you can learn to love your face and feel beautiful without alteration.

The media is always going to tell women how they should look, and it’s always going to create unrealistic expectations.  Audrey had it right when she said that “happy girls are the prettiest”, so learn to be happy with who you are!  Learn to love the way you look because of your imperfections.  It would be such a boring world if everyone had perfect symmetry, tiny waists, and high cheek bones.

So there you have it.  Now you know more about me than my pageant glory, and I have shared one of my most personal stories with the worldwide web.  If it can help just one person realize makeup isn’t what’s making them beautiful, then it was totally worth it.

PS. Y’all pray for me because starting on Saturday I’m going to have to put on my whole face every day for a week, and I’m just not sure how I feel about that.