Having dropped my kids off at school, done the food shop and come home to unpack it, put washing on and had a very late breakfast before sitting at my computer, I can see that I’m now running behind. There have been some great posts on last night already (see Amy Boucher Pye’s here and Jennie Pollock’s here). And yet the launch of Chine Mbubaegbu’s book Am I Beautiful? meant so much to me that I simply have to record it here. Because the issues, of body image, self-esteem, outer beauty and inner beauty etc, are so close to my heart. I, too, have suffered from low self-esteem throughout my life and never felt beautiful enough. As a pastor’s wife I also see so many women struggle against what the media tells them they should look and act like, desperately wanting to walk in the freedom in Christ they know they should be enjoying.
The other reason is because I edited the book. It felt like such a privilege to do so; Chine was the first person I started writing articles for and now I was able to serve her by being her editor – it was great (and difficult at times – but more on that later! )
As both Amy and Jennie have admitted, I too sat here at my desk yesterday morning, annoyed that I was having a bad hair day and that I was shattered from catching up on work and church responsibilities as well as helping our youngest with his transition into ‘big’ school. I looked and felt every inch the 40-year-old woman I now am. I also knew I’d be seeing people I have worked with but not met yet, as well as other ‘movers and shakers’ in the Christian publishing and media world. I wanted to look my best, but, as a shy, work-from-home mum, I find that side of the business really hard at times. So, while I was looking forward so much to celebrating with Chine, I was also worried about how I would look and how I would come across to people I chatted with. As I sat there, trying to work but all the while telling myself off for being so silly (and smiling wryly at the irony of it all – after all the book is all about the fact that we ARE beauty as we are made in the image of Beauty), I was relieved to find I was not alone. Chine, too, had struggled with what to wear that morning (see her post here).
But that’s the point isn’t it? Chine was asked last night why she thinks Christian women struggle so much with this, when we know the truth of who we are. She quiet rightly pointed out that we are literally bombarded with images of society’s perceived ‘perfect woman’ day in day out – it’s hard to keep up your resistance to it all the time! Whatever age we are we ALL have to fight against the messages we are told constantly as, let’s face it, we are all much more likely to be taking in more of society’s messages than the Bible’s each day because the images are constantly with us. We HAVE to learn to soak ourselves in the Truth, remind each other that Beauty is so much more than outward appearance and teach those lessons to the younger generation before they start coming across the issues themselves. When my daughter saw the lovely bright pink cover of my advance copy of the book she immediately picked it up to read it. I told her I definitely want her to read it when she’s a little older – perhaps about to become a teenager. But then a similar story that Amy told last night about her daughter reminded me of what my daughter has said on more than one occasion and I thought perhaps she’ll need to read it earlier. At eight years of age she is, quite literally, a beanpole. Tall, slim and striking – sometimes she takes my breath away. But I’ve caught her at least twice already pulling at her flesh, saying she’s fat. How do these messages reach such young ones? A dad asked a question last night about how he should bring up his daughters in our society to know that beauty is not skin deep and yet to truly believe that they are beautiful. Chine’s answer was great – she told him not to give up telling his daughters that they are beautiful, as some parents do, but to ensure that that isn’t the only message he is giving. To encourage them by saying that they are also kind, funny, smart, loving etc. It’s a challenge for all of us who are parents – but also for all those in church families as it is up to you too! Our kids often pick up things far more easily from the wider church family than they will from us so those positive messages need to be coming from you too!
So… back to the editing process. Amy has already mentioned this but I was waiting in great anticipation and slight nervousness to read the first draft of Chine’s book. If I’m honest I’ve been jealous and a little scared of her in the past. She’s such a successful, beautiful, funny, vivacious, confident woman – and a fantastic writer. I was amazed once when we had an honest email exchange that our perceptions of each other were so different from what I expected! The grass is definitely always greener…
When I sat and read Chine’s book it was well written, and very efficiently journalistic in its approach. Apart from the little snippets where she’d let herself be vulnerable. Like the story of being five years old and being asked to draw a self-portrait at school. She drew a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl and it wasn’t until a friend leant over and told her that it wasn’t her, that she realised she was different from everyone else. Nigerian-born, she was the only black girl in her class. That, I told Chine, HAD to be the opening story of the first chapter (and read it in Chine’s own words – she tells it far better! ). The moments when she opened up hit me so hard that I realised I simply had to encourage her to open up more, to be more vulnerable and totally honest.
When I looked at how we could rework the book and passed on all my suggestions to Chine I then held my breath. Would she be crushed? Would she hate me? Would she think my ideas ridiculous? As an author I know what it is like to submit a manuscript and then wait to see what the editor thinks of it. It’s so hard! I know Chine told us the second pass of the book was a much more painful process than the first – but oh how it was worth it! As every review and comment I have heard indicate, it is the rawness, the openness and absolute integrity that has touched people. It almost gives women permission to talk about this subject in a way that perhaps we haven’t before. With a new, dogged determination not to settle for society’s values, not to allow ourselves to feel less than – and to help each other with the process. Because we ALL are beautiful… even when we have a bad hair day!