Anne le Tissier is a writer and speaker who has authored several books and has a passion to disciple Christians. Her latest book, The Mirror That Speaks Back, is centred around us finding our worth in Jesus, but is also deeply personal.
Firstly, I have known you as a regular contributor to magazines, often unpacking biblical texts, as well as a book writer. Has this always been your career, or did you have a different job? If the latter, what led you to pursue writing?
I pursued a career in investment banking after leaving school, but it was while taking a year out in my early twenties to travel the world and train with YWAM, that I first sensed God gently steering me into a new direction.
Travelling solo, my only company was a journal. I filled its pages, two lines of miniature writing to a space, sharing in intricate detail my experiences, what I felt God was teaching me, how I was feeling, etc. And that was how God ignited a desire to write. Mind you, it took another 14 years for my first book to be published.
You are extremely honest in this book: sharing personal experience of an eating disorder, abusive relationship and other difficulties. What led you to do that?
I’ve read a good number of teaching or self-help books, all of which have a part to play in helping people find healing from self-image issues. But when I was commissioned to write The Mirror That Speaks Back, I knew there was no point trying to duplicate what was already out there, not least, because I’m not qualified to.
I knew from the moment I prayed, God’s prompting to share my story. I’ll admit that wasn’t easy – I am by nature an extremely private person. So you can imagine my ‘wobbles’ while writing some of that story – I even suggested to my editor, close to publication, that a certain scene might be deleted (they quite rightly disagreed!). That said, I still left out great chunks of my story that were just too painful or inappropriate to put on the page.
The book is aimed particularly at women younger than you – why is that? Your publisher likens it to a letter written to such women – is that how you viewed the writing of it? And how differently did you approach writing this book to others you have written in the past?
I was specifically commissioned to write a book for younger women, which I admit, I didn’t find easy. It’s been a while since I was their age and it’s not my usual genre.
I developed a questionnaire to help me connect with the issues young women struggle with, and to hear their take on faith and life, from their cultural perspective. I sent it to a number of contacts who came my way, some of whom forwarded it on, and some who kindly arranged for me to visit their groups in person, where the girls/young women answered the questions face-to-face on the basis I kept them anonymous. I always went armed with a ‘thank you’ tin of homemade cake and they were all great fun as well as extremely honest with me, which I have to say, was a privilege. In fact, they even had to explain a few terms to me, like, ‘contouring’! Other young women returned the questionnaire to me by email; again, on the basis I gave them a pseudonym. And there were a few who posted it back anonymously.
Interestingly, however, although the pressure comes through different formats (social media, for example), self-image issues today are much like those when I was young.
Consequently, my approach to writing the book was different to others I’ve written in that I tried to keep the sub-themes of each chapter as short and succinct as possible, plus, of course, I wove in young women’s responses into the text (anonymously).
But even as I was writing, I sensed the book had potential to speak into lives of older women too – and that has proved true, both from reviews and from readers who have contacted me; the eldest, age 86!
Why does body image have such a huge effect on our identity as women?
I’d like to say it’s part of today’s culture, but I looked into the history while researching Mirror, and it’s been around for centuries; longer even than when beauty was defined by a flawless white complexion, and women painted their faces with deadly poison (powdered lead). Just bring to mind images of ancient Egyptian women with their lithe figures, painted faces, stylised hair and banded gold jewellery, and you can see what a history we’ve inherited.
So here’s a short answer to a massive question. We all have an innate longing to be valued and loved, and if we can’t achieve that through some definition of success, intellectual capacity, level of income or the ability to conceive and birth children, some of us might look to our body to help us attain it. Too often, however, no matter how much we squeeze, starve, cut, nip, enlarge, reduce, paint or pierce our body, it is simply never enough: that source of worth we’ve relied on to feel good about ourselves or attractive to a man, washes off in the bath, grows septic with infection, gains weight with a holiday or long-term medication, disfigures with illness, or simply fades and wrinkles with age. And time after time we’re left feeling inadequate, unattractive, unwanted, incapable, ashamed and unworthy, all because we’re sourcing our identity from the wrong place.
You cover illness – both physical and mental – and what effect it can have on our sense of self. What did you own journey with illness teach you about your sense of self-worth, and what did you learn from the other women whose stories you include?
Some of what I learned from other women is included in the book, but as for my own sense of self with my health issues, the key thing I was reminded of was: Who is in control of my life; Who knows my first and last breath, Who determines my days, and Whose love and care for me through painful symptoms and anxious appointments, is of far greater value to me than what I can do or how I appear.
Why do you think we seem to measure success in how we compare to others? How can we combat that?
We’ve been comparing ourselves against others since the beginning of time; it must be a part of our fallen nature, instead of just comparing ourselves with God and pursuing His goals for us (remember Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob… in fact, Satan tempted Eve to compare her wisdom with God’s, and look what that made her do!).
But making comparisons is a lose-lose conundrum. Compare and then feel better than others spawns ungodly pride and potentially feeds a brash ego; compare and then feel lesser than others and you start believing you’re worthless, a failure, unattractive… and/or you grow bitter and resentful and nurse a critical spirit. But compare yourself only to the person God created you to be and the best of the potential He has called you to pursue, and you’ve got reason to get out of bed each day, reassurance when you fail that God is for you and will help you try again, and nothing short of immense gratitude when you hit your God-given goal.
The image used throughout the book is that of a mirror – that Jesus is the only one who offers us a mirror that reflects our true image – who we are meant to be, unlike the cultural mirrors that reflect back to us that we are not worthy. How did you come to understand the truth of Jesus’ mirror in your own life?
That happened over time as my personal relationship with God developed; as I rooted my heart and not just my head belief in His love. A fundamental key, however, was engaging with the Bible – not just reading it, but getting it right inside me where it’s living power could do its work; and then, responding to it.
Do you truly believe we can learn to be content in God in the midst of anything life throws at us? How do we do that if so?
It’s a tough one. I’m constantly challenged by the messages I put out there about God’s truth, and how a westernised view can be so different to someone who has lost home, family and work, say, in Syria. All I know is that Paul found contentment in all circumstances – and it doesn’t take much reading of the New Testament to learn just how awful and tough his life often was (shipwreck, stoning almost to death, 40 lashes, starving, homeless a lot of the time… I could go on!)
So contentment in God is a truth that needs to be taught, but also in today’s context, and I know from reading books and articles by individuals who have suffered immensely in countries where the Christian faith is persecuted, that they too learned that same spiritual contentment as Paul did, in the dire confines of prison.
I’ve certainly never suffered to those extremes, but this promise is for me too, and I’ve had to ‘learn’ it during seasons of life that I found disheartening, in times when God prompted me to make one choice when I’d have much preferred making another, when my physical health took an unexpected dive and the future was uncertain, and in periods of grief for loved ones.
As for the how, I can only pass on what I have learned from Paul:
‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ….I want to know Christ…’ Philippians 3:8,10
It’s that ‘knowing’ Jesus, and living out the belief that He truly is our everything, that we ‘learn to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Philippians 4:11
What are some of the real nuggets of wisdom you’ve discovered for truly reflecting Jesus rather than giving in to our vulnerabilities and inadequacies?
Self-assurance, inner poise, a quiet confidence, security, peace with oneself and with others. It’s awesome to be released from a withered way of living life, especially when you’ve endured it for many years; to be freed from a mental and emotional prison which has locked you up from Christ’s promise of ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10) in the darkness of fear and debilitation.
Dotted about the book are wonderful quotes from women celebrating the role models in their own life that have inspired them and helped them see past the shallowness of looks. How important do you think it is for us all to have those women who champion and encourage us?
I think role models are a gift and inspiration provided we don’t idolise them ie provided we don’t set ourselves up to try to be their clone. Be inspired by characteristics you admire, but ask yourself how that might helpfully shape your own life within parameters of your own skills, experiences, opportunities, background etc.
What other writing projects do you have planned?
Aside of a set of Bible notes coming out next February (alongside yours) and a novel still looking for an agent, I am currently working on my next book, which is due out sometime next year…watch this space; too early to unveil the plot!
Anne is the author of a number of Christian books and has written a wide variety of Bible-study notes and magazine articles. She also speaks at conferences and in churches around the country, with a passion to disciple Christians in their ongoing walk with God.
Married to Neil, Anne is also Granny to her daughter’s three young boys. To relax she loves to read, grow her own vegetables, hike the hills, and, when time allows, cook special meals for close friends. But she still dreams of becoming a bee-keeper!
You can follow Anne’s musings on Twitter @AnneLeTiss, Instagram @anneletissier, or take a look at her website: www.anneletissier.com