I gave greater-than-normal consideration to what I wore yesterday. In the evening I was going to the launch of my friend Chine Mbubaegbu’s new book, and it was making me feel unusually conscious about my appearance.
Because the book is called Am I Beautiful?
I wasn’t blind to the irony, of course – the book is about women’s insecurities about their bodies, and about finding freedom from the paralysing fear that the answer to its title question is ‘No’. And there I was looking for a flattering skirt, a nice top, and heels I could wear all day without killing my feet. I even abandoned my sensible, practical backpack for a glossy red handbag (realising as I dashed out of the door, late for work (looking good just takes too much time!) that it clashed rather painfully with my cerise pink autumn coat!).
I felt ridiculously self-conscious about it all day, but was thankful to note that it didn’t actually bother me. I didn’t for a moment consider leaving work early to pop home and change. No-one was going to notice, and if they did it wouldn’t affect my value to the world. We could have a laugh about it and move on.
Thankfulness was the overriding emotion I felt while reading Chine’s book (I got a review copy in advance of the release. Thank you, Authentic!).
I’m thankful that I grew up with a mother who wore little make-up and taught me to see it as a bit of sparkle for a special occasion rather than a necessary tool to improve on God’s handiwork before facing the world.
I’m thankful that my parents instilled in me the knowledge that looks aren’t everything, that it’s the heart that matters, and that beauty is something that radiates from inside, rather than being stuck on the outside.
And I’m very thankful that, at some point in the last decade or so, God has drilled that into me and made it real heart-feeling, not just head-knowing knowledge.
Because despite all that good parental input, I still longed to be outwardly beautiful, and knew I never would (at least not by the standards we see around us all the time). I could lose weight, but I was never going to be tall and elegant. My hair was never going to be thick and glossy. I might have a nice personality, but I was always going to be – at best – plain.
I still am short and overweight. My hair is a better style now than it ever has been, but the threads of grey are beginning to show through. I haven’t suddenly become beautiful, but I have become secure in my body and in my value to God and to the world.
So I felt thankful for that as I read this book, and heart-broken too, as I saw the horror-stories of what women put themselves through in an attempt to look ‘right’, heard of the tragic consequences for those who feel they don’t make the grade, and gradually realised that Chine herself, for all her research and thought, still hasn’t found the freedom she writes about.
Signposts on the journey
Chine admitted last night, with reference to a blog post she had written that day, that her book won’t cure you. It isn’t the magic pill or the three-step solution (‘Just pray this prayer and all will be well…’), but I think it is a great companion for the journey.
All the signposts are there: you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’; ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’; “When I really understand that God rejoices over me not because of anything I do, but because I’ve been made right by his grace, then I am free; no longer a slave to beauty” (p. 39).
And much as I wished this was the story of how Chine found freedom, for her sake as much as for her readers’, I suppose in the end a book can only ever offer signposts. For the transformation to be real and permanent, it has to be done by a work of God’s Spirit, not by all the academic assent to ideas in the world. That’s how it was for me, at least.
It was on one of those tearful, fearful nights, when I sat alone in the dark asking why, why wasn’t I beautiful? Why didn’t I measure up? And that still, small, un-argue-with-able voice told me in no uncertain terms, “I’ve done this billions of times before. I did not suddenly make a mistake when I created you. You are my perfect creation.”
I hear it again from time to time when I find myself slipping. And it’s the only thing that helps. The God of all creation made me like this, and loves me, just like this.
And He feels the same about you.
Thanks to the generosity of Authentic, I’ve got a copy of the book to give away – signed by the author! Just leave a note in the comments if you’d like it, and I’ll draw a name at random on Monday evening and send it to you. For extra chances to win, tweet the link to this article using the hashtag #AIBgiveaway or share the link on Facebook (make sure you tag me in the post so I know you’ve done it).