I ordered this book as soon as I knew it was in the offing .. and then was even more chuffed to win a copy through the following tweet:
‘Beauty is … learning to love ourselves as God made us … and then turning that love out to our neighbours!’ @drbexl
So, what follows is potentially rather vulnerable (as is Chine’s book) – for some reason, it’s easier to share about depression (that invisible illness), than it is about feelings about my body (which is clearly visible!). I was going to review the book anyway, but hear that those who benefit from @beyondchoc are often too embarrassed to share their stories, so here’s part of mine…
I’ve never been skinny (in the way the world would like us to be), but after joining the gym at 18, my brain capacity improved no-end, with the side-benefit of being pretty fit, although I joined Slimming World in 2006… which I think mucked up my brain pretty thoroughly. In 2008, on a trip around Europe I got a chest infection, piled on the weight, and never quite found a way to lose it. At the end of 2009, tired of beating myself up (and never really becoming a ‘dieter, aside from that spell with Slimming World) I went to a session with the Beyond Chocolate sisters, and then to their roadshow the other weekend, sharing how they have sought to free themselves from the diet/body obsessed mentality of our culture, learn to accept that we come in a range of sizes and shapes, and that our bodies, if not buffeted by society’s strictures about “should”, “must” and “will-power”, and the odd things that we eat because diet companies say that they are good for them… will settle into where it was designed to be. Since going in 2009, I stopped piling on weight, though I’ve not shrunk … but one step at a time…. Watching a range of women of all shapes and sizes, writing down things that they say to themselves, and then saying that publicly to the person next to them starting with “You” was pretty powerful… we would never dream of saying such things to other people!
So, with that, and with my time with Hannah Jean, and an assorted collection of inspiration online, I sat down to read this book, particularly interested in the Christian perspective on this topic, and finished it in one sitting. A brief extract:
When we look in the mirror, as many as 8 out of 10 of us are not happy with the reflection peering back at us – and more than half of us will be seeing something that is not a true reflection of what we look like. Eve was really lucky in the Garden of Eden as she had no one to compare herself to. We, as twenty-first century women, are not so lucky. The advertising, media and entertainment industries bombard us with images of an ideal towards which we strive as the ideal moves further and further away from us and becomes less and less achievable. As a result, many of us are living with this constant feeling that we have failed; that we are inadequate and undesirable. This can affect not just what we see in the mirror, but how we relate to the outside world.”
I’d like to read it again more slowly, but a few thoughts:
- We are all (men, women and children) made in the image of God. (Have you seen the wonderful UGLY Models Agency?)
- We need to be honest about our struggles, and build each other up (not beat each other up with ‘diet tips’).
- Our bodies, and our feelings about them, should not stop us from fulfilling our God-given potential in this world… nor from standing-tall and confident!
- Why are we spending all that energy worrying about ourselves/our looks when we could be using that energy becoming ‘world-changers’.
- The difficulty of looking at ourselves naked in the mirror… without the covering of clothes (as did Adam & Eve), and the story of Kjerstin Gruys who took 12 months without a mirror (love these vintage pin-ups on her blog).
- Some are prepared to wait for eternity to feel beautiful, but the Kingdom of God starts now, so seek a true picture of ourselves, and be satisfied with it now..
- How much do we spend on hair and beauty products … and would we bother if no one could see us?
- “… just because I don’t feel beautiful, it doesn’t mean that I am not beautiful. Feelings have never been given the task of seeking truth.”
- We cry over the shape of our bodies, we go to extreme lengths to get them to a shape that conforms to our own perceptions of ‘beauty’ which are so strong in our culture…
- The world tells us that we should constantly be dissatisfied with our image – Romans 12: 2 says otherwise.
- We have been conditioned to believe that external beauty = lovableness … so if we see images of Jesus, they are always ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ type images … but people turned their faces from him… was any of this to do with a lack of physical beauty?
- Wow, the pain that Chine went through in getting corn-rows of relaxants into her hair … to conform to an afro-carribean standard of beauty.
- Food is never just about ‘eating’, it’s either under or over eating .. especially when food forms the basis of so much of culture.
- The dangers of living in a comparison culture – we could be happy with what we have – but we see what someone else has and it seems better, more attractive than ours/us.
- The single life, feeling the need to ‘be beautiful’ – despite Christian culture saying its about the beauty within, see few Christian men praying for a ‘Plain Wife’…
- The moment of putting up a new Facebook photo, and waiting for people to ‘Like’ it… a form of affirmation.
- What can we do to change things for the generations to come – how do we ensure that they don’t suffer the same mental traumas that we have…
The only thing I’d really have loved to have seen changed in the book was where at the beginning/end of each chapter there’s an image of a conventionally beautiful woman – of the kind we see in health & fitness magazines … I would love to have seen a collection of different women there! An inspiring read for many women (and men) who are caught up in our culture’s obsession with ‘the body’ and dieting… and yes, let’s talk about it…
And a thought from my own book (coming February 2014):
In 2010, a Home Office report warned that the “drip-drip” exposure to sexual imagery – including pornography, “lads’ mags” and sexual imagery in advertising – was distorting young people’s perceptions of themselves. They reported it was “encouraging boys to become fixated on being macho and dominant, and girls to present themselves as sexually available and permissive.”[i] Too much emphasis in porn on ‘the perfect body’ is leaving young people unhappy when their own bodies don’t match up.[ii]
[ii] ‘Internet addiction: Cybersex and pornography’, Helpguide.org http://www.helpguide.org/mental/Internet_cybersex_addiction.htm#Internet_pornography
As Chine says, she’s not got this all sorted either … but we don’t need to be sorted to share each other’s journeys. And yes, I still go to the gym, but I tend to go to classes that I enjoy and swim a lot!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.