Why my book won’t change your life…

butterflyTonight, I’ll be standing in front of friends, family, colleagues, publishers and journalists at the launch party for my book Am I Beautiful? which was unleashed on the public a fortnight ago.

I’ll be standing in front of them and talking about the book: this book that is a rallying call for Christian women to wake up to society’s beauty myth, to think less about what they look like so that they can find freedom to be the women they were created to be.

I’m passionate about all this – that’s why I spent months obsessing over it and confronting some of my own body image baggage, spilling out some of my darkest, most private thoughts to give permission to other women to do the same. So that we can move past all this together.

Am I Beautiful? is very much a journey.

But here’s the thing: I’m still on it. The journey has only just begun.

Because as I stand there as the author of this book, they won’t know that I’m still struggling in this area. Big time. They won’t know that I’ve cut down on carbs in the weeks before my holiday. They won’t know that I’ve been waking up at silly o’clock to do a ridiculous US workout DVD. They won’t know that I’ve agonised over what to wear this evening.

I may be passionate about dispelling the beauty myth; but I still live in a world where I’m bombarded by images of outstandingly beautiful women, where both online and offline I’m forever seeing advertising aimed at making me feel bad about the way I look and offering a solution.

Writing this book has not instantly changed my life and the way I see myself. When I look in the mirror, I’ve not yet got to the point of always being completely content with what I see. Because I’ve lived in this looks-obsessed world for 29 years and been smothered by it. I haven’t been transported out and I haven’t instantly unlearnt all society’s beauty messages. But it’s only through having written the book that I’ve become aware of just how much – and how deeply – all this has affected my life and the lives of the women around me.

I’m committed to the eventual eradication of these negative thought patterns, but it’s very much a process – a continual, minute-by-minute choice to work on the complete renewal of my mind (Romans 12:2).

When I started the journey, I was one of the 96 per cent of British women, according to a Dove survey, who was not able to bring myself to believe and say that I was beautiful. But when I ask the question ‘am I beautiful?’ now, I know the answer is absolutely, yes. But this beauty isn’t necessarily anything to do with looking hot. I’m convinced of my beauty because I was created in the image of the one in whom the essence of beauty is found.

Writing the book was not like some magic, instant solution to the body image thing. So reading it won’t  be. But I know that reading it will mean you’re joining me on that journey towards recognising our true beauty and being content in it; of being more aware that inner beauty is far more important than the outer; and of recognising that the ultimate essence of beauty lies far outside any arbitrary, man-made societal standards.

Reading this book won’t change your life instantly…

… but it will start the process. 

Am I Beautiful?, published by Authentic, is out now priced at £7.99.

On judging a book by its cover

ImageSo, here it is, the front cover of my book Am I Beautiful? 

What do you think?

Do you like? Does it draw you in and make you look forward to reading it? Do you dismiss it as too pink, too girly? Were you wowed by its font? Did you make assumptions about me, the author?

It’s ironic that in a book that tackles society’s obsession with appearance, the publisher and I have agonised over the front cover. Because there’s no pretending about it: people do judge a book by its cover. Book buyers browsing book stores make up their minds within a few seconds about whether or not they want to buy a book. So your front cover – the window to the rest of the book – is the place you entice the reader, but also give some clues as to what lies inside.

We do the same thing with human beings.

We make snap judgments about people’s characteristics, their background, their capabilities, their class and their intelligence based on a few seconds of scanning their faces, their mannerisms, what they’re wearing.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, our judgments about people’s physical appearances can even determine who gets the job and who wins in presidential elections. He writes that CEOs and US presidents are on average a lot taller than the general population, for example, with taller people giving off an air of capability.

“Most of us, in ways that we are not entirely aware of, automatically associate leadership ability with imposing physical stature. We have a sense, in our minds, of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations.”

There’s a famous leadership story in the example of David and Saul found in 1 Samuel. I expect King Saul was … fit. Like an Eric Bana or a Henry Cavill (the new Superman) towering above his counterparts like some kind of superhero. He looked the part. We’re told he stood head and shoulders above the rest. But we’re also told that that whole judging a book by its cover thing is not really how God plays things.

But the Lord said to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Over the past few months, I’ve enlisted friends and family members to give me their opinions on the various different designs and iterations. And what I’ve found is that getting every person’s opinion on a good book cover is tiresome. Because everyone has a totally different opinion on what constitutes a beautiful book cover. Because beauty is totally subjective. One person’s bestseller is another person’s bargain bin. And all this reminds me once again that beauty-with-a-small-b cannot be confined within some narrow definition constructed by a society intent only on making us feel inadequate and making money out of us; the one that requires each of us to conform and squeeze into it.

Looking for the intrinsic value and beauty in each human being is far from easy. As visual beings our tendency is to judge books by their covers. But let’s be aware that’s what we’re doing – and maybe some day the covers won’t matter anymore.

Extreme makeover: Anne of Green Gables goes blonde

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The girl on the left of this picture is an imposter.

This long blonde-haired busty teen, who seems to be sporting barely-there make-up, features as Anne Shirley on the cover of a new modern version of 1908 coming-of-age book Anne of Green Gables. Amazon is selling this new version of the coming-of-age classic through its CreateSpace self-publishing arm.

LM Montgomery would not be happy about this. I’m not happy about this. And lots of other Anne fans around the world are not happy about this.

When I posted a link on my Twitter page earlier today, people agreed that the idea of this Fake Anne was “disgraceful”, “awful”, “outrageous”, a “#publishingfail”.

Because the real Anne-with-an-e of Green Gables is a skinny, scrawny redhead. Yes, she is amazing, imaginative, feisty, intelligent, loyal, and sparkly-beautiful. But she’s a redhead. And for her that’s not ok.

“Mrs Hammond told me that God made my hair red on purpose and I’ve never cared for Him since,” she says.

When Anne tries to dye her hair and fails—seriously fails­—she cries: “I thought nothing could be as bad as red hair. Green is ten times worse.”

It’s her hair colour which brings us one of her first encounters with the dreamy Gilbert Blythe. When he calls her “carrots” in the classroom, he has no idea what’s coming to him. Anne is fearless and feisty. Violence ensues.

Later on, talking to her best friend Diana, she says: “I shall never forgive Gilbert Blythe. The iron has entered my soul, Diana. My mind is made up; my red hair is a curse.”

Will they cut these brilliant scenes from this new version? I doubt it. Which means the girl on the front cover won’t correlate with the Anne Shirley that’s inside.

Not only is a Blonde Anne contrary to some of the most integral plot lines of the book, but she takes away a lot of the meaning which has made Anne of Green Gables a favourite for young girls for decades.

Many redheaded women saw Anne as a heroine. One friend wrote on my Facebook wall: “She was the only hope for girls like me growing up ginger.” Another tweeted me: “I am a redhead and based my determined yet romantic ways as a teenage girl on Anne!”

When Anne is talking about her red hair, some young readers might be thinking of their own. But what’s so great about LM Montgomery’s storytelling about girlhood is that when Anne is moaning about her hair colour other readers are thinking of their big nose, or their freckles, or their height, or their weight, or their teeth. They are identifying with that feeling of being inadequate, of not being quite right, of not fitting in. And it means that they’re not alone in their insecurities.

But when a new generation of little girls sees this new Anne on the front cover, they will find it hard to identify with her; many of them will instantly feel less than her while others will feel they need to strive to become like her – perfect, pouty, buxom, blonde.

This girl looks like she could feature on the front of Cover Girl.

But she could never be Anne Shirley.