If you’ve been on this blog before, you likely know my story of being perennially single. It’s literally everywhere. Being single and being a Christian are the only two things you’d think I have in common with Chine McDonald (née Mbubaegbu) at the time of her writing Am I Beautiful? (she got married since). I’m the stereotypical beauty that she has always aspired to be: pale, blonde, blue-eyed. Ironically, I’m always in awe of ebony skin and would kill for a head of bouncy curls. I think she is beautiful. It doesn’t take long after opening the book to realise how much more universal self-esteem issues are. Even Christian women can fall into the trap of forgetting the truths they hold. And she doesn’t hold back from being honest about it and about her journey writing the book.
Her first chapter (Craving Beauty) starts with this reflection: “We want to see beauty when we look in the mirror. So we are forever on that journey towards striving to become beautiful – that is valued, of worth, good – because we do not allow ourselves to dare to believe for a moment that we already are.”
She recounts her journey from childhood and how the understanding of her value was soon tied to what she saw in the mirror. My story is, in a way, different, even the opposite. My story swings between being told I was too fat even when the weight on the scale was dangerously low, and unwanted sexual attentions because of my very feminine figure. Mine is the story of someone who is beautiful, but wanted to trade it in. I have already talked about wearing men’s clothes to hide it. What I’ve never talked about is the messy bit. The binge eating. The overuse of Brioschi. Wishing I looked like Tilda Swinton. Over Christmas I went through my old clothes for charity, so many painful memories are hidden somewhere in my subconscious. One of the most poignant phrases in the book was “I wonder how God feels about us disparaging His creation.”
I was once going around the Tate Britain with my aunt and her colleague. I made a casual remark about how I was born too late, I’d have been the most sought after woman in a Renaissance court. My aunt replied that’s no excuse to be this fat. Her colleague took me aside and told me not to take it at heart, because I’m beautiful. Before moving to London, someone who would have considered himself a friend commented on the fact I was seeing someone from here saying it was understandable, because women here made even me look thin. I still have a pair of jeans from that time, the really low waist is a 32 inches. That’s mostly just the hip bone, but nobody cared: I was the beautiful face who could have done with being thin, unless you were the type of person who fetishises big girls. I kept swinging between wanting to get rid of any hint of flesh so that people could see that really, it’s just bones, and wanting to actually become fat since that’s how people saw me anyway. But my story is only different in the surface. I, too, craved being valued. And that has been behind a lot of the insecurities related to being single (I talk about it here and here and here and coming Thursday 02/03 here, and probably elsewhere. I talk about being single a lot. I’ve taken over the role of The Catholic Single from the Dr Stanley after they closed the Telegraph blogs -remember them?-).
This year Ash Wednesday (today) falls in the middle of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It’s a day of fasting and abstinence required by the Church. The first time I have been on a retreat for Easter (with Good Friday being the other day of fast), I was presented with a version of one meal and two snacks (the Church’s allowance) that was more food than I normally consume on a normal day. If you ask me I would say I love food, as putting my cooking on Instagram shows. Still, somehow, I manage to have never really recovered from a bad relationship with it. I can’t eat when I’m sad. I keep eating when I’m stressed. Seeing something I don’t like in the mirror is enough to put me down for days. Yet, paradoxically, people thinking I’m beautiful often annoys me. I want to be seen as smart, talented, funny etc first. Chine hit the nail on the head again in Chapter 6 (Ages and Stages of Beauty): “When it comes to my relationship with my body, you could say that I have been that abusive partner that nobody would want to be in a relationship with”.
When we think about Eating Disorders we think about how society shapes our self-esteem and idea of beauty. We call for more realistic standards in the fashion industry, or more diversity in the media. There is a great deal more to it. Low self-esteem can come from closer to home than society, and not all women or men (the always forgotten demographic) who suffer from an ED do it because of beauty anyway. Controlling your body when everything else feels out of control is another powerful motivator, too. Still, Am I Beautiful? has a message for them too. It’s about truly accepting God’s love for us. Believing in that loving God doesn’t make it any easier to do than if you were Richard Dawkins. I fear I have spoiled the book now, but I truly think it’s a great read that not only mentions a lot of things that I haven’t even alluded to here, but also has some practical guidance if you feel that you can do with a better relationship with yourself. I know I did.
If you want to buy the book, please consider buying it from the affiliate links in the post and supporting both Chine and Authentic Media and this blog.
If you want more information about Eating Disorders or to support a great charity doing great work, check B-eat out. They are raising funds with a stunt on Friday 03/03.
If you are a Catholic woman (or a Christian one who doesn’t mind Catholic things) you can watch the replay of Blessed is She‘s workshop Made in the Image of God – How to Maintain a Healthy Self-Image with Mary Lenaburg here ($15 or free for members). I’ll be talking about it on Friday in my Catholic 101 series too.