A Lot Like Eve: Fashion, faith and fig-leaves: A
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
THIS book is a story of transformation at several levels. Most
obviously, it is the story of a teenage girl, bullied and
humiliated because of her facial abnormality, and how major surgery
changes her looks beyond recognition. It is also the story of
growing up in a particular Evangelical Charismatic culture that
purports to provide all the answers, long before any questions have
The transformation is not only physical, but spiritual: the
challenge not only to piece together enough self-confidence to face
adulthood, but to shape a theology flexible and compassionate
enough to relate to real life as it is lived by real, damaged
The early chapters are at times painful to read, as they evoke
the anguish of public ridicule for looking different, and the
desperate longing for acceptance. Paradoxically, the church
culture, which later becomes so confining, offers Jepson a loving
and secure haven during that difficult time. Eventually, however,
that security becomes claustrophobic, as she reacts against the
template provided for "Christian woman", which is apparently
limited to "conservatively dressed home-maker".
Even as her own appearance is surgically changed, the author
continues to reflect on the ambiguities of "normality" and
"disability", not least through growing up alongside her beloved
brother Alastair, who has Down syndrome. Such reflection leads to
her mounting an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge against a
late abortion on the grounds of a cleft lip and palate.
Encountering and later working with young people from strict
Muslim backgrounds, in her ministry as Chaplain at the London
College of Fashion, encourages her to explore rather than simply
react against religious values prioritising conformity.
Shining through her experiences are moments of grace: the girls
at school who extend friendship beyond expectation; the handsome
boy at youth camp who apologises for his brother's rudeness; her
father, who urges her to go and study theology; the nuns at the
convent where she retreats to clarify her calling. Her discovery of
what it means to be herself, in God, includes my favourite episode
- what she describes as her "Eric Liddell moment" - when she "felt
God's pleasure" in getting 22 ordinands dancing in a night-club
till 3 a.m.
Most powerfully, Jepson's story is about discovering that
Christian faith can be far more generous than she ever imagined,
that "conversion" is not just praying a prayer of commitment, but
embarking on a lifetime's journey of self-surrender - and that the
God who clothed Adam and Eve, even as they left Eden, longs to
enfold us with equal affirmation, tenderness, and love.
The Revd Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF and
also serves as an NSM in the Church in Wales.