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Interview: Jessie Faerber, founder, Belle Ministry

31 August 2018

‘Our value is not in what we look like. God is a lot more creative than that’

Mark Pape

I started Belle in 2015 because of my heart for teenage girls, and out of my own growing in self-image and confidence. I realised that the lies I believed about myself were common among most girls. Social media — especially Instagram — and our image-saturated society is distorting the view we have of ourselves. God took me on a journey of breaking my heart for what breaks his, and my heart broke for these girls.

We run workshops in primary and secondary schools, and youth groups, to challenge beauty standards, investigate insecurities, and inspire aspiration; to help girls realise their true value, beauty, and purpose. I give them practical activities to help them think about the real meaning of beauty, value, and purpose.

The responses have been mind-blowing, to be honest. Teachers say I’m a speaker who has the gift of inspiring people to change the way they view themselves and others. Girls tell me that my sessions are powerful and life-changing, because they realise that they’re worth something, and that you shouldn’t compare yourself with others.

It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of girls for such a time as this. Christian girls, girls of no faith, girls of different faiths, quiet girls, bubbly girls, confident girls, confused girls — every girl matters, and every girl is worthy of hearing the truth about who they are.

I was a relatively average kind of girl growing up. No one really knew of my struggle with what I looked like — even myself, to be honest. I walked down the school hallway and compared myself to other girls. I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw looking back. I felt inadequate, ugly, and useless. My value was in all the wrong things.

More Than Just Pretty answers questions I asked myself then: Am I enough? Am I what I achieve? Am I pretty? Am I happy? Am I significant? Girls need to know that their value doesn’t come from their grades, body shape, past, or the number of likes on their latest post. They need to know God loves them as they are now — not to strive to be prettier, smarter, funnier, thinner. Healthy striving and achievement, growth, learning, and development are good, but girls sometimes over-strive and get caught up in perfectionism.

The journey of self-esteem is a lifelong one. I have to regularly come back to the truth about who I am when I feel knocked back. Ephesians 2.10 is the soundtrack to my journey. I constantly come back to the truth that I’m God’s masterpiece, meaning I’m an original, I’m God’s, I’m more than what I look like.

I’m passionate about being vulnerable and authentic about my journey, and that I don’t have it all sorted. Our struggles are the key that can unlock other girls’ prisons.

I don’t think it’s a case of girls “falling for” social media: it’s just part of the DNA of society nowadays, although it’s still very new. The fear of missing out if they’re not on social media is massive. They’re very vulnerable to pressure to conform. They don’t have much choice about whether to be on it; so it’s how we learn to use it well.

The problem is not social media itself, but the way we all interpret it, use it, and understand its impact on us. We need to create spaces where we can talk about it and help young people manage their thoughts and feelings about it. We can ask them: What are your friends posting? Go through your feed and see whose posts aren’t healthy for you to look at; which [posts] give you negative reactions. You can un-follow them.

We should also create opportunities for young people to make real connections with each other. They hunger for it, but it’s really hard for them to do it themselves.

God is on social media as well — using it and ministering through it. Doors of opportunity and excitement are opening up.

More Than Just Pretty has been read by girls from the age of 11 up to women in their fifties — and men, too. It doesn’t surprise me that the readership has widened. It asks and answers questions that we all ask at different points in our life.

There’s no external voice or authority who defines what’s pretty. We’ve always been slaves to what society — magazine covers, advertising campaigns, internet searches, or social-media influencers — considers to be pretty, which changes over time. We were once slaves to corsets. Now, we’re slaves to lip fillers and contouring if we choose to be; but we see such diversity in beauty standards around the world. If we strive for one kind of pretty, we’re only going to be let down, because the standard is different across different times and cultures.

Christians need to spread the truth that girls are more than what they look like. If I draw my value in my appearance and self-image, then that is what most matters to me. Increasing equality of opportunity and better exam results for girls are great, but they don’t resonate in the same way. Girls need to know that they’re more than pretty — they’re pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty ambitious, pretty wise, pretty wild. Boys need to know this, too.

Anyway, better exam results for girls may also reinforce the idea that we are what we achieve, which isn’t a healthy view, and equality of opportunity still needs working for.

I love reading, and how it takes your mind to a totally different place. I love travel, visiting new places, and immersing myself in different cultures. I took a gap year to be a Kids Ministry intern in Australia. Being out of my comfort zone, being mentored, and having to fully trust in God challenged and grew my faith massively.

I was brought up in the Church, which I’m incredibly grateful for, as I had the foundations of faith from an early age. New Wine was a rock for me over my teenage years, and it’s still a community that I love.

What makes me angry is girls’ not knowing their worth. God took this anger of mine and channelled it for change.

I’m learning to be happy in the now, not in the not-yet. Small things make me happy in the present, like a grand mug of green tea, laughing with friends, new adventures in new places, worshipping God.

Writing my book required a lot of courage. I had to put my anxieties about my age to bed, be vulnerable, and display my weakness through sharing my personal story, keeping going when those anxieties and fears arose, believing God knew what he was doing, using my weakness for his power. It’s possibly been the most rewarding experience of my life.

I hope Belle continues to grow and be able to run events, weekends away, and retreats in partnership with other organisations to create new, engaging, and creative ways of exploring and communicating the truth with girls.

I studied at St Mellitus College alongside the current and future leaders of the Church, and I’m so excited about what the Church is doing and is yet to do across the nation. The innovation and creativity which I see God pouring into the people of his Church gives me new life and stirring hope.

My commonest prayer is that God’s will will be done in my life and in the lives of those around me, despite circumstances, fear, failure, weakness, and ignorance. I pray to live a passionate and adventurous life, seeking God’s will in everything I do.

If I was locked in a church with someone, I’d choose Bear Grylls, because he’d turn the whole experience into one great adventure.

Jessie Faeber was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. More Than Just Pretty is published by SPCK at £7.99. www.belleministry.com

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