Grammy-winning gospel singer Erica Campbell still vividly remembers one of the most shameful moments from her childhood.
“I was 16, and I was walking in the back of the church when I heard a lady say, ‘she’s probably having sex,’” she recalled in an interview with The Christian Post. “And I wasn’t. I was devastated. I wondered if it was what I had on; if it was the way I acted; if what I was wearing made me look like a nasty girl.’”
“I grew up in a church I loved and a Christian home that was fun. I didn’t want to disappoint,” she continued. “That incident set me on a path of second-guessing myself, always making sure I didn’t offend and making sure people were pleased and didn’t think badly of me. It was a constant battle to feel good enough.”
As she grew older and found success in the entertainment industry, Campbell realized that she wasn’t the only woman who struggled with feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and worthlessness.
“Many different things happened in my life that caused me to realize the conversation wasn’t just my own,” she said. “Culture has mixed the message of the Gospel up. We live a fear-based Christianity. Our faith isn’t based on loving Jesus; it’s based on doing the right thing. But the message of the Gospel is that Jesus loves us exactly as we are.”
Today, the multi-platinum gospel singer and mother-of-three is on a mission to help women build confidence in and through the power of God. Her new book, More Than Pretty: Doing the Soul Work that Uncovers Your True Beauty, demonstrates that true beauty is found not in external appearance, but in celebrating the person God made you to be.
“This is countercultural. But I tell my daughters, ‘your pretty has to have purpose and power,’” Campbell stressed. “Pretty doesn’t make you more valuable or loving or fill you with joy. It won’t get you an education or give you power. Pretty walked me through a door, but pretty didn’t keep me there. I stayed there because of my talent and professionalism, and because I was called by God. Pretty is just one small part of who I am and who you are.”
Fueled by the rise of social media, many girls and women have a twisted view of themselves, resulting in a depression and anxiety “epidemic,” Campbell said.
“Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — they’ve taken comparison and keeping up with the Joneses to a whole new level,” she contended. “It’s the perfect place to feed insecurity and low self-esteem. It’s comparison on steroids; it’s caused people to second guess their lives. There’s so much pressure to look perfect and be perfect, and it’s devastating our sense of self-worth.”
Additionally, the pressure to appear perfect can lead to eating disorders and forms of body dysmorphia. According to research, “media is a causal risk factor for the development of eating disorders” and has a strong influence on a person’s body dissatisfaction, eating patterns, and poor self-concept.”
“God’s desire for women is for them to be holistically healthy, not just healthy with their eating, but healthy in the way they think,” Campbell said. “He wants them to have such high self-esteem that they don’t believe the enemy's lies. The biggest lie Satan tells us is that we're not enough."
“We have to get back to being OK with who we are and be OK with who God created us to be,” she said. “Let go of what people think; let go of people you want to please.”
Campbell noted that unbelievers are drawn to those who admit their vulnerabilities: “There are loads of people that we need to reach and touch who don’t know the Lord. They don’t need to feel beat up, they need to feel loved by Christians,” she said. “We need to stop trying to pretend like we have it all together.”
In her book, the Mary Mary singer also discusses God’s design for love and intimacy — a topic she said has largely been avoided by the Christian community.
“I believe God made us beautiful sexual beings, and I believe I should be empowered by that, but it doesn’t mean I should flaunt it. My body is only for one person and that person will honor me back,” she said. “But instead, we just talk about, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t have sex.’ I think the culture of ‘don’t do it’ has damaged a lot of marriages.”
The church has an obligation to address sex and sexuality, Campbell asserted, because young men and women are still going to get their information somewhere — and oftentimes, it’s from the world.
“The world says watching porn is fine; dirty movies are fine; listening to inappropriate music is fine,” she said. “The enemy is perverting marriage and sexuality. We need to change that immediately. We need to be addressing these issues in a healthy, biblical way.”
To the outside world, the idea of a “Christian marriage” is boring, Campbell added, “but women need to know it’s OK to be adored and hugged and kissed. Femininity, sexuality — those aren’t bad words.”
“If we gave Christian women this license to be free and all God wanted us to be, we would be so empowered. God created sex not just to procreate, but for enjoyment and to tie our souls together within the framework of marriage. We need to change our perspective and have a safe space to explore questions.”
Through More than Pretty, Campbell hopes women come to believe they are loved — and that their messy past doesn’t invalidate them from the glorious life God promises for His children.
“I know there are churches that teach Earth will be rough, and Heaven will be perfect, but there are joys we can access here on Earth,” she said. “We will have valleys and mountains, and we need to take God every step every on the way. Happy is circumstantial but the joy of the Lord fuels you and gives you strength.”
“Women,” the singer added, “need to create new normals, be OK with evolving, and have good girlfriends. I want to debunk the myth that all women hate each other. Relationships are powerful and important. Hopefully, this book will help women build relationships with God, with themselves, with others, and then share that message.”