Motivational speaker and founder of social media campaign Join the Revolution, Jessica Smith was born without the lower part of her left arm and suffered major burns to 13% of her body when she was only 18 months old, Jessica learned to embrace adversity from an early age. Now using her experiences to inspire and encourage others, Jessica works tirelessly to promote positive body image, and candidly shares her experiences as an elite athlete who competed in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games while privately battling depression and eating disorders.
Recently awarded Emerging Leader at the Australian Government Positive Body Image Awards, Jessica is challenging Australia to Join the Revolution and promote positive body image. Natalie Candarakis caught up with Jessica to discuss how she embraced adversity, her social media campaign and the lessons she has learned along her squiggly journey.
What was the catalyst for you in recognising that you needed to change your body image?
After struggling with depression and eating disorders, desperately trying to feel connected to a society that places so much emphasis on physical appearance, I literally hit rock-bottom both physically and emotionally in my early twenties. I realised that my frantic desire to change who I was, thinking it would make me happy, was in actual fact the exact desire that was destroying my life.
What is the first step to overcoming negative body image?
For me personally, it was recognising that I actually had a problem. For too many years I lived in denial, convincing myself that I was a strong and confident woman, however that wasn’t true at all. Once I allowed myself to be honest and admit that I was struggling with low self esteem and negative body image, I essentially allowed myself to take the first step in the recovery journey.
What are the top three things being a Paralympian taught you?
You overcame adversity and have become a very big advocate for positive body image, what organisations or companies share your vision?
I prefer to say that I have embraced adversity rather than overcome it… and for that reason I feel that I have a responsibility to be a voice for others and advocate for an issue that affects us all. There are so many wonderful initiatives at the moment, which is so exciting to see. I have had the privilege of working with various organisation as a speaker or consultant, but two in particular are aligned with my message;
I am currently as Ambassador for The Butterfly Foundation – Australia’s largest not-for-profit organisation which aims to support people suffering with eating disorders and their loved ones.
I was also awarded a grant in 2013 through the Layne Beachley ‘Aim For The Stars Foundation’. Layne and her team have created a community of females who are empowered and, despite varying challenges, are proving to the rest of society that there are no limitations when it comes to achieving your goals!
What are your hopes for the next generation of women?
I hope that future generations of women can learn to appreciate the significance of empowering each other. Unfortunately, we seem to be our own worst enemies. We ridicule ourselves and each other, when really we need to truthfully be supporting one another. When it comes to body image it is my wish that women know they don’t have to be the picture of beauty, health, confidence to stand up for uplifting truth about female worth, health and potential. You just have to BELIEVE it. Women are capable of so much, your reflection doesn’t define your worth so don’t be afraid to show that! Show it in your words, how you talk to yourself and other women, and show it in your actions! Be an example for other women; older generations and future generations can all learn from one another.
I hope that my future daughter/s can live free from the immense burden of self hate and guilt. It is my responsibility to show her through my words and actions that it is okay to love who I am.
What do you think needs to change on a larger level to realise your hopes?
Purely and simply, we need to TALK more. Body Image is an issue that women of all ages can relate to, yet we don’t feel comfortable sharing our true feelings or concerns with each other – perhaps we don’t want to be seen as weak, after all the pressure to be the perfect ‘woman’ depicts strength, power and confidence… Yet the reality is that all women experience negative body image and therefore if we just allow ourselves to talk more openly and honestly about these issues, we will undoubtedly alleviate much of the stigma that is associated.
Start a positive conversation about Body Image and encourage others to do the same – but remember to choose your words carefully… stop the negativity!
What is your proudest achievement?
Definitely my recovery from anorexia, bulimia and depression and from that, the ability to live with a mind that has less chatter, which is essentially a life of freedom!
In 2013 I also created the social media campaign Join the Revolution, which has been supported all over the world!
You were recently named Emerging Leader for 2013, at the Australian Government Positive Body Image Awards, congratulations! How has the award affected you and your advocacy?
In 2013 I created a social media campaign titled Join the Revolution. The revolution being an uprising of positive communication on the topic of body image. These days social media sites are a haven for negativity, especially for young impressionable females. So I wanted to create a positive platform of communication. People take a photo holding the JOIN THE REVOLUTION sign and then upload to social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - sharing REAL images and encouraging open and positive conversations.
In a matter of months there were thousands of images uploaded from individuals, groups, families, women, children and men from all over Australia and the World! Even celebrities such as The Veronica’s, Layne Beachley, Kirk Pengilly, Chris Bath and Guy Leech are involved.
This just goes to show that Negative Body Image doesn’t discriminate and we can all play a part is promoting Positive body Image instead.
What has been one of your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge will always be self doubt. That little voice inside that we all have. Thankfully now, after years of letting it rule my life, I know when to listen and when to shut it up!
You can JOIN THE REVOLUTION by uploading a photo of yourself holding the Join the Revolution sign and posting it to your social media profiles with the hashtag #jointherevolution and/or #jessicasmith
What are some lessons you have learned from your own personal challenges? Share your answer in the comments section below.
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