Q&A WITH POSITIVE BODY IMAGE ADVOCATE JESSICA SMITH
Behind every great struggle lives an even greater story - this is true for Paralympian and Positive Body Image Advocate Jessica Smith.
In light of Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (September 1st to 7th), Jessica stands tall today to share her story as an avid advocate for positive body image and as is one of Australia’s most sought after motivational speakers. Those of us who have lived, bared and survived great struggles know all to well the importance that motivation plays in order to keep on truckin'. Here Jessica tells us about her personal experiences, how she motivates herself in order to motivate others, and what's to come from this beautiful being.
Tell us the background behind the story you tell through motivational speaking?
I was born missing my left forearm, then as a toddler, while struggling to get used to a newly fitted prosthetic arm, I accidentally knocked boiling water on myself suffering horrific third degree burns to 15% of my body. Growing up wasn’t easy, especially being born into a world where so much emphasis is placed on appearance. I felt as though I didn’t fit in and that I simply wasn’t good enough.
On the outside everything seemed great; I was a successful Paralympic Swimmer having represented Australia for over a decade, but behind closed doors I was struggling; I battled with depression, bulimia and intense self hatred. I believed that if I could change my physical appearance, then everything would be better and I'd be happier. But of course the more I tried to change who I was, the harder I tried to fit societal moulds of beauty and perfection, the more miserable I became.
It's been a tumultuous journey to say the least, but I'm now in recovery and purely and simply, I believe that I have a responsibility to share my story and be a voice for others and an advocate within society for greater awareness around mental health in particular body image and eating disorders.
Describe some personal traits of yours which you believe have helped you become a motivational speaker?
Growing up I was extremely shy, and even now I'm actually a very private person so the jump into motivational speaking surprises me too sometimes. Over the years my approach and delivery has changed a lot, I'm forever learning from my audiences, whether they be teenage school girls, professional athletes or a boardroom of corporate executives. I like to think I have mastered the process in translating and articulating my own story into a message that resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds.
I think my compassionate nature and genuine empathy for everyone I meet helps me to be a good listener. Taking the time to listen and actually hear what people say when they talk is so important. If I don't listen first, I can't deliver what people want.
How do you handle the days when you've felt personally emotionally flat, but have had to motivate others?
Just like everyone else I have days when I simple can't be bothered, or I'd rather stay in bed than face the world. There have been a few times when I've had things going on in my personal life that have made it hard for me to motivate myself and the last thing I've wanted to do was get up In front of a group of people and 'motivate' them. However I've never once cancelled or postponed a talk, and any time I've arrived at a venue feeling flat, I'm instantly lifted as it's my audiences and the people I meet through my work that inspire me. I show up every time no matter what. People always thank me for sharing my story, but what people often don't realise is how grateful I am to them for listening. I have an incredible job and with that job comes responsibility.
How do you continually fuel your passion?
I genuinely LOVE what I do. Seeing and experiencing change (even if it's just the smallest shift in a persons thinking) is so rewarding. And because Body Image is such a pressing issue in today's society, there isn't a day that goes by when I am not astounded by new statistics which highlight the ongoing issue that result due to the increasing rates of negative body image. Going out and actually speaking to young women and men and sharing my story and seeing the reaction is what fuels me to keep doing what I do. I may not be able to change the world, but it's worth trying.
Where's your favourite place to go to and feel inspired and motivated?
Usually the only time I get the chance to clear my head is when I'm walking or running, might sound a tad cliche but it really does help me to reflect and focus on the next task. I'm definitely motivated after every talk I give, so it's a win-win situation for me. I get so excited when I have audiences who are engaged and responsive, it makes me want to just keep going. Them on the other hand if I don't have a responsive audience or the feedback is critical, the stubborn bitch in me comes out and I'm determined to do better next time.
What are your top 3 favourite activities to do to wind down?
Yoga, running and drinking coffee (I do realise caffeine is a stimulant but it brings me peace!)
Who are your personal heroes? Who do you look up to and seek motivation from?
I seek motivation from so many different people, family members, friends, colleagues and complete strangers. Anyone who can defy the odds and who is crazy enough to push the boundaries further than they've ever been pushed. My grandmother was one such person, she raised ten kids during the Great Depression, ran numerous businesses all while wearing stilettos (even when she was gardening) She was beautiful, graceful, elegant and the kindest woman I've ever known.
What are some personal goals your working on right now?
My most immediate goal is to have as many people as possible supporting the 'Join The Revolution' campaign throughout Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (September 1st to 7th). The more people who get involved the more opportunity there is for starting a conversation, and that is the most vital step for prevention of the onset of negative body image. Then the next big step is a nation wide 'Join The Revolution' tour targeted specifically at the youth of Australia which will commence next year, and will see me travelling to schools and communities to engage with students about body image and encourage them to help create a society that is more accepting and more tolerant by paying it forward and continuing to spread a positive and hopeful message.