Jessica Smith is a motivational speaker, working to promote positive body image and raise awareness about eating disorders and mental illnesses. Suffering with her own issues with self-esteem and acceptance, she felt as though she was not good enough.
Her low self-esteem unfortunately led to a decade-long battle with bulimia, anorexia and depression. Jess’ ability to push boundaries found her excelling in sport, especially in the swimming pool. Her swimming career spanned over a decade, which in that time she competed for her country at numerous international competitions, retiring in 2007.
Jessica’s positive body image campaign goes by the name of Join the Revolution.. Stop Hating Your Body, which she will tell you more about in the following interview. On behalf of her amazing work, she was nominated for a Pride of Australia medal this year, as well as winning the ‘Emerging Leader’ category in the 2013 Positive Body Image Awards alongside En Vogue Modelling Academy in Sydney recently.
Thank you to Jess for sharing her very touching story with me and all of you.
Ellie: Can you tell me about your campaign Join the Revolution..?
Jessica: Join The Revolution is a campaign that uses social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter & Instagram to get people talking about positive body image. I wanted to use social media as a positive platform for communicating the importance of body image to young people. To get involved, people simply take a photo of themselves holding the Join The Revolution poster then upload it and tag #jointherevolution. It’s a simple campaign with a simple message – there’s no need to complicate the issue any further than it already is!
I grew up with a host of negative body image issues – I was born missing my left arm and then suffered third degree burns to 15% of my body after knocking boiling water on myself. I grew up with a sense of shame and guilt because I didn’t look like the girls in the magazines. I desperately wanted to fit in and be ‘normal’ but I always felt different. All the images I saw in the media made me feel inadequate and anything but beautiful. My self-esteem was extremely low and I hated myself because of my appearance. Unfortunately I developed eating disorders and became very sick. Thankfully though I have recovered from these illnesses, but throughout my recovery journey I realised that there was and still is a severe lack of understanding within society when it comes to eating disorders and body image. I knew that the first step in creating a positive change was to get people talking! And that is what Join The Revolution is all about, encouraging people to start a conversation.
ES: During your swimming career, you were lucky enough to represent Australia in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens – what an amazing achievement! What was that experience like?
JS: I first competed for Australia at the age of 13 and every time was just as incredible as the last, but representing my country at the Paralympics was an entirely different experience, by far the most amazing time in my life. I felt so much pride an honour being part of the Australian Team. A special bond forms with team mates and I have friendships that will last a lifetime. I was fortunate enough to also have my entire family travel over to watch me compete. Knowing that they were there supporting me was another incredible moment and I’m so glad I got to share that with them.
ES: Earlier in the month, your brother accepted an award on your behalf at the 2013 Positive Body Image Awards in Sydney. When you first began your ‘revolution’, did you ever think it would be so successful?
JS: To be honest, no. I started the Join The Revolution campaign with the hope of creating some awareness – never thinking it would reach thousands both in Australia and around the World. I was so honoured to receive such a prestigious award and to be recognised among some an incredible industry or organisations and companies within Australia who are all doing amazing things in the push for a positive change.
I was actually in New York promoting Join The Revolution at the time of the awards, so It was a shame that I wasn’t able to be there in person, but thankfully I was kept in the loop thanks to Twitter & Facebook.
ES: I know many people struggling with illnesses like anorexia and depression. Do you have any advice to give to people out there going through what you did?
JS: The most important thing to know is that you are not alone – there are so many amazing people who are ready to help support others who are in a similar situation to what I was. If there are people currently struggling with negative body Image I would recommend contacting The Butterfly Foundation. This was the organisation that literally saved my life due to the information they provide and the ongoing support. They helped me to see that recovery IS possible … and to never lose that sense of hope!
ES: We would love to promote Join the Revolution around Tasmania. How can we get involved?
JS: Yay! All you need to do is print the Join the Revolution sign, take a photo holding it and then upload it to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and spread the word!
Find out more about Join the Revolution at the following websites, and if you wish to print out one of the signs to send to Jess, email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to get one to you.