Inspiration Sessions: Jess Smith – Founder Of Join The Revolution
Every so often you meet amazing people that put everything into perspective. This year I was mentoring the Layne Beachley Aim For The Stars Foundation recipients and met the most incredible group of positive game changers.
All ages, all areas of interest and talent were represented in the annual awards in Sydney. It’s always a pleasure to present, and talk with the girls on the importance being their own personal brand and creating success with their grant from Layne’s Foundation, Aim For The Stars.
One of this years recipients was the gorgeous Jess Smith – her radiance and sense of self was visible immediately. This was one lady on a mission. As part of my monthly INSPIRATION SESSION on this blog I invited Jess to share her story. I hope that she inspires you about the importance of support, acceptance and a healthy positive spirit.
Enjoy x Nikki
___________________________________________ Here’s Jess ________________________________________
It was the event I had been training towards for years, and the dream of winning a medal for my country was agonisingly within reach. It should have been the most exciting time in my life, an experience I would cherish and remember fondly forever.
However, the 2004 Athens Paralympics were a nightmare, dark and depressing. I performed below expectation in the swimming pool and failed to take a medal in the 50m and 100m freestyle, and 100m butterfly.
My disappointment however wasn’t merely confined to underachievement. The sorrow had built up after years of deceit, personal abuse and self-loathing. After five years of torment, my body caved when I needed it the most? My eating disorders had conquered both my body and mind, whilst destroying my Paralympic dream all in one go.
Life had always been consumed with challenges, I was born missing my left forearm. As a toddler struggling to get used to my prosthetic arm, I knocked a pot of boiling water onto myself, suffering third degree burns to 14% of my body.
From an early age I was conscious and sensitive about my disability & appearance. I always felt different to other kids, exacerbating my shyness. But I was a natural swimmer and it many ways the pool became my sanctuary. The water was freeing and provided me with a sense of relief & safety. Training gave me focus and competition provided the impetus to succeed, and I often raced against able-bodied swimmers.
By age 13 I was a rising star as an Australian representative. But success in the pool only masked my insecurities, which continued to develop dangerously.
My dwindling self-esteem morphed into an eating disorder. I started dieting then skipping meals, ten years later I had been all consumed with Bulimia & Anorexia.
Superficiality overwhelms society. Perhaps we’ve been indoctrinated by media and popular culture, but there’s often an obsession with perfectionism.
Societal expectations combined with the pressures of being an athlete did more harm than good. Sometimes I went days without eating, juxtaposed with sudden binges.
As a form of self-punishment I would run 15km daily rain, hail or shine. I reinforced the self-loathing through harsh monologue laced with invective. I was desperately trying to be perfect in every way, perhaps once I had reached ‘perfection’ then people would see past my imperfection. I hated myself so much that I felt I deserved the pain.
Depression followed at 16. I honestly don’t know how I found the courage, and relentless application to achieve my ultimate career high, reaching the Paralympics.
But the anguish in Athens was followed by more turbulence, culminating in six weeks hospitalisation, brought on by my eating disorders, at the age of 22. It all but ended my swimming dreams.
Now 28, I’m proud to say that I survived the ravages to emerge more resolute and self-assured than ever, and I’m now an advocate for positive body image.
I travel Australia as motivational public speaker and recently started Join The Revolution, a campaign raising awareness of positive body image through social media.
This year has been exciting on so many levels, and I feel blessed to be on this current journey. I was acknowledged by the federal government at the Positive Body Image awards in August, awarded “Emerging Leader” for 2013. I am also a 2013 grant recipient from Layne Beachley’s “Aim for The Stars Foundation” and I’m a state finalist in the Pride of Australia Medal, announced on 21 September, recognising people making an indelible community contribution.
I’ll be in recovery for the rest of my life and I honestly believe that I had to experience all these traumatic moments in order to now be a real and positive voice for others who are struggling with their appearance
Advocacy for positive body image, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and rekindling relationships have been a priority in my life during the past few years. And in many ways helps me on my recovery journey. I have a responsibility to give back to the community; I hope that by sharing my story I can deter others from making the same mistakes.
It is so crucial that we as a community continue to promote healthy living; exercise, balanced eating & positive sense of self.
Join The Revolution is the first step – awareness is pivotal for prevention!
In January 2014 Jess will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise much needed awareness and funds that will go to The Butterfly Foundation (Australia’s largest not for profit organisation supporting those with eating disorders and their loved ones). If you want to find out more or donate you can log onto https://climb4butterfly-kilimanjaro.everydayhero.com/au/jessica