Each person's journey is different. No two paths are the same. Yet Maybe We CAN LEARN FROM THOSE WHO HAVE TAKEN A few steps on THE same PATH BEFORE US.
Today I'm bringing you the first instalment of a new interview-type blog series for Core Confidence: Insights from Advocates. (Look - if anyone has a better title suggestion, please send them through. Clearly not my best work!). I've asked body image and mental health advocates a few questions about their personal journeys. This series hopes to showcase just how different everyone's experiences are with body image concerns, disordered eating, eating disorders and mental health. Core Confidence wants to bring greater awareness to the individuality surrounding these topics and we will continue to spur the discussions surrounding them. Join the conversation in the comments below, via our Facebook or Instagram pages. Want questions answered? Know someone we should interview? Let us know - we'd love to hear your thoughts.
I am beyond thrilled to have the fabulous Jessica Smith be the first interviewee for this series. Jessica is a paralympian, accomplished speaker and MC. She is dedicated in her quest to raise awareness around Mental Health with specific emphasis on body image and eating disorders. I first stumbled across Jessica's advocacy work back in 2014 when I took part in her "Join The Revolution" Campaign during Body Image & Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I was a couple of years into my recovery and was finally starting to get more comfortable acknowledging the journey I had been on. Since then I have continued to admire the dedication Jessica has shown to the positive body image cause, and more recently as a diversity and disability activist.
Jessica kindly took the time before the impending arrival of her second child to answer some insightful questions about health, her journey with body image, why she believes in management and acceptance over balance and how she disproves the nay-sayers. Enjoy :)
Lets jump straight in! What does healthy mean to you?
Being healthy isn’t just a physical state. For me, being healthy is a combination of how I’m feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically. Which means that I not only focus on exercise and nutrition, but also on my relationships and the time I allow for self care and relaxation. It’s all of these things that create a space of authentic wellness in my life.
When speaking about our health, wellness and lifestyle - is there such a thing as balance? Why or why not?
Over the years I’ve come to realise that the idea of balance is an illusion. The way society as a whole perceives balance is skewed. We (women) need to manage our expectations better when it comes to achieving ‘balance’ because life isn’t something that can be equally distributed.
So many of us want it ALL, and we want it all NOW.
I believe that we can in fact have it ALL, just not all at once.
As women we all wear many hats - we are daughters, sisters, MOTHERS, career women, athletes, scientists, WIVES, authors, artists, musicians, CEOs, (the list goes on). But we can't be all of those things at the same time. The same goes for our health and wellbeing, sometimes our nutrition will be great but our sleep may not be, due to circumstances beyond our control. Or, our fitness might be on track and we might be feeling really strong, but our social life and relationships are lacking because of poor time management. The reality is, that the more we strive for the perfect balance, the more likely we are all to fall short ... because it doesn't exist.
Yet in our pursuit for perfection, we put so much pressure on ourselves, and ironically the end result is exactly what we do not want - we end up stressed, sick, under performing and we communicate less, internalising the negative.
Having it all - requires management and acceptance, not balance, because we cannot possibly give 100% of our time and energy to more than one thing.
When we allow ourselves 'permission' to prioritise different areas of our life at different times, we take that pressure off ourselves to achieve the perfect balance, and ultimately that is when we are most content.
What does being a body image activist mean to you?
For me being an activist is about using my voice to do whatever I can to create social and even political changes when it comes to the way society views and manages body image issues, in particular eating disorders. I started out just wanting to generate more conversation about these issues, however the more I committed myself the more passionate I became and I realised that the issues were far bigger than I could have ever imagined. We need to do more than just talk about eating disorder and body image (even though that is the crucial starting point for any change) but that is why I am so determined to share my story, but not just to anyone, to the people who have the authority to make decisions!
How did you feel about your body as a
- 15 year old : I hated everything about my body
- 25 year old : This was a turning point in my life, I was finally starting to appreciate my body and to respect it. I can’t say that I loved my body in my early to mid twenties but I certainly didn’t hate it
- Now : I’m 32 and I can honestly say that I am content with my body. As an athlete and a woman going through pregnancy and childbirth - I couldn’t be prouder of what my body has done throughout my life. I have adapted physically to so many situations where my disability would normally have been an obstacle. I think turning 30 and becoming a mother gave me a new perspective on life and what’s important. I am very grateful for what my body has done and what it will continue to do. I respect my body now.
What (if anything) did disordered eating take away from you?
A decade of my life! Although I have to say that I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences, it’s still a chunk of my life that was very painful. My eating disorder altered who I was as a person for ten years! It destroyed my international swimming career, relationships and it almost cost me my life. Thank goodness I am now in a place of contentment, and that I’m also able to share my story with others, I feel very blessed.
How did body dissatisfaction impact your physical health?
I have been in recovery for many years now, however I am still dealing with health implications from a decade of self abuse. I regularly have check ups to ensure that my nutrients and vitamins are at normal levels. I have digestive complications, and major dental issues that not only has a physical impact but also a financial one!
I also have stress fractures and brittle bones which means that there are many exercises that I simply cannot do anymore.
I am currently pregnant with my second child, and each pregnancy has also presented various health issues due to my long battle with eating disorders. I develop anaemia both times, as well as alarmingly low vitamin D levels. Thankfully both pregnancies have been relatively uneventful - which is a good thing.
Do you feel that there can ever be too much focus on body love and body positivity? Why or why not?
Hmm this is an interesting question … recently I’ve started to think that society focuses far too much on appearance, regardless of whether it’s in a positive or negative light. I feel that often too much attention on body positivity still creates an unnecessary focus, and I’d really like to see a shift in how society understands body image. I wish we could focus more on the complexities of the issue, rather than just focus on weight, shape and size. Body image is how we think and feel about our appearance and how we perceive ourselves in the world, so it encompasses race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, mental health and the overall well-being of an individual …. I’d like to see more focus on these issues.
If you could tell your 15 year old self anything, what would it be?
I actually wrote a letter to my younger self that I’d love to share with your readers:
Here is a snippet:
“ … You will have to learn that the wounds of your past; your disability, burns, eating disorders and depression, are what damaged your self-esteem. Yet through it all, you are a better person.
You are a person with a voice that others want to listen to. Don’t ever forget about your responsibility to give back to the people who supported you along the way.
… Life is unpredictable, don’t be afraid to stray from the ragged path that everyone else is walking. Embrace the challenges you will face and don’t let the fear of failure suffocate you. You will only truly learn after making mistakes. But try not to make the same mistake twice.
Even though you will struggle with some very tough emotional issues, each experience is a piece of the puzzle, a compilation of the person you’ll become.
You will have few regrets in your life. You will soon come to understand that success is a journey and that moving with the flow of your life, and not against, is the answer.
And this will be your greatest achievement.”
Wow. Powerful words. Thank you! Okay, now time for
Favourite self care practices?
Quiet time (as a new mum, I can assure you that getting time to myself is sacred!) even just 3 minutes! (not kidding!)
Sleep, I never really valued sleep in my younger days, now I treasure it (the little sleep that I do get)
Mindfulness, I don’t often get time to meditate, but what I do try to do is practice moments of mindfulness. Every day I try to take just a few minutes or even seconds to take a deep breath and be still in the moment. It’s amazing how powerful it can be
Favourite way to move your body? Running, walking, swimming, yoga
Best tips for getting out of a funky head space? Turn off social media! Put your phone down for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths. Sounds simple, it is! And trust me, it’s very effective.
Who inspires you? To be honest, I’m inspired by different people all the time. People who have faced adversity head on and are still ploughing through life with positive energy. I have been fortunate to meet and network with so many people from varying backgrounds and each person has an inspiring story to tell, and I find that so beautiful.
What motivates you? When people assume or tell me that I can’t do something!
Throughout my life so many people have put limitations on me because of what they assume I can or can’t do … these negative limitations motivate the hell out of me to prove them wrong! And I usually do ;-)
Do you have a guilty pleasure? Or are all pleasures guilt free 😉 ?! I don’t feel guilty about anything these days, if I want to eat chocolate I will. The difference is, I now listen to my body, I know when I have over indulged or when I haven’t done enough exercise. But when it comes to pure little pleasures, baths and time by myself! My goodness I treasure those little moments.
What is one thing you wish people knew about what it means to be body confident? It’s not all or nothing - you don’t have to feel confident 100% of the time. That pressure doesn’t serve you at all. It’s OK to not feel OK all of the time, in fact it’s perfectly normal. When you allow yourself to simply feel however you feel in the moment, then you allow yourself to just be who you are.
Favourite insta accounts to stalk *ahem* follow at the moment? I think I follow about 1.5k accounts!! I often change it up a bit, so obviously at the moment I’m following a lot of mums and baby companies. But accounts that I always find myself checking out:
@lonijane - Raw Food
@winnieharlow - Canadian fashion model living with the skin disease vitiligo
@celestebaker - Comedia (good for a laugh!)
@pink - I just love her!
Loni Jane's pictures are simply stunning!! Jessica, thank you for sharing your honest and raw experiences and insights with our community. It's so refreshing to take a look at more of the in-depth stories and views of the advocate to see just how their experiences shaped who they are today. You can find out more about Jessica Smith and her work at : jessicasmith.com.au . Or stalk *ahem* follow her here and here.
Stay tuned for the next interview - can you guess who it's with?
Cheerio beautiful beings - remember to stay in touch! x