The strength and determination of Jessica Smith - by Heidi Anderson
I WANT you to meet an amazing woman who just recently came into my life.
She is quietly spoken but oozes an air of confidence, a sweet blonde bombshell who is about to give birth to her first child.
She mentors youth and recently published a book.
Oh, and how could I forget — she is a Paralympian and has just been announced as a WA finalist for a Pride of Australia medal.
What a woman huh? I bet by now you’re dying to meet her.
Her name is Jessica Smith. I’m a big fan.
For years, she has been spreading a beautiful and positive message and I would like to share it with you.
Her mantra that she swears by is “It’s OK to be different.” It’s simple and I reckon we could all use a little ‘Jess’ in our lives.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview Jess in the past through work and every time I walk away feeling inspired, confident and grateful to have met her.
I sat down with her again last week.
She’s had a rollercoaster of a journey so far.
Jess was born missing her hand and left arm, then at just 18 months old, she suffered third degree burns to 15 per cent of her body.
At 14, Jess was diagnosed with depression, anorexia and bulimia, a battle that she fought for about a decade, which was when she hit rock bottom.
During her darkest years, Jess struggled with negative body image and was on the quest to find the perfect body.
Little Miss Jessica Goes To School, a children's book written by WA Paralympian Jessica Smith
She explained, “I’d convinced myself that if I could obtain the perfect body, then maybe I’d be happy, because maybe then people would see past my obvious imperfections and maybe then I’d be treated as an equal.”
Her strength and determination that I have seen through her telling her story is unbelievably impressive.
Next week, The Butterfly Foundation kicks off “Love Your Body Week” from September 7-11 and they will be celebrating body confidence.
This campaign coincides with Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week and aims to promote body confidence in all Australians by celebrating body diversity.
For a long time, Jess has been a huge advocate and has spent years sharing her story, speaking and mentoring young people.
It was during this time that she realised the message she was trying to convey could be spread much earlier through education.
“My target audience for the past five years has been youth, in particular young females,” she said.
“And although I believe I am able to connect and make a difference with this age group, I’ve always believed that promoting positive body image and self-worth at a younger age is crucial.”
So this year Jess released a book for children.
“When I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to achieve by writing a book, the answer was simple — prevention,” she said.
It was Jess’ childhood and the lack of diversity in characters from books that she’d read as a child that really spurred her on.
She explains: “There is nothing wrong with characters such as Barbie, Cinderella, Batman or Superman — these are the characters that ignite our imagination and encourage us to fantasise. “But children also need to see and read about characters that represent what they see in real life. They need to see characters with imperfections and characters with differences.”
Jessica Smith reads her book, Little Miss Jessica Goes To School, to primary school children.
This is how her book, Little Miss Jessica Goes to School, came about.
I’ve been lucky enough to read it. It’s easy for the kids and the illustrations are bloody brilliant. They were drawn by Perth artist Joel Blackley.
The book isn’t just about Jess going to school with a missing arm, it’s about her entire journey as a young girl and her discovering that we’re all different.
Along the way, Jess discovers other characters who appear different to her and together they go on a journey, learning to appreciate and respect one another despite their differences.
“The book tackles a range of issues such as self-esteem, disability, body image, friendship, acceptance, tolerance and social connection, and ultimately delivers a fundamental message for younger generations about self-acceptance — a message that reminds us all that being different is OK,” she said.
This year has been massive for Jess, personally and professionally.
She got married to her Prince Charming, became a published author and will soon give birth to a beautiful baby girl.
I asked Jess if she had a message for her unborn daughter. She replied: “I want my daughter to grow up knowing that she is loved, and I also want to instil in her a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem.”
“But I need to get this message across to her not simply through my words but more so through my actions. I know it’s my responsibility to show her what confidence looks like, and to also show her that it’s OK to be vulnerable from time to time.”
“I want her to know that she doesn’t have to change anything about herself. Because in my eyes, she will always be perfect.”