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Paralympian Jessica Smith fights the battle against body image


As a bulimia survivor and paralympian, Jessica Smith has battled inner demons bigger than most of us can imagine.

After a disappointing performance in the 2004 Athens Paralymptics, the Australian swimmer admitted that years of self-abuse, deceit and torment finally caught up with her.

"My performances in Athens weren't up to scratch," Smith told The Guardian. "I was really struggling with life and my eating disorders were very secretive. I lied to everybody."

The pressures of being an elite athlete caught up with Smith early in her teens years, when she started using exercise and diet as a form of self-punishment. Smith said sometimes she would run miles and miles in the rain, starve herself or binge uncontrollably - all while perpetuating her disease with a harsh inner monologue.

"I was trying to be perfect in every way," she said. "To have a perfect body, I needed to lose weight. I'm not sure how I had the energy to run daily but it got to the point where my bones hurt, and body ached.

Turning point

After Athens, the 22-year-old Smith was hospitalized for six weeks as a result of her physical state and eating disorders. Now, at 28, she has resolved to help become an advocate for positive body image.

Her social media campaign, Join the Revolution, aims to "change the culture" of body image by fostering acceptance and embracing differences. Smith also visits high schools across the country, speaking to students about eating disorders and overcoming body acceptance challenges.

And while Smith has turned her challenges into a source of inspiration for others, the athlete said her struggles aren't yet over. Medical bills, low electrolytes and digestive issues will continue to plague her - all the result of her eating disorders.

"I'll be in recovery for the rest of my life and the issue with eating disorders is that it is not taken seriously," she said.

Professional athletes are under a unique type of pressure, she added.

"Eating disorders are rife in the sporting world, due to pressures to have the perfect physique."

And while Athens is still "bittersweet" to Smith, she said she doesn't necessarily regret the way things turned out.

"I wasn't able to enjoy the experience. It was a huge achievement to represent my country but unfortunately I didn't want to be there."

And now, she hopes her story will inspire other young people who need help to seek treatment.

"I have a responsibility to be a voice."

Source: The Guardian