DUBAI EXPAT STORIES. ‘ I’m celebrated because of my differences, not in spite of them.’ – Jessica Smith, paralympian

Jessica Smith, who hails from the Land Down Under and a mother of three children, has an incredible story of triumphs and tribulations. 

Born without a left arm, then suffering an horrific accident when she was a toddler where she sustained burns to 15% of her body, Jessica defied odds and went on to represent her country in the sport of swimming for seven years, culminating in her selection onto the Australian Paralympic team in 2004. 

Sport gave Jessica ambition and focus while she tried to confront societal obstacles around body image and disability acceptance. She was able to eventually break free from personal struggles with depression and eating disorders in her 20’s. 

But perhaps the most important story there is to tell about Jessica, is that of the inspiring woman she is today; since retiring from her international swimming career Jessica has gone on to become an internationally recognised advocate for positive body image, diversity & inclusion, and disability awareness. 

Jessica, who moved to Dubai in 2019, is an accomplished motivational speaker and MC, she has taken the stage at schools, universities, businesses and community organisations – including the UN, where she shares her personal journey and expertise on diversity, inclusion and equality. After completing a BSc. Population Health from the University of Wollongong, Australia, she went on to complete executive studies in Gender Diversity at INSEAD. 

Jessica is also part of Gap’s incredible new campaign –  “Come As You Are,” which features four of the region’s most inspiring women.

“I was delighted to be asked to take part in this campaign with a global brand that is truly leading the way when it comes to inclusion and diversity.

“Growing up, I never saw myself represented in any mainstream media. There were no images of women with a diability in the magazines or on TV. This lack of representation sent a very loud message to me, and every other young female living with a disability – a message that we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, nor worthy. 

“Times are changing though, thanks to brands such as GAP who understand that diversity is what drives society and business. So in order to maintain current and relative and in order to ensure customers are happy, then customers need to feel seen and heard. 

“Taking part in this campaign allows me to share my story and my voice, but in so many ways my story is a metaphor for thousands of others who are on a similar journey of self acceptance,”  Jessica said.

Meantime, Jessica’s journey into motherhood inspired her to write a series of children’s books about disability and acceptance. After growing up with limited resources on these topics, Jessica wanted to create characters that represent what kids see in every day life. Her first book ‘Little Miss Jessica Goes to School” is about a young girl with one hand on her first day at school, where she learns that being “different” is OK.

Her advice?  “Accept what you cannot control by surrendering and trusting that you are exactly where you are supposed to be at any given stage, often it won’t make sense at the time, but we cannot control the uncontrollable, we can simply trust the process and listen and learn from each moment.” 

Jessica said she will be releasing, in January 2022, a series of children’s books based on the character of a young girl with one arm and her journeys in discovering that her disability and her differences are what unite her with new friends. “It’s a series of beautiful stories about friendship and self acceptance, so please stay tuned because I know these books will be a valuable resource for all parents and teachers wanting to start important conversations about difference with younger children,” she said.

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