By Kyra Gillespie
Jessica Sanders has just turned 25, and already she has started her own social enterprise and is in the process of releasing her first book.
Jess grew up in Macclesfield on her family’s acreage property with sisters Rebekah and Isabelle, and parents Jayneen and Mark.
She attended Macclesfield Primary School with her siblings and later Beaconhills College Pakenham where she completed her VCE.
She has since shifted closer to the city, earning her Masters in Social Work at RMIT University.
Her upcoming children’s book, ‘Learning To Love Your Body’, is an empowering guide for girls to support the development of positive body image.
The mission of the book is to show and celebrate diverse bodies, normalise natural bodily imperfections and to teach girls to view their bodies as more than just objects.
Aimed for young girls around the ages of 8-12, the book is a foundation guide based in preventative education.
“I believe in preventative education, especially in this day and age of social media,” Jess said.
“Latest figures show that 50 per cent of primary school-aged girls want to lose weight, so by the time girls get to their teenage years it’s almost too late because those pathways and ideas have already started to take shape.
“I hesitate to put an age bracket on the book, because I believe these ideas should be instilled in girls and women as early as possible.”
Alongside her own personal struggles with self-love growing up, the project also came as a reaction to watching other female friends struggle with society’s beauty standards.
“I have personally suffered the effects that society’s narrow, manufactured idea of beauty had on women and girls,” Jess said.
“I’ve watched my female friends tortured by eating disorders and silenced by physical prejudices.
“I was so tired of this being the unrelenting reality for almost every woman I encountered, and I was going to do something about it.”
For many years, Jess said she noticed a widening disparity between how girls and women are depicted in literature, film and television versus the lived experience.
She recalls a trip to Readings bookstore in Melbourne which lead her to the ‘girl’s’ section of the store.
“The shop assistant and I stared at each other confused – but not surprised – as we scoured the book store looking for children’s books that celebrate diverse bodies and found none.
“We found books on puberty, a couple on body image which were pink and featured thin, blonde, white girls on the front cover, but nothing that showed – yet alone celebrated – different girls’ bodies.
“The shop assistant turned to me and said, ‘If you make this book I’ll put it on these shelves.’
“Eleven months later and I’m about to launch the crowdfunding campaign that will hopefully get this book on those shelves.”
Jess’s goal is to raise $24,000 which will cover the cost of production and distribution of Learning To Love Your Body, written by Jess and illustrated by feminist illustrator Carol Rossetti, creator of the viral ‘Women Project’ series.
“Together, we carefully created characters who are authentic, physically and culturally diverse, and most importantly, empowered and confident.
“I created this book because I’ve often wondered what a difference it would have made if I had been exposed to the important concepts illustrated in this book as a young girl.
“I wanted to show young girls that there is another option, that you don’t need to change yourself in order to feel comfortable and confident in your body.”
The Kickstarter funds will go towards Re-shape, a social enterprise Jess founded back in 2017 dedicated to empowering women and girls to develop positive relationships with themselves and their bodies.
“For me, Re-shape started with the idea of re-shaping your Instagram feed to support you, because I have found personal success in doing that.
“I found that reshaping my own social media meant that my feed became full of interesting people and diverse bodies, and in turn re-shaped my brain and the way I think about my own body.
“Those ideas not only helped shape my perceptions, but it shaped the book too.”
Jess has recently started doing school talks for the Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders, talking to students about resilience building and self-care.
She recently spoke to 130 Year 9 girls at a school in Melbourne’s south-east.
“By the end of the presentation, all 130 of them were talking openly about their experiences and what they’re facing and issues that are important to them.
“For previous generations social media wasn’t the monster that it is today; now they’re engaging with social media at school, on the bus on the way to and from school, and when they go home it follows them there too. There’s no privacy or downtime for them anymore.
“They’re navigating tough and unchartered territories, and while they’re more connected than ever they are lonelier than ever, because they aren’t connecting with real humans anymore.
“We are not taught self-care and self-love at an early age and that needs to change, because when a girl feels more confident in her body and herself she will be more assertive, achieve higher results, and she will say yes to more opportunities.”
Jess said that while she admits getting the book published will be an achievement in itself, she said it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
“Learning to Love Your Body is my first project but it definitely won’t be my last.
“I founded Re-shape to act as my vessel for future projects, community building and activism; all with the ultimate goal of nurturing self-love, self-acceptance and self-confidence in girls.”
Jess’s Kickstarter launches Thursday 16 August at 9am, which can be found by searching ’The Body Positive Children’s Book.’
Follow Jess’s project on Facebook @reshapesocialenterprises and Instagram @re_shape_