“I’m a bigger built girl, and I have absolutely no shame in that”: Olympian Jess Pickering on Body Kindness

Do you ever struggle with your body – how you think about it, treat it, accept when it doesn’t perform?

Maybe you don’t always like what you see.

We sat down and had a chat with GNSW Body Kind Ambassador Jesssica Pickering about body image, how to be kind to your body in gymnastics, and the post-Olympic journey.

GNSW: Hey Jess. We know you’re an Olympian and trampoline superstar! Tell us a bit about yourself outside the gym.
Jess: I am a very busy bee. On top of training, competing and all things trampoline, I am doing part time uni, Bachelor of Arts focusing on media and cultural studies - which I am really enjoying at the moment. I'm also a barista, I love it. And just hanging out with friends. 

GNSW: How do you juggle your training schedule with it all?
Jess: I make sure I am not burning myself out during the day. It’s taken a couple of years with a lot of trial and error. I have to look after my body, so it was about figuring out my limitations throughout the week and making sure I’m not pushing myself too hard. I have another week after that, and so on.

GNSW: Let’s get straight into the deep end. What sort of relationship do you have with your body and how has that changed throughout your life?
Jess: I feel like this is fairly common, but relationships with bodies can change all the time. I remember I used to have a very negative relationship with my body. Especially through my teen years. It would always be, "I'm not fit enough, I'm not flexible enough, I'm not thin enough.” That time period is so crucial, because you're in this pressure pot of being in high school and everyone is telling you, you have to look a certain way. Especially online, all of these media outlets are saying you’re supposed to look like ‘this’. 
As a developing teenager, it was really hard. Because you've been told a hundred different times that your body type isn't the body type that everyone is searching for.

GNSW: That’s tough. What about the present day?
Jess:  I would say my relationship with my body now is the best it's ever been. In my whole life. I am so stoked with that.

GNSW: How does body image and kindness translate to the gymnastics community?
Jess: It's about breaking down those preconceptions of the ideal body type for gymnastics – because we have had a strong history of looking a certain a way. But looking out on a competition floor now, I can't believe the drastic change that gymnastics has undergone in the past few years. We've all got different body types.

I'm a bigger built girl, and I have absolutely no shame in that. Because I know that I'm strong, and I'm powerful. And I can use my body the way my body is made. Because it's my body.

GNSW: What does it mean to be a Body Kind ambassador?
Jess: It's a really good opportunity and a platform, especially for the younger gymnastics community. I saw it as a role model opportunity. I want people to know it's okay to be different, it's okay to sometimes not feel 100 per cent in your body, and it's okay to feel 100 pr cent in your body. I just want to be that representation of being content, and happy and healthy.
GNSW: How hard is it to contend with body changes as you grow up?
Jess: From experience it is hard. It really comes down to knowing that this change isn't a bad thing. You need to figure out how to work with these changes instead of against them.

GNSW: Being Body Kind also means showing grace to our bodies when they aren’t functioning the way we want. What do you think about that?
Jess: You wouldn't sit there and make fun of your friend, but you sit there and do the exact same thing to yourself. Why are you treating yourself with such disrespect? 

Also, I know that injury can be really tough on people. It’s about making sure that you're looking after yourself and not digging a hole.

GNSW: Let’s pivot to your Olympic experience. It was incredible that you made it to Tokyo and represented Australia and the gymnastics community. What’s the post-Olympic journey been like?
Jess: My main goal for the past year has been to get in and enjoy the sport again. It sounds simple, but post Olympics is very hard. You go from being at the height of sport, you've achieved your dream and you finish. And you have to reflect and go, now what? 

I know the next Olympics is in two years, and that's where I want to be. But I'm not going to achieve that if I'm not enjoying what I'm doing.

GNSW: How did you feel about your performance?
Jess: After the Olympics I had, it was very devastating. I didn't achieve the results that I knew I could do, or that I wanted to do. I know all the work that I've put in and how long I've been wanting it...and to not achieve a performance I am happy with and that I know that I could achieve, it is quite upsetting. Because you know that you're capable of so much more. 

So coming back post that, and also coming into lockdowns, it would have been really easy for me to turn away from the sport, But it's an outlet for me. I just really love jumping. It's as simple as that.

As a partner of the Butterfly Foundation, and the first sporting organisation to engage the program, GNSW is committed to the wellbeing of all those involved in the sport to create a space where everybody feels welcome.

September 5-11 marks Body Kind Week. Find out more at the Butterfly Foundation foundation.