Jessica Vander Leahy is an Australian model, body positivity advocate, writer, content creator, presenter, podcaster at The Affirmation Project Podcast and founder of women’s empowerment platform projectwomankind.com
We fell in love with Jess when we saw her Bonds Campaign back in 2018 called #JoinTheQueendom her words sliced through us with intention, empowerment and the truth that most people in her position wouldn’t dare speak in case they were to lose work, or ‘rattle the cage’ as it were.
Please take a moment to enjoy it here…
“Over the past year the world has been reminded with headline after headline that empowered women are strong agents of change. The ground-breaking anti-sexual assault and women’s empowerment movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have overthrown many, once powerful, parts of the patriarchy. Suddenly, the voiceless are being believed and encouraged to speak out against the injustices that have for too long oppressed them; especially in the workplace.
But this strengthening of women’s rights at work is not just something wealthy Hollywood actresses should be afforded; the poorest and most vulnerable among us should receive this too. As the UN states in its 2018 Empowerment Principles Forum*, “Empowering women to participate fully in economic life is essential to building stronger economies and improving the quality of life for both women and men.” So, if economic growth is the most powerful tool for reducing poverty, we need to strive toward equality first.
Research shows communities with more balanced gender equality not only see women thrive better socioeconomically, but they also tend to experience faster and more equitable growth. In fact, the International Monetary Fund economists found that “longer growth spells are robustly associated with more equality in the income distribution”. **
If you need an example, the World Bank*** found that in Latin America and the Caribbean, women’s growing participation in the workforce played a key role in regional poverty reduction. Research showed that over a 10-year period, female labour market incomes contributed to a 30 per cent reduction in extreme poverty. That’s stunning when you consider women are STILL paid significantly less!
Taking into account those findings, clearly sharpening the focus on providing education and earning opportunities for women and girls means there’s a ripple effect where families, communities and nations are able to be transformed.
But in our quest for equality, we cannot ignore men and boys. Not including fathers, husbands, brothers and other men in discussions about possible solutions leaves women and girls vulnerable to cultural norms that can result in gender-based violence and other pervasive practices that have oppressed them. The support of men is hugely important to the empowerment process as they also stand to benefit a great deal from healthy, smart and educated women who can help lead communities.
I read somewhere recently a message that said, “Self-love and sisterhood will save the world.” I think it’s true. If history teaches us anything it’s that we need to embrace our inner nurturers, our inner carers and our inner lovers to transform the world into a kinder compassionate place where we can all thrive. Clearly, we need empowered Queens to do this. – Jessica Vander Leahy
Now meet Jess this month through our Stella Successful Women Series, she is the type of trailblazer we need our daughters to look up to”.
Jess, tell us a little about your upbringing, where did you grow up?
I spent my childhood between Australia and Papua New Guinea. I was a jungle raised kid for my early years and then my later teens were spent in the bush and beaches of Sydney’s south which totally explains why I’m such a nature girl at heart.
You are a content creator, model, podcaster and promoter of body confidence. What led you into an industry such as modelling and how have you seen the industry change over the years?
If I’m honest about modelling, while it was something that just came about in my late teens, it was something I never really thought I could make a career from because I was curvy and size diversity wasn’t really a thing in the industry then.
But, after more than a decade on this path, I can see that diversity is the cornerstone of many of the careers of models I admire.
Nowadays that change in seeing what’s represented—size, race, age, ability, etc— it’s made for a more well-rounded industry, for sure.
You are considered a role model in the fashion industry, but who do you look up to and why?
I mean it’s nice to think that some people might look to me and think, ‘role model’ but it’s still something I grapple with. I’m human and I’m flawed. I don’t advertise my personal flaws but I do have them. I’m totally a work in progress. So, I think that’s what I ultimately look for when I’m searching for mentors for myself; often real people who I know, whose flaws and imperfections I can sometimes see, but they have qualities and a sense of contentment that shines beyond being perfect.
What was your motivation to become a body-positive activist?
I guess my existence. Unapologetically taking up space. My existence is a resistance and I’m fine with that.
You are also fighting for the rights of women of colour and we applaud you. How does the everyday person who might not be of colour help with the BLM movement?
I’m not sure how to answer that question, because it’s such a big question but I think, like any problem, the solutions come with listening more. I think if we can all just do our best to try and acknowledge our privileges where we have them and have an open mind when having uncomfortable conversations — not be so quick to go on the attack and defence — then maybe we can get somewhere where it comes to solutions.
What makes a woman beautiful to you?
Confident. Strong. A good sister to her sisters. Encouraging, and open-minded.
What does 2021 have in store for you professionally?
I’m hoping that 2021 is a little less chaotic but, I do love a challenge.
I want to be working with brands I love and admire in the fashion and beauty space while embarking on important personal projects; I have season 2 of my The Affirmation Project Podcast coming and hopefully a few more exciting creative things on the go too. All in all, I’m hoping it’s another year of onward and upward opportunities which I’m grateful to have come across my desk.
What are some wise words that you can give women who are struggling with their self-image?
It’s 2021– just wear the damn short shorts and enjoy your body.
What do you think women in particular need to understand about insurance? Whenever I think of insurance I think of that quote in the movie, The Blindside, where Sandra Bullock’s character says, “Every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance.” For me, that pretty much sums up insurance; knowing you’ve invested in something worth protecting.
As women, we’re often not just relying on our financial decisions to benefit us, but also our whole household. So, while some of us might be raised to keep mum about our financial choices, there’s also value in sharing what we’ve learned with other women—just like the guys do!—to help a sister out and keep her informed and aware of how she can better protect herself.
Follow Jess’s journey here @jessicavanderleahy