Taryn Brumfitt, director of the documentary Embrace, takes us on a 9-week journey to understand why many women hate their bodies.
by Julia Migné
Australian body image activist, Taryn Brumfitt struggled for years with the image of her in the mirror. Determined to get back in shape after delivering her third child, she decided to challenge herself to enter a body-building competition. With intense effort and sacrifices, she successfully managed to make it to the competition with a perfect figure. But she wasn’t happy.
That was when she realised being healthy is important, trying to mould your body according to the societal standards wasn’t. She then decided to return to a more relaxed regime.
Her life took a significant turn in 2013 when she shared her before and after photos online but with a positive twist. Her ‘before’ photo showed her as a thin model and in her ‘after’ photo she looked curvy and happy.
The photo went viral and Taryn’s email box was flooded with heart-warming messages of women from all over the world. She explains on her website: “This issue needed a louder voice on a bigger platform, so the idea of creating the documentary Embrace was born.”
Social documentary exploring the issue of body image, Embrace, tells the story of Taryn’s 9-week journey around the globe, from Australia to London, with stopovers at LA and Vienna. Through women’s voices from across the world, she explores why a lot of girls are dissatisfied with their body.
Her first stop to see Mia Freedman, the youngest editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, highlights the huge impact that the fashion industry has on women’s perception of their bodies. Watching perfect photoshopped models with “plastic like skin” and perfect figures, it becomes hard for women to accept the reflection they see in the mirror.
“Women consciously and subconsciously compare themselves,” explains Mia. “If you’re always comparing yourself to something that doesn’t actually exist then how can you possibly feel good when you look in the mirror or when you look down at yourself?”
This unreachable body ideal is extremely harmful to young girls who desperately attempt to fit in, going to the extent of starving themselves to be thin. According to the documentary, the statistics on anorexia and bulimia are a direct proof of the danger of the situation with 90% of cases occurring in women.
In the documentary, Tina, a woman suffering from anorexia says, “Nobody should have to starve themselves to fit in with how a magazine looks.” In Australia, the average woman measures 161.8 cm, weighs 71.1 kilos and wears a size 12. But a size 10 model like Stefania Ferrario was considered too big to model by many modelling agencies. Taryn wonders then if “maybe we forgot what the average body looks like.”
Pushing the boundaries fixed by famous brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, a body image blogger decided to recreate their most famous ads putting herself in the shoes of the model.
Jes Baker explains she was outraged by the statement made by Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries who said, “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomach who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” She felt the need to do something about it.
Her recreated pictures broke the Internet creating the buzz and raising important issues about the fashion industry.
“Collectively, we’ve somehow been fed with this idea that thin is healthy and fat is unhealthy by definition and this is simply not the case,” explains Professor Marika Tiggemann, a psychologist. “There is a lot of thin people who are unhealthy by many criteria [..] and there are numbers of fat people who are very healthy.”
Taryn faced this dilemma first hand with lots of people commenting on her before/after photos said some nasty things like “you became a fat, overweight pig”. The society we live in now is trying its best to convince us to be more sporty, attracting us with giant posters of skinny bodies that are supposed to show us how we could also look if we tried harder.
The truth though is much more complex and the sacrifices to reach that ideal can quickly be too heavy to carry.
Weight is not the only issue faced by women struggling with their body image around the world. Heading to London, Taryn meets with Harnaam Kaur, a body confidence activist. Due to her polycystic ovaries, the young woman started growing a beard when she was 16. After few attempts of painfully waxing it, she decided to just embrace it no matter what other people might think of her.
“Women need to start finding positive words about their bodies and embed them in their heart,” she says to Taryn.
One of the strongest messages in the documentary is from Turia Pitt. Few years ago, Australian author and speaker got caught in a bushfire during an ultramarathon and almost died.
Despite suffering severe burns, she went on with her life and explains that the accident might have been the best thing that had ever happened to her, giving her a voice and the opportunity to be heard but also allowing her to put her energy to do something she was passionate about.
“If I’ve managed to start my life again from scratch, I’m not sure why others can’t,” she says.
Embrace is definitely an uplifting documentary that will leave you questioning the way you see yourself and paves the way to let go of the diktats through inspiring women’s stories from around the globe.
Julia Migné is a multimedia journalist and wildlife photographer specialising in environmental issues and odd hobbies. She has written for Africa Geographic and BBC Wildlife among others. An endless traveller, she swears that she would visit one country for each letter of the alphabet.