By Elyse Simich
Over 91% of women hate their bodies; 70% of girls are dissatisfied with their bodies; 50% of girls between the ages of 5-12 want to lose weight. These are just some statistics Taryn Brumfitt quotes in her documentary Embrace. And these statistics are exactly what she wants to change.
When the Adelaide mum of three posted a ‘before and after’ photo to Facebook, she never expected it to go viral. The ‘before’ photo showed her as a body builder, wearing a silver bikini and heels. In the ‘after’ photo she posed tastefully nude, smiling in her ‘softer’ body. There was only one message: love your body. This image was seen by over 100 million people worldwide and she received over 7000 emails from people who were dissatisfied with their bodies.
In the documentary, Taryn reflects on how she didn’t always love her body. After having her children, she struggled with her changing and ageing body, to the point where she considered having surgery. But she couldn’t go through with it, because she didn’t want her daughter to grow up and see her body as anything less than perfect, no matter what she looked like.
Instead, she trained hard for 15 weeks and watched everything she ate. She achieved the body of her dreams and competed in a body building competition. But standing there on the stage, she realised she wasn’t happy, “Too much sacrifice, too much time, too much obsession, and it’s just not worth it.”
So Taryn decided to find some answers: “Why do so many women hate their bodies and what can we do about it?” She launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $330,000 in 60 days. “At the time it was Australia’s most successful crowd funded documentary in history, but more importantly, what it said to me was that people are interested in this subject, and people are tired of being fed the same messages. People want positive change. The promo trailer has now had more than 25 million views.”
This project took twenty-four months in total, including travelling, interviewing, production and post-production. “We went to the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic and of course Australia. We filmed all across the world and what I found by listening to the stories from all of the people we met, was that body image had affected everybody.”
She speaks to an array of different women from all walks of life. Mia Freedman, the youngest-ever editor of Cosmopolitan Australia, is one of them. Mia spoke about a story she wanted to run in an issue of Cosmopolitan, which featured a size 16 model. She didn’t want to dress her in “frumpy cardigans,” she wanted her to feel and look sexy. The fashion editor was struggling to get clothes because no designers wanted their “plus-size” clothes to be seen. The make-up artist didn’t want her name on the shoot. Neither did the photographer. Everyone is happy to take the money of women who are bigger than a size 8, but Mia describes it as “their dirty little secret.”
This theme continues when Taryn visits a Beverley Hills cosmetic surgeon, strips down and asks him what he thinks of her body. He doesn’t even hesitate before telling her about how he would “fix” her breasts, her stomach, even her lips. Yes, he thinks her body is healthy. But if everyone loves their bodies, he’s not going to make money out of them. Companies are playing on people’s insecurities, telling them they are not good enough, in order to sell their products.
Australian model Stefania Ferrario talks about how difficult it was to break into the industry as a size 10. She recounts watching girls faint backstage at events because they have to starve themselves to maintain their body shape. She’s even seen some eat cotton wool balls soaked in Gatorade.
Obviously, this isn’t healthy. It’s not okay that girls are being pushed to this extreme in order to feel accepted. And ordinary people are seeing these girls in magazines and on billboards and catwalks, where they’re selling and unachievable and unhealthy body type as normal. No wonder most women believe their body is inadequate.
Taryn doesn’t just speak to people in the fashion industry. She also speaks to women who have overcome adversity: Turia Pitt, Renee Airya and Harnaam Kaur. Turia was caught in a bushfire in 2011 and received burns to 65 per cent of her body. Renee was a fashion model until she underwent brain surgery to remove a tumour at the age of 29. The tumour was the only thing holding her facial nerve together, so when it was removed, the right side of her face was paralysed. She said she really struggled because she couldn’t smile as wide as she could before. Harnaam has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which caused her to grow a beard. But these women are beautiful because they are survivors and they want to help other women accept themselves too.
At the end of the documentary, a photo montage of women holding signs with #IHaveEmbraced is shown. Taryn leaves her daughter with this message: “Darling girl, don’t waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it!”