When Body Image Activist Taryn Brumfitt posted an unconventional before-and-after photo in 2013 it was seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and sparked an international media frenzy. Embrace follows Taryn’s crusade as she explores the global issue of body loathing, inspiring us to change the way we feel about ourselves and think about our bodies.
‘Disgusting’ is the word most frequently used when documentary filmmaker and body image activist Taryn Brumfitt asks 100 women to describe their bodies. The statistics she quotes suggest we’re in the midst of an epidemic of self-loathing: 91 per cent of women hate their bodies, 70 per cent of girls are dissatisfied, and 50 per cent of 5-to-12 year-olds want to lose weight. Embrace is Brumfitt’s fight-back manifesto, a stirring and highly entertaining film that celebrates diversity and preaches self-acceptance. It’s the kind of inspiring, accessible documentary that could actually change the way people think – though it’s up against the Goliath of global fashion and diet industries.
The project began in 2013 when Brumfitt, an Adelaide photographer and mother of three, posted a before and after photos of herself on Facebook. The ‘before’ shot showed her muscled and tanned, wearing a bodybuilder’s gold bikini and high heels. The ‘after’ shot revealed her laughing and naked (tastefully posed), her body now soft and natural and bearing the obvious signs of motherhood. The message was simple: this ‘fatter’ body was okay. The image went viral, even shared by the likes of Ashton Kucher. Seen by more than 100 million people worldwide, it caused an international media frenzy with Brumfitt being extensively interviewed and profiled. Apparently an average woman liking her average body was big news. Brumfitt was swamped with emails. There were the haters (‘being a mother is no excuse to let yourself go’ – and much worse) but mostly, they were messages seeking advice and help: How had she learnt to love her body?
Written and directed by Brumfitt, and partly crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign, Embrace begins with her own very personal story of wanting plastic surgery, but deciding to provide a better example to her young daughter. Brumfitt is an engaging storyteller and a warm on-screen presence. Blonde, bubbly and articulate, she manages to seem both average and extraordinary, particularly in the way she reveals her own body and soul. There’s a heartbreaking scene where a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon kneads and lifts her stomach, breasts and buttocks and tells her how he’d cut and paste her to make her ‘smaller’ and ‘shapelier’.
After starting with the personal, Embrace expands to include broader perspectives and discussions, from labioplasty to anorexia and many stops in between. Traveling Australia and the world, Brumfitt interviews former Cosmopolitan editor Mia Freedman, plus-size model Stefania Ferraro, British television host Amanda De Cadanet, actor and TV host Ricki Lake and burns victim and motivational speaker Tulia Pitt. There’s a sequence where Brumfitt hangs out with the delightfully quirky German actress Nora Tschirner (Rabbit Without Ears available at SBS On Demand), who shows what it might be like to actually enjoy living in your own skin. ‘My body is my home. It’s my soul’s mate,’ she says.
Perhaps this body acceptance message becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It could also be argued the film would be stronger without Brumfitt’s reenacted dramatisations of her earlier pain – a close-up of her face, crying as she looks in the mirror, or looking stunned in slow motion as she loses bladder control in a netball game six weeks after giving birth. Yet far from being a homemade-looking one-woman crusade film, Embrace is a polished documentary, put together in the Adelaide Studios and produced by Southern Light Alliance’s Anna Vincent (Highly Strung) and Timothy White (Sleeping Beauty, also available at SBS On Demand). Smartly edited by experts Bryan Mason (52 Tuesdays) and Lindi Harrison (I Am a Girl), the film is nicely scored by composer Benjamin Speed (The Cat Piano), who knows just when to insert an expansive piano chord or an inspirational pop anthem.
Spawning Instagram hashtags (#IHaveEmbraced) and an official Body Image Movement, Embrace is the kind of informative, helpful film mothers might want to take their young daughters to see, and teachers might want to show their students. It’s unfortunate then that due to the nudity and a brief image showing a variety of vulvas, the Australian Film Classification Board has seen fit to give Embrace an MA 15+ rating, making it more difficult for the film to reach its intended audience, and thus proving the film’s very thesis. In a world swamped by altered, unrealistic and sexualised images of women, the normal female body remains controversial.