How To Embrace Your Body, Warts And All
Taryn Brumfitt is standing in front of a surgeon in Los Angeles.
She could take a little fat from her butt, he says, and put it in her top lip. One side is slightly fuller than the other. Hadn’t she ever noticed?
Her boobs too, need some work. An augmentation. A bit of volume added underneath. And then we’ll just pop the nipple up a bit higher.
There might not be a chance he can make a “gap” between her thighs, but he can definitely smooth things out and get rid of some of the fat around her stomach.
Brumfitt is standing stark naked. A film crew document the unedifying scene.
Confronting? Absolutely. But what really struck me about this scene in Brumfitt’s excellent documentary, Embrace, was the language of the surgeon: he says he can make her better, more normal. As if there is only one body type worth aspiring to.
The surgeon’s office is not an unfamiliar place for Taryn: she had found herself there before, feeling “disgusting”, and considering going through with that breast augmentation the US surgeon later prescribed, along with some liposuction. At the last minute, she abandoned the idea. Not for herself, but for her daughter Mikaela. Instead she embarked on a mission to get her best body by becoming a dedicated bodybuilder. Which she did. Pretty successfully. And at great cost.
But when she was strutting around in a bikini on stage in what she thought was her ideal body, she came to the realisation she still wasn’t happy. So she called time out. It wasn’t worth the time, the battle, the sacrifice or the effort, she said. She went back to normal life, and stopped prioritising restrictive diets or massively intense training schedules. Instead she started eating healthy food, proper meals and, crucially, looking for happiness in other places. When she posted a “before” picture of her onstage at the height of her bodybuilding days, followed by an “after” shot showing her looking like the average woman who has given birth (and thousands of meals with those breasts), the internet went a bit nuts: her email exploded and she realised she had touched on an issue that ran deep not just in Australia, but globally.
What followed was not just a documentary but the beginning of a revolution. Brumfitt travelled from Sydney to New York to Canada, London and Vienna to speak to women – famous and not-so-famous – to ask what the deal on body image was. Embrace was the 2016 documentary that came out of that trip, and Brumfitt now dedicates herself full-time to the body image cause. Because although it might seem bizarre that deciding to love yourself and your body is revolutionary, we all know it’s not. Because rare is the woman who can stand up and say: “hell yeah, I love this skin I’m in”.
The surgeon said he can make her better, more normal. As if there is only one body type worth aspiring to.
In Embrace Brumfitt takes to the street with her crew to interview women. The responses she gets are heartbreaking. “Give me a word to describe your body?” she asks.
“Not very nice”.
“A bit fat”.
And it goes on.
Brumfitt also interviews former Australian Cosmopolitan magazine editor Mia Freedman, who says when reading womens’ magazines as a teenager she felt: “I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t skinny enough, I wasn’t blonde enough…I just wasn’t enough”.
Freedman’s commitment to putting body diversity front and centre in Cosmohit multiple stumbling blocks. Fashion designers did not want women larger than Australian size 8 (US size 4) in their clothes. Photographers and make-up artists did not want their names associated with shoots depicting larger women. It was, Freedman says, hard work. It was as if there were only one body type that existed.
I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t skinny enough, I wasn’t blonde enough…I just wasn’t enough – Mia Freedman
Australians spend about $1 million a day on fad diets. Making sure we feel not ok with ourselves? It’s big business.
Australia has now overtaken the US for the number of cosmetic procedures per capita.
Nearly a third of 15-19 year olds named body image in their top three concerns in the 2017 Mission Australia youth survey of nearly 25,000 young people. A further18 per cent were “very concerned” and 13 per cent were “extremely concerned”.
It’s not just an Australian problem either. Iran is the nose job capital of the world, with more than 200,000 procedures per year. One in five women in South Korea have had plastic surgery. It is an issue coloured by gender: 86 per cent of all procedures are performed on women.
Even in Fiji, where being heavier was once a sign of wealth, eating disorders are appearing for the first time.
And consider this: more than 50 per cent of 5 to 12-year-olds want to lose weight.
It’s easy to point the finger at mainstream media and fashion houses. And it’s fair too. It’s not difficult to get caught up in the idea there is only one “acceptable” way to look because that’s all we see around us. Social media has only amplified and solidified these messages, and kids pick up on them, quickly.
Professor Marika Tiggemann from the School of Psychology at Flinders University says in Embrace a focus on substance over style is a critical starting point in turning the conversation around.
It would be useful, particularly with girls, if parents could really conscientiously make their praise and commentary on what the girls do rather than what they look like – Taryn Brumfitt
You know what it takes to bring the revolution home? Yeah, it takes Taryn Brumfit, but it also takes a commitment from all of us to change the conversation. Don’t talk to your friends about “eating like a pig” or “being lazy” or even “smashing yourself at the gym”. Don’t let them get away with saying those things to you. Take the focus off diet and exercise and put it elsewhere. Like on your brain, your heart, your soul, your talents and your passions. Brumfitt has started the ball rolling. But it’s up to each of us to weave those changes in habit, attitude and conversation into the fabric of our everyday lives – if not just for our own sakes, then for the next generation.