Society profits from our unhappiness. Men and women alike feel like they are not enough. That they and their bodies are not good enough. Think about all the lotions and potions available in your nearest pharmacy – thousands of products with ‘anti’ as a prefix. Procedures and routines allowing us to conform to impossible standards. We are practically encouraged to enter a relationship with our bodies that is founded in hate not love, where dissatisfaction, despair and even revolution reign destruction on our self-image. We’re too big or too small. Too short or too tall. Wide where we should be small and small where we should be wide. We think ‘eww’ when we should feel awe. Who was it that decided the barometers of beauty? Who decided what was ‘acceptable’ about our bodies and what needed ‘fixing’? Why do we think of looking after our bodies as a process of maintenance as opposed to appreciation?
2013. An afternoon with friends led Australian body image activist and mum-of-three Taryn Brumfitt to reflect on how much energy we invest into tearing down our self-image as opposed to building it. She uploaded a before-and-after picture on Facebook that was different from most images of their kind. The expectation is the ‘before’ picture is unflattering, where the person tends to be larger and unhappier whereas the ‘after’ shows someone slimmer and happier. The ‘before’ is a work-in-progress, the ‘after’ is perfection. Indeed, Taryn’s photo featured her at peak physical fitness; an enviously toned and muscular figure clothed in a bikini that came from hard work. Except that was her ‘before’. Her ‘after’ has Taryn with a more natural shape, looking relaxed and truly happy.
Taryn had thought she could finally be ‘happy’ with herself by working on her body, so she trained for a bodybuilding competition. For 15 weeks she trained relentlessly and monitored everything she ate with great discipline. Stood on the stage at the competition she waited for that epiphany, that moment of total self-acceptance that she had worked for. It didn’t come. Thinness didn’t mean healthy and happy. In fact, the women around her backstage seemed as unhappy, perhaps even more unhappy, about their bodies than she was. Agonising hadn’t lead to acceptance. It was once she relaxed back into routines of normal life and embrace all it had to offer. It was then she found the self-appreciation and inner happiness she craved.
Posting the ‘before’ and ‘after’ image seemed a way of helping her friends with their own battles. Overnight Taryn soon realised that he could help more than just her inner circle. Overnight the image received over 3.6 million clicks. She received an outpouring of responses from men and women; heartbreaking messages in which people described their bodies with loathing not loving. It was clear to Taryn that struggling with self-worth was a universal struggle.
Embrace follows Taryn on a nine week journey to meet some of the people who got in touch with her. From the editors of magazines to the models, actresses and extraordinary people who feature in them and the readers who read them. Various ages and sizes. All incredible people with incredible stories. Her documentary is a guiding light in an oppressive cultural landscape of body shaming. She clearly and eloquently explores how being ‘well’ can take so many different forms. She carefully and considerately examines how many of us view ourselves with scorn. She addresses the repressive ideals and the exhausting nature of insecurities both enforced and self-imposed. As she puts it: ‘your body is not an ornament, it’s a vehicle.’ The documentary is just like Taryn – engaging, refreshing and totally accessible. A blend of talking head interviews and honest anecdotes inform and enlighten the viewer.
These are experiences with vital messages that everyone can relate to and everyone should hear. For this writer there’s a powerful truth here. I cannot accept compliments about myself. Instead, receiving them invokes an intrinsic response that varies between automatic and dismissive ‘thank you’ before moving on or micro-feelings of defensive and distrustful hostility.
We wish for more or different. Maybe, as Taryn shows us, there’s a different and far better way. Just maybe we can really accept, appreciate and adore instead. For the sake of future generations, we urgently need to alter our vernacular and replace ’embarrass’ with ’embrace’.
Dir: Taryn Brumfitt
Scr: Taryn Brumfitt
Featuring: Taryn Brumfitt, Amanda De Cadenet, Ricki Lake
Prd: Taryn Brumfitt, Anna Vincent
DOP: Hugh Fenton
Music: Benjamin Speed
Run time: 90 minutes
Embrace will be showing in UK cinemas from Monday 16th January.