“When women come together from a space of wanting to help others, only good things can happen.” – Taryn Brumfitt, Body Image Movement founder.
Last Thursday, in conjunction with Birdsnest and Body Image Movement, Palace Electric hosted a screening of Embrace, a documentary by Taryn Brumfitt. In Embrace, Taryn travels parts of the world visiting high-profile friends to discuss body image, eating disorders, media influences, and the fact that 90 percent of women are ‘highly dissatisfied’ with their bodies. This film is a poignant reflection of the struggles many women face as parents, humans and friends.
Embrace flawlessly challenges society’s idea of the ‘perfect female figure’ and the obsessive lengths women go to in their quest to achieve it. Often silly, never judging, Taryn’s film manages to touch the entire audience and inspire them to embrace their bodies.
The experience was quite unreal, and as Birdsnest founder, Jane Cay, noted, “It’s something you can’t unsee”. Even now, days later, I’m thinking about words, phrases and examples that people have expressed or used in the film.
I had fun at the screening, despite the heavy (pun intended) nature of the film. I attended on my own (a first for me, I’ve never been comfortable heading to events alone), and was greeted by friendly faces and glasses of sparkling wine. For those who haven’t been to Palace Electric, it’s a stunning building with a bar area down at the entrance to cinemas. The seating is set up around the walls in a close form, but still an open semi-circle, which means making friends was inevitable.
There was, of course, food. And the crowd was the pinnacle of diversity – tall girls, short girls, thin, curvy, brunette, wildly-dyed hair, differently abled and ethno-culturally diverse. There were mother daughter duos, friendship groups and colleagues. People there for the fun of it. A spattering of husbands. Most people that I spoke to were here at the insistence of another person, possibly as a subtle way to encourage their self esteem. Everyone was friendly, I was invited to sit with a group of public servants who all knew each other from work, craft groups or through mutual friends. They were lovely and made every effort to get to know me. Far from the usual movie-going experience.
When we were ushered into the cinema we were provided with water, choc tops (definitely a winner) and popcorn, and then a giftbag from Birdsnest on our seats. Just before the film started we were introduced to the founding Bird of Birdsnest, who has partnered with The Body Image Movement to create a line of clothes and jewellery to help fund its education outreach programs in schools.
The whole saga began after the arrival of Taryn’s third child, between the overwhelming pressure to return to a ‘pre-baby body’ to maintain her worth, and the ordinary pressures women face, she became fixated on the idea that to be happy, she needed to fit a certain ‘type’. After months of wishing and wondering what it was to be happy, a friend suggested that she try entering a bodybuilding competition.
It was then, despite being at her physical peak, that Taryn was her most unhappiest. Surrounded by a culture of negativity and a constant stream of before and after pictures, reinforcing the idea that you had to be skinny to be happy, Taryn decided to make a post of her own. Showing a thinner before picture, from her bodybuilding days, and a much happier after photo which flaunted her curves. She became a viral sensation overnight. It “broke people’s brains” to think that she could be happiest when she wasn’t the girl in the before picture.
In the film, Taryn showed excerpts from emails she received after the post, detailing the solidarity and inspiration women felt looking at her pictures, as well as the vile comments made by strangers. For most women, it’s not a new feeling to think that others can view your body as public property. Something they have a right to critique or comment on. Already you could feel the audience becoming emotional, as they identified so strongly with her experiences. Partly, this is what inspired Taryn to establish The Body Image Movement, and travel to establish the root and extent of these issues.
For most of the film, Taryn relates this huge and systematic problem to her worries as a parent, especially having a young daughter. It was hard for me to relate to this, but I tried to reimagine these points with the responsibility I have to my sisters and peers. There was a big focus on having to play ‘damage control’ and intervene to stop the flow of toxic messages from advertising.
Embrace was star-studded, which helped drive home just how deep the culture of body shaming and toxicity runs. It featured former Cosmopolitan editor, Mia Freedman, in a candid and eye opening interview that truly exposes the extent to which different body types are shamed by the media. Mia spoke about the time she ran a lingerie segment with a size 16 model. Overcoming the initial hurdles of designers not making lingerie in plus sizes or not wanting their brand associated with the shoot, Mia claimed the photographer, stylist and makeup artist all wanted their names removed from the piece.
Stefania Ferrario, a 23 year old model, appeared teary when discussing the pressures within her industry. She spoke of being turned down by multiple agencies for her size and seeing girls soak cotton balls in Gatorade in lieu of real food. There were audible gasps at this revelation.
Taryn bared all in a consultation with a surgeon, highlighting the extreme lengths some go to in their determination for the perfect body. The inclusion of this scene really lifted the mood of the audience, particularly at Taryn’s incredulousness at the suggestion that the fat from her butt be inserted into her lips. It’s truly an odd position for the world to take, that some fat is acceptable, but not others.
Despite the strong attempt to convert the audience, of which many already seemed enlightened to the mental anguish body obsession can cause, I heard someone whisper, “She’s so skinny!” almost enviously when Turia Pitt appeared on screen. Comparison is so ingrained in our minds it’s hard to break that habit. Turia was inspirational and a little bit cheeky, in how she spoke out about not letting others’ comments bother her.
After the film ended, there was a brief Q&A with Taryn. Many stood up, teary-eyed, blurting out a ‘Thankyou’, telling stories of their own (sometimes ongoing) journeys to feeling at peace with their bodies. It was humbling to share such a vulnerable moment with strangers. I was able to ask Taryn what she wanted from my generation, in regards to media, what she wished for us to do better and how we could help give women back agency. She responded with, “Be real”. She asked for us to stop doing women a disservice by imposing these unrealistic standards on them. Not even the girl in the magazine looks like the girl in the magazine, so why make it seem like the norm? She wants us to show REAL women, with all different body types, naturally, not photoshoped and reflect on what’s truly diverse.
Taryn went on to denounce the obsession with our bodies that society tries to impose, when there are more important things in life. “How dare we talk about our thighs when there are people like Turia Pitt in the world. People who go without food or water or even women who can’t step outside their house for fear of being stolen and sold,” she said.
As everything wrapped up, and people started leaving you could feel an energy through the crowd. After the laughter and tears in the film I think people truly felt changed by what they saw. Embrace encourages you to think critically about the messages you are receiving from the media and love your body for the life it enables you to live. It’s not an ornament, it’s a vehicle.
I went across the street to have dinner afterwards and debrief with my boyfriend. I ordered a huge portion my favourite pasta and dessert, completely guilt-free, and instead took in the atmosphere of the restaurant. The smells of the food, the beautiful table arrangements and chatter from guests. The were tables of other women who had been in the movie with me, it was exhilarating to see their ability to laugh unapologetically and take up space – living in the moment. Already these women were re-growing their lives and refusing the idea that they had to shrink to conform to society.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Body Image Movement, check out its website at or look for the hashtag; #ihaveembraced. You can also pick up an Embracelet or other merch here or attend Canberra Wise Women’s screening of the film, tickets via eventbrite