Rating: 3½ / 5
Back in 2014, happily married mother of three Taryn Brumfitt (pictured) launched a social media campaign that promised to do the impossible—teach women to love their bodies.
The hurdles weren’t simply economic (Brumfitt calculated that she needed $200,000 to fund the documentary), they were highly emotional, too. Brumfitt had battled for years with her own body image and even considered getting liposuction and plastic surgery.
As we see in her documentary Embrace, this all changed when she came to realise the damaging message she was sending to her young daughter. Brumfitt cancelled the surgery, threw herself into getting healthy and became a dedicated body builder.
But once again, she had fallen into the body image trap. As she says, ‘I had the perfect body, but I still wasn’t happy.’
And so she did something really radical. She stopped obsessing about her weight and rediscovered her love of food. She still kept up the exercise, but, rather than stick to the gym, Brumfitt hit the road and starting running.
For the first time in her life she was healthy and confident (although still ‘big’ by advertising standards). Buoyed by her newfound contentment, Brumfitt posted two photos—a smiling, naked photo of her current shape next to a photo of her body building days—online. The post went viral.
Embrace is what you can call a ‘brave documentary’. Travelling the world armed only with a video camera, Brumfitt puts herself front and centre where she shares not only her body dysmorphia (including being prodded by a plastic surgeon), but also the trolling she endured online and the pressure her Body Image Movement campaign put on her own family.
Brumfitt has an easygoing appeal that shines through, regardless of whether she’s interviewing celebrities, such as US talk show host and actor Ricki Lake, former UK model Amanda de Cadenet, Mama Mia founder Mia Freedman, ‘plus-size’ model Stefanio Ferrario or women in the street.
Two interviews—with a young woman in the throes of anorexia and with motivational speaker Turia Pitt, who, despite suffering horrendous burns to 65% of her body, believes she’s the ‘luckiest girl alive’—stand out for their raw honesty.
What most galled Brumfitt was the classification board giving the documentary a ‘MA 15+’ rating for ‘extreme nudity’.
Brumfitt largely made the film for girls under 15. ‘Seventy per cent of girls are dissatisfied by their own body. Fifty per cent of 5- to 12-year-old girls want to lose weight,’ she told news.com.au. ‘Hypersexualised images of women make their way onto billboards and buses. There are messages everywhere telling young women to be something other than they are.
‘This is a conversation we need to be having with our girls.’ Ultimately, Brumfitt isn’t looking to be sensational—what she hopes is to provide a counterweight to the negative stereotyping. As the title suggests, the strongest way to combat self-hate is self-acceptance, and Brumfitt’s journey illuminates the way forward.
Highlight: the scene when two breast cancer survivors meet
Red Flag: nudity, brief close-up of female genitalia