When body image activist Taryn Brumfitt posted a simple before-and-after photo in 2013, she had no idea it would lead to her own documentary.
The before-and-after photo was seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and sparked an international media frenzy for its unconventional approach.
Unlike conventional before-and-after photos, Taryn’s ‘before’ image shows her muscular and athletic physique as she competes in a bikini body contest, while her ‘after’ photo depicts her with a slightly plumper body — but significantly more self-esteem.
Taryn says she received more than 7,000 emails and messages after the photos went viral.
“There were so many tragic stories from all around the world, from women who hate their bodies. I guess I had a sense of responsibility to do something and to help these women,” she says.
“That’s why Embrace exists. It’s there to help men and women embrace their bodies.”
Her documentary, 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.
It’s an honest, inspirational and educational feature documentary that aims to incite conversation, action and change amongst a broad female and male audience.
Taryn says we live in a world where we’re told to conform to an ideal body type.
“If we fall out of line with what ‘they’ think an ideal body is, then we have to fight and battle to get that body,” she says.
“It’s a very serious problem, body image, that women and men are having — whether it’s suicide, depression, anxieties related to body dissatisfaction, the figures are off the chart. It’s a scary story.”
Taryn’s before-and-after images received plenty of positive and supportive comments from women and men all around the world, but like anything on social media, they also opened her up to a whole lot of online hate.
“There are always going to be haters, but I think my response couldn’t have been sweeter – making a documentary about it,” she giggles.
“This body, whilst it may not conform to your ideals of health or beauty, functions really well for me and does all the things I need it to do and I have more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m so proud of my body.
“That kind of negativity really motivates and drives me to do so much more; there is so much education that needs to happen on this subject because the people who are giving us the statistics and driving the messages often have an ulterior motive. They’re selling a product. There are not too many genuine people or corporations out there who are doing the right thing by women. Unfortunately, their messages are muddled up with the fact they’re preying on women’s insecurities for financial gain.”
Despite the negativity, Taryn says she has learned to love her body the way it is.
“On the journey to getting the perfect body, I just realised I was miserable. It made me a slave to the gym, to calorie counting and just an imbalance in life. It made me think, I’m getting this really ‘hot’ body, but I’m grumpy, I’m not happy or fulfilled and all of those things. Why?
“It helped me realised my body is not a utensil, it drives me and I’m more interested in how I feel and the things I do rather than what I look like.
“You can make the choice today. It’s not going to happen overnight, you won’t wake up one day and you completely love yourself, you have to work on it, but gosh, it’s worth it. Whether you have affirmations on your mirror, post-it notes on your fridge or whatever you need to do, just take those baby steps. Those early days are really hard, but then it becomes really easy and fun and contagious.”
Taryn says many women are desperate to have that ‘perfect’ bikini body, but that’s not a reality for most people.
“There are only a small minority of women who naturally have that body shape and I think people are such a slave to having that body and are driven to have that perfect bikini body but it’s too hard and most of our bodies aren’t built that way. It becomes a battle and who wants to be at war with their body?”
As part of the documentary, Taryn interviews a range of inspiring women, including motivational speaker, author and bushfire burns survivor Turia Pitt.
“It’s hard not to feel inspired and moved by those incredible stories, and in particular I loved hearing Turia (Pitt) speak about her battles and what she’s gone through,” Taryn says.
“I think that’s such a deep and strong call to action from Turia, when she says, ‘I reckon if I can, anyone can’.
“My great wish for this documentary is that women take responsibility and take control back of their lives rather than being dictated to. Not one message can get through to me and change the way I feel about myself and that’s very empowering.”
Other women interviewed throughout the documentary include American talk show host Ricki Lake and The Bearded Dame, Harnaam Kaur.
One part of the documentary shows Taryn in a plastic surgeon’s office in America, being told what she needs to “get fixed”.
“It’s quite fascinating to see what goes on behind those doors,” Taryn says.
“I wanted people to see that so they can have an understanding of what the process is like. Talking about the labiaplasty with the surgeon, I couldn’t believe so many young girls are going in there to have parts of their body removed. That is completely unnecessary.
“I wasn’t bothered by the things he said about my body, but it bothered me thinking about how it might affect other women.”
One big issue discussed within the film is body shaming within the magazine industry, and how it affects women’s self esteem. As part of the discussion, Tanya speaks with Mamamia founder Mia Freedman, who reveals that when she first started in the magazine industry, no one wanted to put their names to a photo shoot with a plus size model. Not much has changed, according to Taryn.
“It’s an interesting industry. I’ve spoken to editors from magazines, fashion designers and models, and they all seem to blame each other. They’re saying ‘they make me do it’ and ‘that’s what the magazines want, so that’s what we give them’, but I think it’s actually a real old conversation and those people really need to wake up, because they’re making really harmful decisions by not showing diversity.
“We’ve got to take back the power. If a magazine that you’re reading is not empowering you, and not making you feel good because it’s body-shaming, don’t buy it. It sends a strong message when people stop buying en masse.”
So in a society that thrives on shaming people who are different, how do we learn to love ourselves?
“I think it’s about realising that we actually hold that power to make a choice for ourselves and it’s unfortunate that many women are looking for a pill, a potion, a new diet to get their quick fix, and they think that’s going to help them,” Taryn says.
“It’s about flicking a switch in our own minds and not buying into it. I’m really done being at war with my body and I want to live an empowered life and I want to take responsibility for this very short life that I’ve been given.
“Our lives and existences are not meant to be about constantly obsessing over what we look like. That’s not what matters.”
Taryn says she wants Embrace to start a conversation.
“I want women to learn to embrace their bodies and know that they have the power to create very positive change in their own lives,” she says.
Embrace will screen at Palace Cinemas from Thursday 4 August.