Documentary Hopes to Help You Love the Skin You’re In
#34: Embrace (2016)
Director: Taryn Brumfitt
One of the grotesque elements of this campaign year has been hearing a major party presidential candidate comment on women’s bodies in the most objectifying ways. People have been deconstructed into breasts and legs, into “that face” (said with a sneer) or “that a**” – or even into more intimate parts, talked about with all of the respect offered to cuts of meat at the butcher’s counter.
It’s easy to rage against this kind of body shaming coming from Donald Trump, but the unfortunate truth is that most women don’t need anyone else to shame them about their bodies. We’re very, very good at doing it to ourselves.
Taryn Brumfitt is an Australian writer, speaker, and founder of The Body Image Movement. As a mother of three, Brumfitt was having her own body image crisis, considering plastic surgery. One day, in an effort not only to embrace her own post-babies body but to encourage other women, Brumfitt posted before and after photos to her Facebook page. “Before” was a photo of Brumfitt in a bodybuilding contest, after the birth of her first child: lean, muscular, tan. The “After” picture was a nude (but discreetly posed) Brumfitt with the belly, dimples and rolls that so many of us see when we stand, unprotected, in front of our mirrors. But Brumfitt also looks healthy and happy in that “After” picture; radiant, in fact. And almost overnight her post had 3.6 million clicks and more comments than she could possibly respond to.
How crazy is it that we are so hungry to see an ordinary woman happy in her body and willing to admit it? That we need to have a normal body normalized for us? I wish that our cultural obsession with body image was an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is, and it certainly isn’t in my case. But I’ll get back to that in a minute…
How crazy is it that we are so hungry to see an ordinary woman happy in her body and willing to admit it? That we need to have a normal body normalized for us?
Brumfitt’s experience with her Before and After photos led to her becoming a motivational speaker and writer, and her latest endeavor is a documentary, Embrace. In the film Brumfitt tells her own story, but also travels the world interviewing women with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on body image. Many of them are part of what we might call the body shaming machine – actresses, a model, a fashion editor, a photographer. These are all dissenting voices in their fields, though: the model is plus size; the fashion editor insisted on using more diverse body types in photo shoots; the actresses, including Ricki Lake, are honest about the pressures they face to look perfect all the time. (As an aside, Embrace made me an instant fan of the very real, very funny German actress Nora Tschirner.) The interviews are inspiring, but the inspiration wouldn’t be important if body shame wasn’t such a universal experience. At one point in Embrace, Brumfitt visits a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and submits herself to his suggestions/critique. That scene, which could have been simply painful or infuriating, is leavened by Brumfitt’s own sense of humor. The hardest scene to watch is a montage of women on the street answering questions about their own bodies. When asked to give one word to describe their bodies, too many women offer the word “disgusting” in reply. That brought me to tears, partly in recognition. I know what that feels like. I’ve gone through seasons of my life when I hated the mirror, when I was so ashamed of my body that leaving the house was a challenge, when I had internalized the message that Donald Trump is constantly sending: that we owe it to the world around us to look a certain way; that it’s an offense to not be thin enough, young enough, pretty enough, polished enough. Not looking the way I wanted to look, I felt disgusting. I’m past the worst of that, thank God. Therapy has helped, running has helped, and ironically, I think aging is helping. Now I’m trying to assist as my daughters navigate the same cultural minefields, hopefully without experiencing the intense shame that I felt for so long.
Embrace had to win me over. It’s so nakedly inspirational (pun intended) that it was easy to be a bit cynical toward the film early on. But Taryn Brumfitt is warm and likeable, and many of her interviewees are so genuinely admirable that at a certain point I dropped my attitude and entered the spirit of the movie. Maybe we won’t always need to cheer so hard for body positivity, maybe we won’t always have to talk about it so much. But right now, the simple idea that we should love and honor these bodies of ours is still a message that we need to hear – and Taryn Brumfitt is a very winsome messenger.