POULSBO — “I had nipples the size of dinner plates,” Body Image Movement founder Taryn Brumfitt said of her post-childbirth body.
“During intimate moments, my breasts would leak. And there was the time I poo’ed myself because my pelvic floor was shot. I ended up hating my body.”
She asked herself, “What does it feel like to have the perfect body?” Would it change her? Would it make her happy?
Her Body Image Movement started with a photo. Brumfitt, a 35-year old mother of three from Australia, posted a before-and-after image online in 2013. The unconventional image — featuring a “before” photo of a fit Brumfitt at a body-building competition, and an “after” image of Brumfitt (nude) at a higher weight — sparked a global media frenzy, being viewed by more than 100 million people worldwide.
Her story generated significant interest in Kitsap County where, on Sept. 22, a full theater 10 at Poulsbo Regal Cinemas viewed “Embrace,” a documentary exploring the issue of body image from Brumfitt’s perspective.
The one-night special screening, brought to Kitsap by local photographer Elaine Turso, sold 190 tickets to further spread the message of “loving the skin you’re in.”
“This whole thing really started with my business as a photographer,” Turso said. “I was on a mission to change how women see themselves, to help them find self-acceptance and love. When a woman sees her photos for the first time, it’s an emotional and empowering experience.”
She added, “Comparison is a thief of joy. It robs ourselves from our own happiness. This is the only body we have, this is the vehicle we go through life with. We should be celebrating it and treating it like a temple. Why waste a minute hating yourself when you can change the world?”
Brumfitt agreed as she opened the film with her personal body image experience.
“So many people ask me the question, ‘How did you learn to love your body and what did you do?’ ” Brumfitt said in the film.
She reviewed her journey to a happy self-image.
Over the course of the birth of her three children, she developed a self-loathing for her body. She committed to training at the gym every morning and changed her diet. For almost four months, she kept her rigorous routine and accomplished her goal.
But Brumfitt realized, standing on stage in a bikini at a body-building competition, that women even at their fittest had similar body issues.
“I had the perfect bikini body. It’s what so many women think about and are driven to have,” she said. “But instead, I thought, ‘To have what I’ve got right now took way too much sacrifice, too much energy, too much obsession’. Backstage, I was listening to other conversations women were having — ‘I wish I had more of this, wish I had less of that.’ … It was shocking.”
She posted that before-and-after photo of herself on Facebook as part of her campaign to tackle negative body image, and quickly realized the issue was much bigger than she realized. She traveled for nine weeks to explore body image issues in different parts of the world.
“Embrace” showcases Brumfitt’s journey as she met various women to gather their thoughts on the topic.
“I felt compelled to try to understand why so many people are hating their body and what we can do about it,” she said.
On her journey, she met with Mia Freedman, editor of Cosmopolitan in Australia. Freedman’s experience with clothing designers’ standards bolstered the movement.
As a new editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Freedman wanted to do a clothing shoot with a size 16 model.
“I wanted to make her look sexy just like a size 8 Cosmo model would be dressed,” Freedman said on film. “But clothing designers don’t want their brand associated with anyone larger than a size 8. I was so shocked by the hypocrisy … that they were happy to take the money of women of all sizes, up to size 22 or even beyond,” but didn’t want those women representing their clothing in media. “That was their dirty little secret,” she said.
“If you just look at women’s magazines in the last 30, 40, or 60 years, you’d been convinced there was only one type of woman who exists in the world: she’s 6 foot tall, about 17 years old, usually blond, blue-eyed, skin like plastic, and in fact she’s an alien because she was created on screen. Women subconsciously and consciously compare themselves … if you’re constantly comparing yourself to something that doesn’t actually exist, how can you possibly feel good when you look in the mirror?”
Studies show that 70 percent of girls have body image issues; 90 percent of anorexia/bulimia occurs in females, and more than 50 percent of girls ages 5-12 want to lose weight.
The message these girls are getting: “You have to be hot and skinny at every age — that’s a shocking indictment of how our culture devalues women by just how we look,” Freedman said.
The film encourages women to question the messages put forth by makeup and diet companies: thin is healthy, fat is unhealthy. The film encouraged women to think about health first and to love themselves from the inside out, reminding those that their weight does not define them.
“We’ve been fed this idea that if you diet and have a thin body, you’re healthy and you must be happy, but that simply isn’t true,” Brumfitt said.
The documentary also encourages parents, particularly of girls, to praise and comment what their children do, rather than what they look like.
Sophie DuBay, a local high school student, watched the film with her sister.
“At school, all of my friends and other girls I’ve talked to have made some sort of negative comment about their own or someone else’s body,” she said. “It’s really sad, because to other people they’re perfect and we’re so young still and they are trying so hard to fit in and be flawless.”
DuBay said she was surprised to see how many women could relate to Brumfitt.
“I was surprised that so many people have negative things to say about themselves, even the ones who to most people would be considered perfect,” she said.
Local athlete Beth Brewster relates.
“I saw myself in so many of the featured women in that movie … I think we all did,” she said. “I was so sad to see the story of the woman who’s in an extremely tough battle with bulimia. I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her. It’s scary to think how common her condition is and how that could be any one of us. Learning that girls are soaking cotton balls in Gatorade to fill their stomach for days at a time — my heart dropped. They’re risking death to look like a magazine image that isn’t real.”
She added, “Wouldn’t it be cool if magazines started including, ‘This image has been Photoshopped,’ next to the unrealistic model shots so young girls would stop trying to look like something that doesn’t exist? And if we complimented each other on our accomplishments, strength and courage rather than our weight, hair or complexion? Imagine.”
By the end of the documentary, Brumfitt had met with handfuls of positive and influential women such as actress Ricki Lake, talk show host Amanda de Cadenet, photographer Jade Beall, Instagram celebrity Harnaam Kaur, actress Nora Tschirner, motivational speaker Turia Pitt, and hundreds of women who are beating down the societal standards of the sexualization of young girls and objectification of women.
Body image “is an issue and subject that affects every young women that I know,” de Cadenet said. “Unfortunately, our society doesn’t mirror back many options for us; you have to fit into what’s presented. Culturally, around the world, the ideal of beauty is different. Our ideal of beauty has to be different depending on who we are.”
Harnaam Kaur, an Instagram sensation from London, was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. Her condition creates a hormonal imbalance that causes her to grow excessive facial hair. It was a huge struggle for her to accept and love herself for who she is.
“To me, I don’t feel ugly. I feel really beautiful,” Kaur said. “There’s no definite answer to what beauty is — beauty is what you make it. We need to celebrate the fact that we are different.”
Beall, a photographer whose portraits are unretouched to highlight the natural beauty of her subjects, said,“To be seen is incredibly empowering. Those little details made us irreplaceably beautiful.”
Actress Ricki Lake said, “I wish I could be one of those women who could just get over it and be OK with what I have today. I resent that so much time has been spent hating what I looked like. I’m still striving where I get to a place where I love myself — 100 percent — in my skin.”
Brumfitt believes there’s hope, but it starts with people sharing their stories and accepting each other — and themselves — for who they are.
“Look at yourself naked,” she said. “Call it ‘beautiful’ even if you don’t believe it. Fake it till you make it.”
She concluded, “In your lifetime, there will be people who try to tell you [that you] need to change. The purpose of your life is not to be an ornament to be looked at. Its purpose is to do, feel, accomplish and contribute. Don’t waste a single day of life being at war with your body — just embrace it!”