Taryn Brumfitt’s unusual “before and after” photos led to a movement and a documentary
In 2013, Taryn Brumfitt posted “before and after” photos on Facebook. Usually, the “before” photos are of sad, overweight women, wearing swimsuits and looking miserable, followed by an “after” picture of them looking thin and happy. Brumfitt decided to go the other way — she posted a “before” picture of herself in a bikini on stage at a bodybuilding competition, and an “after” of her in natural light, naked, sitting on a stool, looking…well…fantastic.
Her message was that despite having what many would consider a “perfect body” before, she was much happier and more at peace without it. It was a message that moved thousands of women, and the photos went viral.
Brumfitt started doing interviews and making TV appearances to talk about her Facebook post, and realized that she had tapped into something that women everywhere felt deeply and needed to hear. She wanted to explore the issue of body image in more depth and figure out what we can do to end this epidemic of body-shaming. And so she created the new film, Embrace: The Documentary. In it, Brumfitt travels around the world talking to all sorts of women about how they feel about their bodies and trying to figure out how women can learn to love themselves again.
From childhood on, women are taught to hate our bodies. We stress over every curve and bump, dieting and exercising and loathing ourselves along the way. The truth, however, is that it’s all self-defeating because we can never, ever win — the game is rigged against us.
We can never be perfect because a “perfect body” doesn’t exist. Our perception of what is ideal comes from images we see in the media, and those have — almost without exception — been altered using photoshop and other image distortion techniques. And even if we lose weight and get “in shape” (a term that also encourages self-hatred because — what shape? Who decided on the shape?) we’re still screwed because guess what? Then we get old. And that’s when we start a new battle, this time to look younger than we are, which is every bit as impossible as trying to be “perfect.”
We despise ourselves for not achieving something that is impossible to achieve, and it is the striving for it that keeps us from accessing all of our power, which, some people would argue, and I happen to be one of them, is exactly what a patriarchal society wants. As long as we’re obsessed with counting calories, not going out into the world because we don’t like how we look, not raising our voices because we think our appearance makes our opinion worthless, and spending all of our emotional energy on what our bodies look like, we can’t use that time and energy to organize and empower ourselves.
Those of us who have daughters watch our little girls dance and run and twirl without a single thought about what they look like, and we weep to think that someday they will be ashamed of those little bodies that we love so much. Brumfitt’s documentary is an attempt to get us — their mothers — to love our bodies so that our daughters will love theirs as well. As Brumfitt says to her daughter in the movie: “Darling girl, don’t waste a single day of your life being at war with your body, just embrace it.”
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