Posted: May 19, 2014 8:30 AM
Taryn Brumfitt's body image work started with a viral photo featuring an "After" body moms could actually relate to. But it didn't stop there. The 35-year-old Australian has tasked herself with helping women move from body loathers to body lovers with one documentary: Embrace.
Photo credit: Taryn Brumfitt

Taryn Brumfitt is a 35-year-old Australian mom of three who has acquired internet fame twice. First, last year for her viral photo featuring an "After" body (3 million and counting) moms could actually relate to and again this week for her Kickstarter campaign to create Embrace, a documentary whose goal is to change how women look at their bodies. The more than $133,000 she has already raised at the time this article is being written says she might be the one who actually tames this long-standing beast.

Problem areas

When I googled "body image," the top result came from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This is problematic. NEDA defines body image as "how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind" which by itself is simple and logical but when connected to women and eating disorders is nothing short of disturbing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that developing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to a woman's happiness and wellness. The faulty line here is that every woman I know — and I bet every woman you know as well — struggles with body image.

Theory cracking

In October 2013, "fit mom" Maria Kang posted a controversial hot body photo plastered with the title, "What's Your Excuse?" Many (truly, many) women jumped to their own defense and did, indeed, list their excuses — they're busy, they have children, time is short. But Taryn Brumfitt's response was singular: "I've had the (near) perfect body and it's not all it's cracked up to be."

Brumfitt posted a counter photo featuring her "Before" body as a body builder and her "After" body 20 pounds heavier and living a healthful, balanced life. And that's the rub. Brumfitt found that having the media's version of a "perfect" body is not only not an indicator of health, it's also not a direct route to positive body image. Brumfitt said, "12 months ago I posted my non-traditional Before and After photo and the world's media stood up and took notice. People everywhere were astonished — how could a woman possibly love her body 'After'?... It got me thinking: the world has been brainwashed!" From there, Brumfitt took on the challenge to liberate women from their body image.

Liberating women from... themselves

Tayarra Sharp is a fit, hard-working wife with three awesome boys. Sharp body builds and has the figure that Brumfitt had in her before photo. When asked about her reaction to Embrace, Sharp said, "When I saw [Brumfitt's] photo... my first thought was, 'Oh no, what is she doing!' Brumfitt would say this is part of society's trained response to body image: Slim is good, added pounds are bad. And I would tend to agree. I wonder how many of us needed a second look at Brumfitt's before and after photos to really understand what was going on there; that Brumfitt was in love with her softer body.

A passion, and a purpose

But Sharp did exactly what Brumfitt hopes all women will do via her documentary: She took a critical look at the messaging. With a deeper look, Sharp said, "When I hear her passion and purpose behind what she's doing it changes my mindset. I want women to be healthy. Healthy doesn't mean bulging muscles and line definition even if I choose that's what healthy is on me." Sharp added, "Every single body is different. Not one of those [body building] bodies carries a sash around its shoulders with 'Perfection' written in its threads. She hit the nail on the head when she was explaining her stage body versus her 'After' body. She said, "Nothing changed. Nothing changed!" Nothing changes unless our minds shift... Her purpose and her journey light the fire of motivation in me. Women loving and supporting other women. Lifting them up and embracing them, every tiny flaw and all."

It's this mindset change that Sharp honed in on that fuels Embrace. Feminist blogger Kelly O'Sullivan agrees. She says, "I'm thrilled when a woman moves to a place where who she is, what she thinks and how she lives trumps the rest of what can eat up her time... I totally connect with her desire to yell, 'I love my body, stretch marks, bumps, bulges, imperfections and all.' Sharing her newfound strength with the world will certainly help empower another woman to see herself as more than a collection of parts. And I applaud the movement."

Name calling (the good kind)

I've long been a believer in the mantra that we — as a society, as women, as mothers — need to stop talking about each other's bodies. As in, stop commenting on how I look and what I weigh because whether you're giving a compliment or not, bodies shouldn't be up for debate. I thought this was the solution to the body image crisis I observed in the media and with my peers and what I feared facing with my own daughters.

On the surface, there does seem to be some truth to this: Stop talking about bodies and women will stop worrying about them. But Brumfitt's work is an important reminder of this truth: Giving names to things, rolling them around our tongues and openly discussing them, is what truly demystifies them. And in robbing body image of its cryptic influence, we return that power to its rightful owners: women.

O'Sullivan explains, "When a woman can let go of cultural expectations and media-driven images about beauty she helps move all women to a healthier place." She does add, however, "Part of me does feel sad that to prove how beautiful all our shapes and sizes are often requires us to list out our perceived faults first... Women are not beautiful in spite of their 'imperfections' nor are they more worthy because of them. Women are beautiful. Period. End of sentence. We don't need to prove it. We just need to believe it." This steering away from changing bodies and toward changing beliefs is the crux of Brumfitt's work.

Love your body as it is

Brumfitt faced her desire to change what women believe about body image head on. About her impetus she says, "[I got] this unwavering desire to teach, educate and shout around the world that loving your body can bring you happiness and by learning to do so, change [your] life forever."

Brumfitt's message is unique in its simplicity and that it only asks one thing of women: Learn to answer, "What if I could live happily with my body?" No diets, no self-helps, no changes, no how-you-need-to-bes. Just love your body as it is.

Embrace the documentary by Taryn Brumfitt

Photo credit: Taryn Brumfitt

Brumfitt's journey

Brumfitt's journey — a word she's rumored to hate but uses (grudgingly) because it's appropriate — began with bright lights and porno shoes. She was a body builder strutting her stuff on stage. A year later, she was a mother hating her "stuff" for how it had changed. Brumfitt wrote, "I have been at one with my body my entire life, now my body has turned on me. Disloyal, hideous, disgusting, fat, ugly, scarred, un-sexy, wobbly body. I hate you."

Can you relate? Psychologist, nutritionist, wellness coach and founder of Smash Your Scale, Ellen Albertson, Ph.D., RDN, CD, says, "Most of the women I work with on my website have a tremendous amount of body shame and body dissatisfaction." These feelings translate to uber-destructive self-talk, shame and body image. What Brumfitt revealed as her secret loathing — that she hid well until she started writing about it — was relatable for a frightening number of women.

One month later, Brumfitt thought (incorrectly) that she had hit rock bottom and made the decision to have plastic surgery so she could be fit. Healthy. Glamorous. Brumfitt wrote, "I deserve this, I deserve to look good, I am going to be fixed. Nothing is going to stop me. I am going to be free."

With her mind set, Brumfitt thought her path to following the fairy tale version of women and body image — woman loses weight, woman lives happily ever after — was in the works. But she was wrong.

Rewriting (our) stories

She was reveling in thoughts of her upcoming surgery (Fit. Glamorous. Fixed.) while watching her daughter Mikaela play when a sudden thought hit her and gave her pause: "How am I ever going to teach Mikaela to love her body as it is if her mummy can't do the same?" She chose to leave a lifetime verdict of hypocrisy behind and cancel her surgery. And, this, was her true rock bottom.

It turns out that Brumfitt was spot on. Albertson explains, "Girls aren't born with a negative body image. It develops over time and is influenced by parents (especially mothers), peers and the media. You are a role model for your daughter. If you have a negative body image and are constantly dieting and talking about how much you dislike your body she will learn those behaviors. Conversely, if you love and take care of your body, you will be a positive role model and pass these behaviors down to her."

Brumfitt realized this and committed to skipping the plastic surgery "fix," but with the possibility of it off the table, she felt out of choices. She wrote, "With the decision to cancel my surgery firmly in place, it still left me with the awareness that I was stuck in a body that I didn't love, with parts I detested. I was at rock bottom, I hated my body more than ever."

And then the realization came that she did, indeed, have a choice. One that all of us have — and tend to ignore — too. Brumfitt wrote, "I picked myself up off the floor, wiped the tears from my eyes and looked into my mirror. Bursting from my soul came my old friend Taz. The one I knew and loved, the happy-go-lucky self which had been hiding for too long. She simply said, 'You can do this. You can live happily with your body.'" And from there, a movement was born.

Embrace: The documentary

Last week Brumfitt announced a Kickstarter campaign for Embrace, the documentary which will take what she's grown with her site, Body Image Movement, to a whole new level. The campaign has already garnered an inspiring amount of attention and Brumfitt invites believers — and donators — of the project to share their photos on social media with the #ihaveembraced hashtag to continue to raise awareness for what she believes at her core.

Brumfitt explains, "My body has been ripped, slow, fast, with child, hated, treasured and punished. The day I learned to unconditionally love my body was the day I became unstoppable." And she leaves women with this reminder: Your body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to your dreams!"

Share with us!^What do you think of Brumfitt's campaign for Embrace? Can it be the change we all need to believe in to change the face of body image?

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