Written by MEDA High School Intern, Siri Kazilionis
I’ve found it very hard to find documentaries that honestly comment on the struggles of body image and weight in a way that also promotes health at every size and body acceptance. But I am more than happy to say that I have finally discovered a documentary whose message encourages body positivity whilst also challenging the ways in which popular media depicts bodies. This documentary is Embrace, and it is so powerful that it has truly makes an impact on how one views their self.
The protagonist and director of the documentary, Taryn Brumfitt, struggled with her body image. After she had multiple children, she became obsessed with obtaining a ‘perfect’ post-pregnancy body as efficiently as possible. Even though Brumfitt spent years manipulating her body and weight in order to participate in a bodybuilding swimsuit competition, she eventually came to a life-changing realization after reaching “goal”. “In my ‘perfect’ body, I’m not happy”.
After coming to peace with her own body, Brumfitt decided to travel around the world to help her gain diverse perspectives as she seeks the answer to her guiding question: “Why do so many people hate their bodies?” Brumfitt has the goal of “do[ing] something about it”, or otherwise shedding light on the standards that the media holds young girls and women today, regardless of where they are from.
The documentary focuses on health at any body size (a body size actually healthy for each individual- not a body that is reached through plastic surgery or through struggling towards the ‘perfect’ body narrowly defined by the media). Brumfitt calls out many of the body-shamers that sent her negative message about her body over social media. Brumfitt was even accused of being “lazy” after not losing weight after having multiple children and instead embracing her body. Brumfitt then shows images as she engages in more intuitive exercise that makes her feel empowered and more connected to her body, and asks the listener- “can a lazy person do this?” Brumfitt is far from shy in calling out body-shamers, and makes it known that their negative comments do not impact how she sees herself or how she feels about her body.
Brumfitt interviews young women around the world about how they feel about their bodies. I was almost brought to tears at the sight of the women interviewed on the street, asked simply to give a few words to describe how they felt about their bodies. An overwhelming number of replied, “disgusted” or “sometimes I just want to cry”. I’ve never seen a film where that many women have honestly admitted their struggles with self image. It was both tear-jerking and enlightening.
Throughout the film many of Brumfitt’s interviewees provide viewers with special insight into the world of social media, fashion, and/or have experience with struggles around body image. Some of those interviewed include former editor of Cosmopolitan Mia Freedman, actress Nora Tschiner, photographer Jade Beall, actress and trans rights advocate Lea Nayeli, and many more. The documentary focuses on a very diverse group of women: diverse in race, body type, culture, language, religion, and in way of life. So often when a documentary is made about body image, it is filled with a very familiar image of a young white woman sharing her opinions and story. Although hearing many stories is wonderful- it is crucial that we hear from a variety of voices, as otherwise people feel insecure or invalidated in the stories of themselves if they don’t fit in the small group of women that often share their struggle. Through the varied group of women interviewed, the viewer can actually feel as if they are not alone and their feelings about their body are validated, regardless of who they are. Given that the overall ideal of the movement is to accept and love your body no matter who you are, it is SO important to reinforce that this is really for whoever you are- not just for a small group of women.
It is important to recognize how the material in this documentary is raw and can sometimes be triggering to those struggling with their body image. It includes images of individuals that are struggling with their body weight, uncut videos of plastic surgery, and media productions and advertisements of the ‘perfect’ body. Although it is a very raw and uncut documentary, it is a eye-opening resource for individuals who want to learn more about the media’s standards, how to have a more positive outlook on body image, or to simply feel less alone about their own struggles. I strongly recommend Embrace. To learn more about the film, you can go to the website for Embrace, https://bodyimagemovement.com/embrace-the-documentary/ , and the documentary itself is available on Netflix or to order on amazon.
Image source: https://bodyimagemovement.com/embrace-the-documentary/