On Monday, January 2, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Embrace, a documentary about women’s struggle to cultivate a healthy body image. I had seen the trailer for the film several months ago and was happy to finally have the opportunity to view it in theaters.
The screening that I attended in northwest Washington, D.C., was organized by registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield, who just released her first book, Body Kindness. Following the film, Rebecca moderated a panel discussion and Q&A session about body image, self-love, and body acceptance. I have been following Rebecca on social media for a little over a year, and I was excited to hear her speak in person.
About Taryn Brumfitt and Embrace
Australian Taryn Brumfitt, a photographer and mother of three, is the force behind Embrace. After giving birth to her children, Taryn struggled with hating her body, going so far as deciding to get plastic surgery before reconsidering. Her turning point: grappling with how going under the knife would affect her young daughter’s own self-image.
In 2013, Taryn posted a “reverse” progress photo of herself, which went viral on Facebook and launched the Body Image Movement. The “Before” photo was taken when Taryn was competing in a bodybuilding contest, after she had changed her plastic surgery plans and decided instead to train obsessively for the event for 15 weeks. The “After” photo was taken after she abandoned her pursuit of the “perfect” body once and for all, in favor of living a balanced life.
As in the documentary, Taryn explained why she posted the photo in an interview published on Greatist:
I had been speaking to some friends earlier that day who were struggling with the relationship they had with their body, so I posted it to demonstrate to them that they could love their body. Usually before and after photos show how an overweight woman transformed by losing weight and becoming miraculously happy. I was trying to demonstrate the point that you can be healthy and happy at any stage, and that health is not just physical but emotional and spiritual too. In the after photo, I was the healthiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I could run 10 miles without being breathless. I was meditating. I was eating healthy, but eating chocolate and burgers too. Life is about balance. In that after photo I had it all — I wanted to share it to simply help women.”
The photo was viewed millions of times, and Taryn was contacted by thousands of people seeking to make peace with their bodies, just as she had. As a result, Taryn’s project advocating for positive body image was born. Embrace was actually funded through a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign.
In the film, Taryn tells her personal story and how it prompted her to travel around the world for nine weeks, interviewing both well-known women — including talk-show host Ricki Lake, photographer and actress Amanda de Cadenet, and model Stefania Ferrario — and “ordinary” women about their struggles with their body and self-image. The film touches extensively on the role that media plays in shaping our self-image and perspectives on weight and appearance.
One of the most shocking scenes captures Taryn’s consultation with a Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon. He had no reservations telling Taryn what was “wrong” with her body and what she should do to “fix” her “imperfections.” He even offered to remove fat from her butt and inject it into her lips! The scene was actually quite amusing, because Taryn had to visibly stifle a laugh several times while the doctor turned his back. Taryn’s body confidence, even in the face of blatant criticism, is inspirational.
Taryn closed the film with a message to her daughter: “Don’t waste a single day being at war with your body — just embrace it.”
Learning to Embrace My Body in “Real Life”
The panel discussion and Q&A session following the film, which was moderated by Rebecca Scritchfield, featured four D.C.-based panelists:
- Christie Dondero, executive director of Rock Recovery, an organization dedicated to bridging eating disorder treatment gaps
- Stefanie Gilbert, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and body image disturbance
- Carol Shuford, a personal trainer
- Kate Volzer, a client of Rebecca Scritchfield and coach at [solidcore]
Rebecca asked each panelist to share her thoughts about the film, before taking questions from the audience. Their comments were insightful:
- Christie said that the film made her think of the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” She also noted later in the conversation that the first step to making peace with our bodies is healing.
- Dr. Gilbert expanded upon Christie’s response about comparison, saying, “Comparison is pointless because each one of us is unique. […] We’re so much more than how we look.” She also emphasized that to dwell on the superficial aspects of our appearance takes away from what we could actually be doing with our lives: “Enjoy what you can do with your body.”
- Carol added that “it wasn’t what [Taryn] looked like, it was what she was doing that made her proud.”
- Kate said that she came away with the sense that restriction, over-exercise, and obsession with appearance are “just not worth it.” We only have one life, and stressing too much about our appearance is “taking you away from being present in that one life.”
- Rebecca encouraged the audience to “drop the rope in the tug of war” with yourself. “Thoughts that you repeat become beliefs. […] You will be your own bully if you let yourself,” she said.
One of the most profound moments of the Q&A session was an exchange prompted by a teenage viewer who said that “one of the biggest boundaries to self-love is that self-hate is a social event.” Through an exchange with the panelists, the teen said that she often feels that “you have to hate yourself to fit in.” Her comment was profound, and touches on something that I have observed in my day-to-day interactions with women two or three times her age. Rebecca responded and said that “you have permission to be in a better place than the people in your clique.” I loved that response. Just because the people around me may hate their bodies doesn’t mean that I have to, as well.
Close to the end of the Q&A session, I decided to ask a question about how I could learn to embrace myself now, just as I am, when surrounded by people in my life that are still stuck in diet culture. In my question, I mentioned that I had joined and quit Weight Watchers more times than I cared to admit. Rebecca emphasized that Weight Watchers is a diet, because it involves calorie restriction through counting Points. That said, she clarified that restriction and wanting to eat better are not the same thing. She said that even she felt that she wanted to get back to normalcy after the holiday season. This perspective was extremely helpful to me, one that I think that I’m already learning to put into practice. Kate also emphasized “you do you” — basically, that I should follow my own path and live how I believe is right, no matter what other people are doing around me.
Rebecca closed the session by saying “a lot of people mistake acceptance for apathy,” but she believes that it is exactly the opposite. Once we accept and love ourselves, then we can truly put positive changes into motion.
All-in-all, I am extremely glad that I attended this event. I really loved Embrace, and it was both enlightening and disheartening to hear how many times the word “disgusting” was used by women talking about their bodies, across countries and cultures. Body hatred and self-loathing are a universal problem, and such thoughts and attitudes won’t spur us on to love ourselves and treat ourselves well. Rebecca Scritchfield and the other panelists provided even greater context for the film and reinforced that I just need to “stay in my own lane” as I’m working to make peace with my body and take care of myself.
Taryn Brumfitt’s tagline is “my body is not an ornament — it is the vehicle to my dreams.” That just about sums it all up.
Have you seen Embrace? If so, what are your thoughts on the film?
What is your biggest barrier to having a healthy body image?