Wednesday 21 March 2018

'We need to declare peace in the war with our bodies'

When Taryn Brumfitt's nude photograph went viral it changed her life and turned her into a campaigner

Photos posted by Taryn Brumfitt show her as a bodybuilder (left) and after having two children (right)
Photos posted by Taryn Brumfitt show her as a bodybuilder (left) and after having two children (right)
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

January is three weeks in and most people will have already reneged on their New Year promises. The gyms around Dublin have begun to empty out again as many of us revert to comfort eating our way through the long dark nights, all the while steeped in self-loathing for not having more self-discipline.

Now, right on cue, a new film aims to tackle the myth of the perfect body and the pervasiveness of the celebrity culture that drives it. Embrace, a startling documentary about self image, follows Australian photographer Taryn Brumfitt as she parlays the fame that came with a nude viral photo growing into a social movement in her home country. She speaks to talk show host and actress Ricki Lake about being "the fat girl" in John Waters's remake of Hairspray; to former tabloid starlet Amanda de Cadenet about what it was like living with media scrutiny at the age of 18 ("The message I took from it was that if you were thinner you were better … these days I'd say if you want to eat the biscuit, eat the f**king biscuit"); and to Harnaam Kaur, a British Sikh woman who celebrates the beard caused by polycystic ovary syndrome rather than break her religious beliefs. Brumfitt also meets ordinary women who have undergone mastectomies and a burns victim who tells us that she had to start her life again from scratch.

The unlikely starting point for the film was a couple of 'before and after' photos which Brumfitt posted on social media during 2013 in an attempt to cheer up some girlfriends who had been complaining about their weight. The 'before' photo showed her competing in a bodybuilding competition, wearing a bikini and heels, looking lean and tanned. The 'after' picture showed her a few years and a couple of children later, a smile still on her face and a layer of fat covering her midriff (she says her stomach looked like the creature from the horror movie The Blob).

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