Documentaries are a great platform for social and political enlightenment and there no limits to their educational power. The Australian-produced film Embrace (2016) is an outstanding example of documentary storytelling with potential to change attitudes towards the perception of women’s bodies. Its impact comes from the way it does not preach, it does not lecture, rather it reaches out to both men and women everywhere and asks why is the tyranny of body shaming continuing into the modern era?
Director Taryn Brumfitt created a social media firestorm when she posted ‘before and after’ images of herself but reversed the order in which people expect them to appear. In other words, the ‘before’ image represented the idealised female form posing in a bodybuilding contest while the ‘after’ image represented comfortable self-acceptance after having three children. Expressing pride in her ‘after’ shape was a simple gesture that shocked millions into thinking about the body image cultural prison that tyrannises women. It also flushed out large numbers of vitriolic trolls whose fantasies were threatened. The global reaction led her to crowdfund a film and travel across several continents interviewing prominent and ordinary women who speak openly about their bodies.
Everywhere she goes, media-scapes are dominated by images of underweight women who dare not eat normally but whose images create unattainable role models. In the only scene dominated by a male, Brumfitt subjects herself to an assessment by a cosmetic surgeon who shames and prods her like bits of meat begging for a scalpel. The film records with warmth and sensitivity the views of women who reflect the diversity of the female form, and it is impossible to not be touched by their stories.
As a male, it was a shock to hear that over 90% of women dislike their body and the most common adjective used by women to describe their own is “disgusting”. To Brumfitt’s credit, she left the elephant in the room unnamed and there is no obvious finger pointing towards the media moguls and the captains of the shaming industries. The globalisation of media has accelerated the problem and even in cultures where once a fuller female form was greatly admired they are now dealing with the long-term emotional scars of shaming bodies into smaller shapes. If Embrace was shown in every high school it would lead to lasting cultural change and contribute towards a happier world. Women may learn little from this film, but men can learn a lot.
Director/Writer: Taryn Brumfitt