Taryn Brumfitt celebrates the uniqueness of the female body in her documentary Embrace. Christine Korte on bodyshaming
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” That’s the essence of Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex. With that the French writer freed woman of their role as passive beings reduced solely to their gender – and to be sure, as childbearing objects that had to be sweet and lovely. Beauvoir recognized the woman as a subject that exists and operates completely detached from physical characteristics.
Over half a century later, a woman from Australia is now making us aware that we’re still allowing ourselves to be reduced to our bodies. With her documentary film Embrace, Taryn Brumfitt has triggered a wave of protests against unnatural beauty ideals that has sloshed across the Indian Ocean and over the world. In her film the author and activist asked 100 women about their own body image. The result: Every woman, whether slim or curvy, big or small, had something she didn’t like about her body. “Fat,” “disgusting!,” and “sometimes I just want to cry” were the reactions of these woman, evidenced with overwhelming statistics. 90% of cases of anorexia and bulimia worldwide affect women, more than 50% of 5 to 12-year-olds want to lose weight, one in five South Korean woman have had plastic surgery, and four million cosmetic procedures are carried out annually in the USA.
British author Laurie Penny offers an explanation for this negative development. “If all women on earth woke up tomorrow feeling truly positive and powerful in their own bodies, the economies of the globe would collapse overnight.” she wrote. We live in a society that has pressured us through magazines, social media, and TV shows into an economically controlled mania for improvement that hasn’t just taken our bodies prisoner, but at the same time has also solely and exclusively constrained our very beings to them. Not the content and rather the cover has suddenly become a social discourse that finds its greatest perversion in so-called “body shaming.”
Today the bra, which our mothers burned in the 60s as a symbol of freedom from gender clichés, has become cause for tirades of hate. At the same time, it doesn’t matter if we wear them or not – there are enough haters on either side. Austrian TV moderator Corinna Milborn also incurred body shaming when she dared to question the beauty ideals of a Palmers lingerie ad. Instead of arguing the content of her critique, extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner attacked her curvy body. Most recently, Lena Meyer-Landrut and Lena Gercke competed against each other on the TV show Beat the Star. Twitter overflowed with nasty comments as a result. “Lena Meyer Landsknecht (sic) has such a child’s body.” “Ms. Meyer-Landrut has a personal trainer? The money would have been better invested in a personality trainer.” Those were just some of the reactions.
Taryn Brumfitt was also the victim of body shaming, and namely with a post that didn’t just change her life in the end, but also triggered a whole new discourse around the world. She shared classic before and after photos on Facebook – in one she showed herself slim, curvy in the other. The one difference to the usual image that’s surely popping up in every reader’s mind’s eye? She turned the body images around: slim in the before photo and curvy in the after shot. Underneath she wrote: “Be loyal to your body, love your body. It’s the only one you have.” With that Taryn Brumfitt reclaimed her body and freed it from oppressive beauty ideals. She stopped wasting the majority of her time counting calories, dieting, and running obsessively at the gym.
“My body isn’t an ornament, it is a vehicle,” she declares at the start of her documentary and embarks on a journey around the world looking for women who have also succeeded in freeing themselves from the shackles of improvement mania, who embraced themselves first in order to approach others with open arms again. These women are living Simone de Beauvoir’s call and forming our society with their ideas instead of their bodies.