We've all seen them: before-and-after photos urging us to try new diets or body-shaping products. In the before shot, the woman (the subjects usually are women, it seems) looks not only doughy, but dejected, slouching and spilling out of her too-small bikini. In the after, she's lean and hard-bodied, beaming as she strikes a triumphant, look-at-me pose.
While those photos may be designed to encourage us to care for ourselves (or to buy products that will make us believe we are), just as often they reinforce our negative self-images, especially if we happen to look more like the "before" than the "after."
That's what led an Australian woman named Taryn Brumfitt to post unconventional before-and-afters of herself online: a trim and bikinied before shot and discreetly-posed nude photo of her plump, soft—and smiling—after-self. The photos went viral and touched off a flurry of media attention, giving Brumfitt a platform for telling the world how she learned to love her natural shape instead of trying to force it to fit someone else's idea of attractiveness.
Television interviews gave her only a few minutes to make her points, though. She wanted to say more. So Brumfitt raised money on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to create a documentary film, EMBRACE. The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival last year and now has made its way to Newaygo County, where it will be shown at Camp Newaygo on Friday, January 27.
I'm especially excited to spread the word about this event because it's being sponsored by Ellie's Yoga and the Wander Women hiking club—the groups of strong, positive women with whom I begin and end most weeks.
The film was a natural for Camp Newaygo, says Jalisa Danhof, the camp's assistant director. "When we watched the trailer and looked into what it's about, we thought it fit perfectly with our mission of teaching empowerment and self-worth and building confidence."
Body image is a topic that comes up often at camp, especially among early adolescent girls, Danhof says. "They're more comfortable talking about it at camp because there are no boys. It's a safe place to express fears and concerns that they might not otherwise express." Camp Newaygo counselors are trained to respond in ways that are supportive but not intrusive.
In EMBRACE, Brumfitt travels around the world, talking to everyone from actor and former TV host Ricki Lake to a burn survivor and a celebrity photographer about the impact of body image.
"The media and advertisers so often present one singular body type as being the standard," says Brumfitt. "In truth, hardly any person on the planet looks like that and the images are often digitally manipulated anyway. But so many perfectly healthy normal people are left feeling inadequate. We should all be empowered to just not buy into it."
Producer Anna Vincent hopes audiences will leave the movie "punching the air, feeling good about themselves, and understanding that they don't suffer their problems alone."
As for Brumfitt, "I want people to walk away after watching EMBRACE believing that they can embrace and love their bodies unconditionally. I know from travelling around the world that this is a real problem that's affecting people's lives every single day. I hope the film will start a more positive conversation about body image and that audiences will be inspired by the stories they'll hear, and the people they'll meet through the film."
In addition to creating EMBRACE, Brumfitt founded the Body Image Movement, which advocates natural aging and beauty and aims "to uncover the true beauty that lies within each and every one of us, the beauty of a person you can't physically see: one's humility, kindness, humor, respect and generosity."
Now, that's a beautiful mission.
EMBRACE will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on January 27 at Camp Newaygo, 5333 Centerline Rd., Newaygo. Doors open at 7 p.m. The event is free, but please register to reserve a seat (and let organizers know how much popcorn to pop!). The film is recommended for ages 10 and above. A parents' guide, available on the Camp Newaygo website, is designed to help parents decide if the film is appropriate for their children.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.