This week we celebrated International Women’s Day, a day that recognizes women’s achievements and shines a light on our continued struggles for gender equality. Focusing on the global issue of women’s rights and female empowerment, International Women’s Day calls on nations, societies, and individuals to create a more inclusive, gender-equal world.
Some days it feels like these are pretty lofty goals for our world. It takes generations to change societal perceptions. But day by day, inch by inch, the needle is slowing moving in the right direction. It’s empowering for us witness and participate in the ever-growing movement of women and men fighting for change, and to feel that we’re a strong and united front moving forward.
But what happens when we’re alone and looking in the mirror? How do we feel about the single most important woman we see standing before us? Do we love the body we see? Does she feel personally empowered? Confident? Beautiful? Or does she dislike or even hate what she sees, and feel that she just isn’t enough?
This is the theme of Embrace, a 2016 documentary written and directed by, and starring Taryn Brumfitt, which I watched last week.
You’ve probably seen Taryn’s picture online. In 2013, she posted an unconventional before-and-after shot of herself that promoted body diversity and acceptance.
That image was seen by over 100 million people worldwide and thrust Taryn into the spotlight as a spokesperson for body positivity. Eventually she decided the issue deserved a “louder voice on a bigger platform” and the idea for the documentary was born.
Embrace takes Taryn around the world to interview other women to find out why so many of us hate our bodies. Along the way, she explores such topics as female beauty ideals, size, the sexualization of young girls, media’s harmful messages to girls and women, and the often extreme, unhealthy steps women take to fit society’s model of what a woman should look like.
She examines how women are chasing a manufactured ideal of perfection that is simply unattainable, and as a result we are making ourselves miserable.
“If you constantly compare yourself to something that doesn’t exist, how can you possibly feel good when you’re looking down at yourself?” – Taryn Brumfitt
Taryn’s powerful message is one of self-love and joy. Embrace your body as a vehicle for your life and joy, not an ornament to be displayed to others, she tells us.
Watch the trailer for Embrace to see if Taryn’s message resonates with you.
I can certainly identify with Taryn’s journey. While my own goal was not to enter a physique competition, I joined a short-term “body transformation” challenge three years ago in my own quest for physical perfection. For weeks, I tracked my every macro to the exact gram and I increased my time at the gym. And, you know what? It worked. I lost almost 25lbs and was the leanest I’ve ever been in my life. I saw pant sizes I never dreamed of wearing. People complimented me on my weight loss. I felt worthy.
But it was also torture. I couldn’t enjoy a morsel of food unless I could fit it into my day’s allotted calories, which meant I didn’t eat a lot of foods I loved. I declined social invitations so that I wouldn’t have to be around food I “couldn’t have,” I went out of my way to cook different meals for my family, and even passed up a slice of cake purchased to welcome me to my first day on the job. (I love cake!) I had to be perfect. This was the only way I was going to be happy.
Of course, living this way was not sustainable for me. Once the challenge was over, I went back to a more relaxed way of eating, even over-eating some of the foods I had missed over the past 3 months, and much of the weight came back on. Now I felt like a failure. I hated my body for not being able to stay small and I hated myself for letting it happen. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do this one thing? I was never going to be enough in this life.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about my body and my relationship with it – and I’m still learning every day. I learned that my body has a certain shape and no matter how much fat I lose, it’s still going to maintain that shape. We are who we are. I’ve learned to love and appreciate what my body can do, and to have fun exploring the possibilities. I’ve learned that, for me, striving for a happier, balanced existence is healthier than fitting into size 6 jeans.
And I’ve learned that perfection is boring. I’m enough just as I am. We’re all amazing, different people. We need to embrace that.