If I asked you right now to describe your body using just one word, what would it be?
The reason I ask, is that Taryn Brumfitt, executive producer of a powerful new documentary called ‘Embrace’ did just that. She asked 100 women that same innocuous little question, and their answers – overwhelmingly negative – broke her heart. Here are some of them:
An estimated 91% of women loathe their bodies.
Go on…read that sentence again.
Nine in ten of us…that’s basically all of us: our girlfriends, our mums, our aunties, wives, daughters and nieces.
I know I have struggled at times to accept my body, and I don’t think I’ve ever once looked at myself in a mirror and thought ‘beautiful’.
I have clutched cellulite and wished it was not there. I have willed my breasts to grow, my thighs to shrink, my nose to – I don’t know – look different! I’ve even worried about my bloody ears, my wide feet, my saggy bum.
I have counted calories. I have de-toxed and dieted. I have tried to exercise dissatisfaction away, and I have felt guilty about food. For a while in my early twenties it was dark and oppressive. I was consumed at not being ‘enough’.
From here though, at the ripe old age of 39, and particularly framed by my recent experiences of breast-cancer treatment, I think about all that time I have spent unhappy, comparing myself to the perfect bodies in magazine pages, looking at my flaws, and feeling defined by them…
WHAT A FUCKING WASTE OF TIME!
What a waste of precious moments that could have been spent laughing with friends, doing fun things, exploring, or learning new stuff.
I watch my six year-old daughter with awe, most days. Full of confidence and joy, she dances and twirls with abandon in front of any mirror she can lay her hands on, utterly oblivious to any idea of self-hate. Right now, she is pretending to be a circus cat, pouncing and purring, making cat faces in the window.
‘Watch me, Mummy!’ she cries, as she prowls across our coffee table, ‘I’m a star cat of this famous show! You know mum I actually might be a real cat. Look at my pointy teeth.’
I watch and I find myself glancing through the years. When will this bubble of innocence pop? How can I wrap up my strong, spirited daughter, somehow bottle that confidence she oozes and ensure she continues to dance and twirl with joy her whole life?
I want to think she will, but the stats say otherwise and it frightens the heck out of me.
My girlfriends and I saw the Embrace film last night, and let me tell you right now – we should all go and see it. Our children should see it, especially those of us involved in the raising of girls…which let’s face it, is all of us.
It was created by Taryn Brumfitt, who, in response to her own body struggles, particularly after the births of her three children, found herself at odds with her post-pregnancy, ageing body. When a torturous exercise and dieting regime left her with what society would deem ‘the perfect body’ and Taryn still felt unhappy, she decided to set out on a body image crusade.
Her first step was a picture posted on her Facebook page:
It went viral.
The Embrace film is her attempt to understand why so many of us are dissatisfied with our bodies and what we can do to change that, and in doing so, help the next generations of young women embrace the diversely beautiful bodies they have.
It’s not a new concept to any of us really. We all know that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. We see it everyday, on every street, but while humanity is painted with a beautifully diverse brush, the portrayal of beauty and the archetypes of perfection that pervade every facet of our lives are frighteningly narrow.
Having cancer taught me a great truth about beauty: the age-old adage of ‘it’s what inside that counts’. (Not that that’s anything new!) But, when it’s shoved down your throat, and you are forced to embrace a bald, boobless version of yourself as a young woman, suddenly you have to dig really, really deep.
The Embrace movie talks about the BIG 4: DEATH, DISEASE, DIVORCE and REDUNDNCY as being moments in life that bring clarity, enabling us to see life through a new lens, and gain perspective on what really matters.
It’s certainly been true for me.
These days, while I still struggle with my body, it is in a totally new way.
I no longer give a crap about the things that used to bother me before. If anything, having cancer has taught me that we are who we are regardless of the way we look on the outside. Kilos on or kilos off, hair or no hair, we do not change, and those who love us the most don’t see a speck of difference.
When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and throughout the months of gruelling treatment, my body felt like an enemy. It had betrayed me in the most insidious way, covertly growing malignant tumours while I looked and felt well.
For a while, we weren’t on speaking terms. That trusty gut instinct I had relied on my whole life felt irreparably broken, and if there had been a ‘Body Swap Meet’ within a 500km radius of my home some time in the last couple of years, I probably most likely 100%-without-a-second-thought would’ve done a trade in.
But, like many others before me, and others after, I stumbled my way through surgery, scans, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more surgery, immunotherapy, more scans, more surgery, hormone therapy, yet more scans, and yet more surgery.
My body copped a beating, yet it battled on and came out strong. It is not out of the woods completely, but when I think of all it has been through, I can’t help but feel grateful.
I can honestly say, I love my body.
I love it for the strength it has in the face of adversity. I love it for the way it laughs and snorts too loudly with good friends, bear-hugs those who need it, tickles my giggling children, snuggles with my husband and rocks my baby niece to sleep. I love the love it feels for this crazy life we are all living, and the brain that gives voice to my thoughts.
It is scarred, yes. It is damaged, HELL YES. And it is a hell of a lot weaker than I would like it to be. It no longer bears a strong semblance to the body I grew so familiar to for 37 years. These new breasts are not the soft supple breasts that nourished my three children, yet their scars are a daily reminder of a strength I never knew I had.
As the months go by, and I walk my way a little further away from cancerland, I find myself just grateful to be well. I can scooter to school with my kids. I can feel the wind through my unruly chemo-hair, raise my eyebrows sky-high in indignation, and I can trampoline without my boobs moving an inch. I can walk longer, further, faster.
I guess that sometimes – be it after watching a good film like Embrace, or travelling a tough old road through illness or grief, or some other life-changing pain, it’s important to realise that…you are enough.
We are all enough. We are actually amazing.
Our bodies run and swim and dance and glide. We are strong and supple, soft and squishy, huggable and sexy. We are fun, fabulous, fan-fucking-tastic.
Embrace it. Embrace all of it.
PS. If you’re interested in going to see the movie Embrace, I strongly recommend it. Check out the screenings in your city here.