EMBRACE,  Australia, 2016. Directed by Taryn Brumfitt. 90 minutes. Rated MA (Strong Nudity)

Embrace is a documentary film as well as something of a portrait of the filmmaker, Taryn Brumfitt, from Adelaide.

It is also a film designed for a female audience – although men would have quite a deal to learn from watching the film, checking their basic attitudes towards women and accepting a challenge to their inherent chauvinism.

Taryn Brumfitt posted photos of herself, Before and After, having given birth to 3 children, enrolled in a gym and gone in for pumping iron competitions and then realising that she was acceding to presuppositions about body form, returning to living a “normal” life, sharing it with her three children and a devoted husband.

In posting the photos on social media, she was overwhelmed by the response. Basically, women communicated with her about issues of the body, acceptance and non-acceptance, feelings of inadequacy as well as living up to expectations, especially from ideal (and often photo-shopped) images of women in the media. But she also received quite a number of hostile responses, especially from men, taunting her as fat and ugly and criticising her body shape, urging her to go to the gym, diets… It is surprising how openly vicious many of these comments were.

There is a reference to the “noxious ideals” about the human body, especially the ‘perfect’ female body, in the media. There are also some alarming moments and photos of the blatant sexualisation of little girls.

Taryn then decides to go on a world tour to interview women about the body, their own experiences, pressures put on them, their ways of coping.

Starting in the United States, Karen interviews people like television host Ricky Lake who, over some decades, had to deal with criticisms about her size. Taryn then moves to Canada and then to Europe.

While the interviews are somewhat repetitive, this has the value of reinforcing how dominating glamorous stereotyped bodies are – especially with the comment from the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch about advertising for good-looking people only to wear their good-looking clothes!. What is particularly interesting is the range of women that Taryn meets who have some kind of “defect”.

There is the woman, fine appearance, who tells her story of having a brain tumour which paralysed half her face, distorting her expressions, undergoing a deal of physiotherapy but also learning to accept the limitations of her condition. Perhaps surprisingly there is the woman in London who experienced an extraordinary growth of facial hair and, despite her attempts to remove it, it increased with her decision then to accept that this was her reality, lives as a woman with a beard, and has some satisfaction with who she was.

By way of contrast is the German actress, Nora Tschirner, who has a lively conversation with Taryn, talking about her film career and expectations, seeing her on red carpets and at socials, but expressing a great deal of common sense on self-acceptance.

Before returning home, Taryn goes to a photo shoot with a celebrated photographer, this time with a group of women of all shapes and sizes, large and small, one with a leg disability, a black woman who is proud of her large-size as well as a transgender woman. This is an exhilarating sequence as the women are able to accept themselves and rejoice in this.

As we watch Embrace – with the exhortation from Taryn Brumfitt’s organisation and other groups that we all accept the reality of who we are – we realise that the “perfect” body is rare and discover that glamorous models also have their doubts about themselves.

The message of the film is very sensible. some commentators have recommended that this film should be shown to adolescent girls at school to focus their attention on reality rather than image.

Transmission       Released  August 11th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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