Director: Taryn Brumfitt
Runtime: 90 minutes
I was unsurprised by the entirely female audience attending my screening of Embrace, an Australian documentary about the epidemic of body image issues. I know the statistics. 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, females account for 95% of eating disorders, 99% of Australian women wouldn’t describe themselves as beautiful. The list goes on. A film that promises to get to the cause of this international concern is indeed not just desired, but inarguably necessary. This documentary (by first time filmmaker Taryn Brumfitt) however, quickly succumbs to tired cliches, presenting unfounded advice and depicting an incredibly idealistic version of reality.
The documentary begins with Taryn Brumfitt’s own story. After having three children and subsequently turning to bodybuilding to “fix” her body, Brumfitt developed a severe fixation on aesthetics. Despite being tempted to undergo cosmetic surgery, she decided it would be a better example for her daughter to “embrace” her body, and thus she did. Elated by how she managed to drastically improve her body image, Brumfitt sets out on an international expedition seeking to help curb the trend of self loathing for other women. While a nice prospect in theory, the result is somewhat disappointing.
The entire documentary is cliche. The lighting of Brumfitt’s reflections are dark and naturalistic, further accompanied by a melancholy piano score. Contrastingly, when she is detailing her current state of self love, she basks in overexposed, warm, albeit unnatural, lighting. Here lies my major issue with the film. Whilst the movie is inherently deeply concerned with a more realistic depiction of women’s bodies, the depiction of Brumfitt’s life is aspirational at best.
Her beach side home is immaculately dressed, her husband is an unwavering ally, her children are by all accounts perfect and not a single person she interviews over the course of the film disagrees with her advice. Whether it be a burn victim, a French actress, a vogue photographer or Ricki Lake, Brumfitt’s cronies are in complete concurrence. The solution to this international, intergenerational concern is that women should simply decide to love themselves. After all if this white, middle class women with a loving husband and three kids can, why can’t you?
Perhaps it is the depiction of Brumfitt’s perfect home and perpetually supportive family. Perhaps it is her assortment of token interviewees who are never, not once, lost for words. Perhaps it is the illusion she creates that one must simply decide to “embrace” their bodies and self love will undoubtedly follow. Whatever it is, something makes this documentary, and the message it perpetuates, feel deeply insincere and severely unrealistic. If you are at a loss with body issues, go see the film. However, I implore a viewer to watch it circumspectly and prepare to be faced with a crafted illusion of perfection, despite the filmmaker’s assertion that this is what she sought to absolve.