How to make your “before and after” photos so spectacular they’re seen by 100 million people and you become an international media sensation?
If you’re 39-year-old Australian mother of three Taryn Brumfitt, the answer is to blow apart the toxic stereotype of what women are “supposed” to look like by having the “after” photo be larger and heavier than the leaner “before.” But not just a bigger woman, a happier one.
It started with Brumfitt being disgusted with her body.
“After I had my children I ended up hating how my body looked,” Brumfitt said. “I was going to have a tummy tuck and breast augmentation.” But watching her daughter made Brumfitt wonder about the message cosmetic surgery would give her child. She canceled the surgery but still hated how she looked. So she trained for a bodybuilding competition.
“I trained for hours a day and restricted my food,” she said. “I lost all this weight and toned up got the ‘bikini body,’ the body so many women fight to have.” But posing on stage in front of 1,000 people, Brumfitt realized she still wasn’t happy.
“It just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t a balanced life.”
Like often happens after such competitions, weight came back on, but Brumfitt had since come to terms, realizing she could love her body for what it could do rather than merely what it looked like. After hearing her girlfriends complain about their bodies, Brumfitt was motivated to publish the nontraditional before and after photos that became the Facebook post seen around the world.
“I was so surprised,” Brumfitt said of the media attention. “I just wanted to help people.”
After several thousand emailed Brumfitt with “heartbreaking stories,” she felt a responsibility to do something, which led to writing her book “Embrace,” about learning to love one’s body. Talk show host Ricki Lake wrote the foreword. “The book did really well, but I’d discovered this insatiable desire to help people; I decided to make it into a documentary,” Brumfitt said.
The film, also called “Embrace,” available on iTunes and a variety of online, cable and satellite platforms including Brumfitt’s website, bodyimagemovement.com, isn’t just about loving your body but using positivity to improve body image. Brumfitt had been accused of promoting unhealthful behavior because of her message of self-acceptance, but she responds with, “I have never met a single human being that has made lifelong, meaningful change that came from shame or guilt.”
Conversely, she says, “I have seen so much positive change that results from self-care, self-love, self-esteem and self-respect. I’m asking people to embrace their positive qualities because when they do that, they make good choices for themselves and their bodies.”
As you might expect, Brumfitt is no fan of the weight-loss industry.
“The cosmetic diet and beauty industries have been throwing women these toxic messages about our bodies for too long,” she said. At the same time, Brumfitt agrees that people can love their bodies and desire to change them. “If there are parts of your life you want to change, I encourage it. If you want to be fitter or able to run upstairs without puffing, go for it.”
For Brumfitt, she sees weight loss as more of a byproduct of valuing yourself for things other than a number on a scale, but for what you can do. Recently Brumfitt deadlifted a whopping 240 pounds. She also enjoys yoga and loves to hike. She describes her cellulite, her stretchmarks and the size of her butt as “so irrelevant.” Rather, “I focus on what I do and how I contribute to the world.”
She advocates moving your body for pleasure rather than punishment and to seek food that nourishes rather than categorize what you eat as “good” or “bad.”
“Because then chocolate would be categorized as ‘bad,’ and I don’t want to feel bad when I eat chocolate.”
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of bodyforwife.com.