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Struggle for all ages: Documentary addresses female body image issues

Taryn Brumfitt (director), Benjamin Dowie (DOP), Anna Vincent (producer), Josh Williams (sound recordist) and Caroline Man (production manager) pictured behind the scenes under Brighton Jetty, South Australia. Photo courtesy of Body Image Movement / Special to The Forum1 / 2
After writing her book “Embrace” in February 2015, Taryn Brumfitt sought Kickstarter funding to produce a related documentary, which released in September 2016. Photo courtesy of Body Image Movement / Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO — In 2013, Australian body image activist Taryn Brumfitt posted a before-and-after image of herself appearing in a figure competition and then having gained weight back.

The image embracing body diversity went viral.

The recognition inspired her to promote her message on a larger scale. After publishing her book "Embrace" in February 2015, Brumfitt launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary of the same name that would aim to change the way women feel and think about their bodies.

Nearly 9,000 pledgers committed to the idea and — after 24 months of traveling and interviewing women around the globe — the documentary was released in the U.S. on Sept. 19, 2016.

Upon watching the trailer for the first time in December, Yvonne Denault, 43, was captivated by the message depicted in the documentary.

What was driving the inner desire in women to have the perfect body?

"I connected with it right away. We do, as women, value our looks. We think that defines who we are. It's just how we're wired," says the owner of Yvonne Denault Photography and Vivie's Boutique in Fargo. "Basically this woman was speaking the way I speak to women when they come into my studio for shoots."

The inspiring message in the documentary motivated Denault to bring the film to Fargo.

By researching, she found the film would be available via "theatrical on demand" release through Gathr Films. Requesting a screening gave locals the opportunity to show interest by registering to attend.

On Jan. 3, the film hit the minimum reserve of 58 people and officially received the green light. "Embrace" will hit the big screen at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 at West Acres Cinema in Fargo.

Taryn Brumfitt in the before-and-after image that sparked a global body image movement. Photo courtesy of Body Image Movement

The image struggle

Diane Hochhalter, 42, of Valley City, N.D., feels emotionally tied to Brumfitt's message.

"The reality is, I think I've struggled with my body since having kids — from 30 to 40 — than in any other part in my life," says the mother and photographer.

Like many women in America, Hochhalter was inundated by social media messages celebrating perfect post-baby bodies. She felt pressured to keep up.

"At 40, I took up ballet. It's the hardest thing I've done in my entire life," she says. "By last June, I was probably the fittest, thinnest I've ever been after babies."

But, like Brumfitt, she found the time commitment required wasn't realistic with a family.

"Since then, about 10 pounds has crept back on for a variety of reasons," Hochhalter says.

"Why am I filled with guilt now because I couldn't maintain that?"

Though Denault says her goal is to be an advocate for positive body image in both of her businesses, the mindset is hard to achieve in today's society. She has found women of all ages struggle with body image.

In the trailer, Brumfitt touches on the impact mothers may have on daughters who witness negative self-talk. Those mindsets can rub off when daughters watch their mothers pick on their own bodies. Denault can relate.

"I watched my mom for years do that," she says. "It does affect you in some ways. You start to build this image in your mind and there's problems associated with that."

Changing the conversation

It's hard to stem the tide from years of negative self-talk and the millions of media images burned into the brains of the nearly unattainable perfect female body. But education can help change the conversation.

On Jan. 30, Hochhalter plans to bring her husband to the screening and she hopes other women will bring males as well.

"I think there's a misunderstanding," she says. "(Men) can't know what they don't know, and I don't think a lot of men understand how up inside our heads we are all the time. They love us in any shape that we are — they truly do — but we don't believe it."

It's those perceived flaws that make each person who they are.

"All the things that make us unique — that we think are our faults and our flaws — are actually the things that make us more attractive," Denault says. "If you were to take away those things you think are so unattractive about yourself, you wouldn't look like you. And you would no longer be the beauty that you are."

As the old saying goes, beauty is only skin deep.

"It has to do with our kindness and our smarts, not our pant-size or what we look like in a bikini," Hochhalter says. "It's not about the scale; it's about your health. Be the healthiest that you can given the circumstances you have."

For some that might mean hitting the gym or creating a healthier diet. For others it's the goal to drink more water, spend time with people that energize them or simply get more rest.

"In the end, the scale doesn't matter," Hochhalter says. "It's the life that we lived and the love that we shared that matters."

Mathew Brumfitt (executive producer), Taryn Brumfitt (director) and Anna Vincent (producer) Photo courtesy Body Image Movement

If You Go

What: "Embrace" documentary screening

When: 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 30

Where: West Acres Cinema, 4101 17th St. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets are $11, plus fees. Must be purchased in advance at: gathr.us/screening/18845

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