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Meet the Woman Who Wants You to Love Your Body

“Disgusting” is a strong word typically reserved for things that are, as Merriam-Webster points out, “so unpleasant to see, smell, taste, consider, etc., that you feel slightly sick.” It turns out, however, that many women are all too quick to apply the adjective to their own bodies. Taryn Brumfitt, founder of Body Image Movement and author of the new book, Embrace: My Story from Body Loather to Body Lover, wants that to change.

Brumfitt became an Internet sensation—and unintentional spokesperson for body image awareness—when she posted a before-and-after photo on Facebook back in 2013. The post, which garnered more than 3.6 million hits overnight, showed her clad in a bikini on stage at a body building competition (before) and naked and noticeably heavier, smiling demurely for the camera (after).

So what started it all? Routinely unhappy with her body, Brumfitt, an Australia native and mother of three children (ages 8, 6 and 5), got fit—extremely fit—but realized quickly that the unkind and often brutal commentary she reserved for her body didn’t change one bit. She has been on a crusade to change women’s thinking ever since. A documentary is in the works; her book recently became available in the United States.

“Creating a global movement is not something to be taken lightly,” she says. “It takes a lot of dedication and energy, but I couldn’t think of anything better to do. It’s amazing helping people to learn to love their body. Knowing the value and power of loving your body, you can do anything.”

Brumfitt distilled her philosophy down to one mantra—“My body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to my dreams”—and is determined to get women (new moms included) to take the affirmation to heart. Read on for more of her empowering perspective and how it relates to motherhood.

Q: How did you like being pregnant?

A: I loved my body when I was pregnant. There was nothing more glorious than growing a human being. I loved being in the shower and rubbing soap all over my belly. When [my oldest], Oliver, was born, I had a shower shortly afterwards and I had my first oh-my-god moment when I looked down at my belly and it resembled something from the movie The Blob. I thought, that’s disgusting! But, OK, it’ll go away. Of course, our bodies change and things don’t go away. After each pregnancy I went from this high of pregnancy, loving my body, to hating my body, loving my body, hating my body.

Q: How did you handle that back and forth?

A: I decided that, after my third child, I would get cosmetic surgery. I went to the surgeon’s office and he picked up my boobs like they were dirty tissues—because I’d fed 4,000 milliliters to my children, they didn’t look like they used to. It was about a week after that appointment. I’d booked it in and I was going to do it and I was excited that I was going to be a yummy mummy. I was watching [my youngest], Mikaela, play and that’s when I had the epiphany: How am I going to teach her to love her body if I can’t love my body? I decided I couldn’t do it.

Q: And then you started training.

A: At the point I thought, OK, what am I going to do? I’ve tried to love my body and I’ve implemented some things and tried to be positive, but I was still plagued with the thought of what would it be like to have the bikini body. So that’s why I did the competition. I mean, it’s absurd, right? I’m quite a feminist. I’m a strong female, woman, leader, person. And I’m on stage in porno shoes and a bikini. I guess it was my own personal social experiment.

Q: What was your takeaway?

A: A few months after the competition I put some weight back on and I thought, I’ve chased the bikini body, I got it and it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It was endless hours at the gym. It was complete food obsession and it wasn’t much fun. Everyone went, wow, you’re so inspiring. And all I could think was, yeah, physically I might look healthy, but emotionally and spiritually there isn’t much going on here. I was completely imbalanced. We’d go to the beach as a family to eat fish and chips and I’d pull out my container of boiled chicken and salad. It was like I was never present at any given moment.

Q: What message do you think society is sending to women in general right now?

A: The message is you need to change who you are. The person that you are is not OK. You need to fight those lines on your face or you need to lose those last five kilos, your cellulite is disgusting and here’s a cream for your stretch marks. It’s this constant barrage. The currency of how we value someone else has become so image focused and it’s a really big problem. We can’t value another human being on their aesthetics.

Q: New moms are often encouraged to get their "bodies back." Thoughts on that?

A: This conversation of getting your body back—I really don’t like it. Why would we go backwards? We can’t. It’s the story of our bodies that they change. We must look forward. So the messages that tell us that we should bounce back, get back…it doesn’t make sense to me. Why would we want to be at war with our body? I want women to think about these things less so they can think about the more important things like defying human trafficking or fighting against world hunger. Women have so many more abilities and talents than just how they look.

Q: How can new moms deal with the scrutiny?

A: For new moms there’s enough pressure to learn to be. You’re looking after a new human being. Take that pressure off women and new moms in particular [and allow them] to embrace what they have and what they’ve gone through and the changes. That doesn’t mean I’m promoting people sit around and eat doughnuts all day long. But what it means is that you be the best that you can be. You move your body, but don’t be obsessed with calories in, calories out. Move your body because it feels wonderful to move your body.

Q: How can these prevailing attitudes be changed?

A: I’ve asked this question of tens of thousands of women right around the world: What will you be thinking about when you take your final breath on this earth? And I have never, ever heard anyone say, oh, my cellulite, my stretch marks, my big bottom, my jiggly thighs. Whilst we are here—and we’re living and we’re capable and we’re able—we need to tap into that perspective and have gratitude for the things that we have. We don’t want to wait till the end of our life to understand and respect what we should value and what is important. I think accessing that now is very, very powerful. My thighs jiggle and I have stretch marks and I have cellulite, but my body ran ten kilometers this morning and I’m filled with energy and I feel amazing and that’s what it’s about for me. It’s moving my body to feel fabulous.

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