A few weeks ago I was invited to a screening of Embrace, a documentary created by Adelaide mum Taryn Brumfitt which explores the issue of body image in today’s society. In this ground breaking film the question ‘What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about your body?’ was put to 100 women from all across the world. Most of the women used words like imperfect, stumpy, average short, wobbly, not perfect, lose weight, I don’t like this body, not nice to look at, gross. Disgusting!
For me right now, my answer to this question would be ‘unique’ or ‘functional’. If you had asked me as a teenager, my response would’ve been ‘fat’ or ‘weirdly tall’. Heck, if you had asked me three years ago it probably would’ve been the same as when I was a teenager. Now that I think about it, I spent a solid 10 years really not liking the body that I was given. For a lot of that time I hated it. I would’ve given anything to be shorter or skinnier. Or to have a stomach that wobbled less. And what I’ve now realised is that I’m not alone.
As I have learnt from this film - 91% of women hate their bodies. So yes, it definitely appears that I’m not alone.
After having three beautiful kids Taryn hated her body too. She vividly describes how disgusted she felt with her ‘jelly belly’ while showering right after the birth of her baby (something that I have witnessed firsthand during my work helping women after birth). She decided that she was going to do something about it, and set about changing her lifestyle so that she could achieve the ‘perfect’ body and ended up entering a bodybuilding competition (read more about Taryn’s story here). She did it. She got up on the competition stage with her ‘perfect’ body, and as she says ‘nothing changed about how I felt about my body. I’m standing there in my perfect body and I’m not happy. Too much sacrifice, too much energy, too much time, too much obsession, and its just not worth it. This body of mine its not an ornament, it’s a vehicle.’
This is where the Embrace story really began. Taryn travelled around the world speaking with experts, women in the street and well-known celebrities about the body image issues that are seen in people of all shapes and types.
I knew this film was going to be good, but I didn’t quite realise the impact that it was going to have on myself and my family and friends who have seen it. I’ve had some brilliant conversations and learnt so much about how the media has negatively affected our body satisfaction. As they discuss in the movie, for years’ society has been telling women to be beautiful, like that’s the most important thing they can be. This really resonated with me. When I’m on my death bed I don’t want to be remembered for being beautiful or having a body that someone thinks is ‘perfect’. I want to be remembered for what I’ve done with my life, for how I made people feel, and for the relationships that I’ve made. Right now after seeing this film I want my body to be as healthy as it can possibly be so that it can be a vehicle for all the amazing stuff that I want to do. I have spent a good part of the last 10 years on various diets, with the focus on losing weight and exercising to alter how my body looks. Now my focus is different. I am focussing on eating foods to nourish my body and give me energy, and avoiding foods that I know make me feel unwell (while also being realistic of course and enjoying food and socialising). I am moving my body in ways that feel good and that are fun for me, like playing netball, walks on the beach and yoga. I am also really focussing on the mental wellness side of things, and making this a priority. As a Hypnobirthing Practitioner I know just how powerful our mind is, and am going to make sure that I spend time nourishing my own mind too!
You may be wondering what this has to do with pregnancy and birth? As soon as I saw Embrace I knew that I wanted to write a blog as so many parallels were popping into my head. For many women, as their pregnant belly grows and their body starts changing they becoming increasingly self conscious. Society has trained us to believe that the smaller we are the better, so when we start needing a bigger pair of jeans we often feel badly about our body. Getting bigger because you are growing a little human is beautiful, and should be celebrated! Medical terminology and a sense of unknown often means that women don’t feel like their body is theirs anymore. Society has encouraged us not to trust our bodies and instead to put all of our power into the hands of our caregivers. Not to mention the fact that many women have grown up just like me hating the body that they have been given. All of this makes for a pretty interesting time as far as body image is concerned.
From a midwife’s perspective I couldn’t care less about how big or small your belly looks to the general public. Or how much weight you have gained during your pregnancy. Or your varicose veins or puffy feet. I am purely focussed on how your body is working and how you are feeling on the inside. And guess what – your baby feels the same. They don’t care how you look or what size you are. All they want is someone to love, nurture and nourish them. And this goes for all the mums on a mission to get their ‘pre baby’ body back. Having a baby is probably the biggest change that your body is going to go through in your life, both emotionally and physically. Don’t be worried about going back in time, just focus on what your body has achieved – you grew that perfect little person! That’s pretty freaking amazing and not something that you need to be worried about erasing from your body.
Pregnancy and birth can be such amazing times for impacting body image. By focussing on what your body can do and how amazing it is, our feelings about our body can start to change. Your birth is such a powerful and transformative time. Many women who I work with speak about how they felt so strong and powerful after their birth, and that this feeling stayed with them for many years. This didn’t have anything to do with how their body looked during their birth, but was purely on what they had achieved and how they felt! Amazing. I caught up with another Hypnobirthing practitioner this week and she spoke about the fact that women really do have this inner instinct that comes out when they are pregnant, and it is really powerful. Focussing within and trusting your body is a huge part of positive birthing, hence why I believe having a healthy body image is a crucial part of women achieving a positive and empowering birth experience.
I’m not entirely sure how we can solve this issue, but I know that it definitely starts with everyone seeing this film, especially teenage girls. We need to start loving what our body can do and how amazing it is, and not just being worried abut achieving a certain body shape or a particular weight. These teenage girls will one day become mothers, and I really hope that they will embrace their body throughout their pregnancy and birth, as well as their entire lifetime that is ahead of them.
“[When a woman] has an ecstatic birth, you can’t talk her into taking drugs that aren’t good for her body. She loves this body. This body loves her…there’s nothing like the transformation available at birth…she becomes illuminated…” Dr Christiane Northrup, MD”
Click here to learn more about Embrace the Documentary and to find a screening near you. Take your sisters, friends, daughters - anyone really! I know you wont regret it!
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have you seen Embrace? How do you feel about your body image?