TARYN BRUMFITT: Poor self-image a ‘scourge’ on daughters’ lives, says new Australian of the Year

I booked myself in for surgery, convinced it would fix my self-loathing, and embarked on a punishing weight-loss regime. But then I realised the example I was setting for my daughter, writes new Australian of the Year TARYN BRUMFITT

  • Taryn Brumfitt, 44, wrote 2018 article for Daily Mail Australia
  • In it she said all her children were used to seeing her naked
  • She said it was mainly for her daughter Mikaela’s benefit 
  • ‘Poor self-image is a scourge on our daughters’ lives,’ Ms Brumfitt wrote 

In this story written for Daily Mail Australia, the 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt explains how she lives her body positive message – and it begins at home.

As she said in the speech marking her award on Wednesday night, negativity about our bodies begins in childhood, particularly for girls. 

In the March 2018 article, Ms Brumfitt explains the early onset of body image problems is the reason she is happy for her children to see her naked at home:

‘Just this morning my eight-year-old daughter watched me walk naked from the bathroom to my bedroom. Pointing at my tummy she asked: ‘Mummy, why does that wobble so much?’

Taking my little girl’s hand I rested it on my stomach and told her: ‘That’s where I grew you and your brothers.’

I explained that my stomach had to stretch to make room for each baby before shrinking back again after I gave birth. ‘Going in and out like that makes your tummy wobble,’ I added.

All my children — my husband Mathew and I have two sons, Oliver, 11, and Cruz, nine, as well as Mikaela — are used to seeing me walking around happy and comfortable in my own bare skin. But it’s something I do mainly for my daughter’s benefit. I know that, as a girl, it’s especially important she sees me unclothed — it facilitates an ongoing dialogue between us about the female body, and the way it changes throughout the course of a woman’s life.

In fact, I believe that every little girl should grow up seeing her mother naked on a regular basis.

Taryn Brumfitt accepts the 2023 Australian of the Year award at a ceremony at the National Arboretum in Canberra

Taryn Brumfitt accepts the 2023 Australian of the Year award at a ceremony at the National Arboretum in Canberra

Body image campaigner Taryn Brumfitt, 44, says all her children are used to seeing her naked

Body image campaigner Taryn Brumfitt, 44, says all her children are used to seeing her naked 

After all, what better starting point can there be for the kind of conversations that challenge the toxic stereotype of what a woman’s supposed to look like?

Life can take its toll on our bodies — which is why I applaud BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire for revealing that nudity in her home is ‘no big deal’ even after her mastectomy. She says her two sons ‘don’t bat an eyelid’ and that’s as it should be.

It’s not healthy for our children to grow up believing what they see on social media and in glossy magazines. In real life, women don’t all have tiny waists and gravity-defying breasts.

A survey by childcare professionals found that girls experience body dissatisfaction from the age of eight and less than half of girls aged between ten and 17 like the way they look.

Poor self-image is a scourge on our daughters’ lives. So as mothers we need to show them irrefutable evidence of body positivity from a very early age. The best way to do that is by letting them see our own bodies in their varied and naturally beautiful forms.

That’s not to say we should turn every shower into a contrived life lesson by calling kids into the bathroom to have a good look.

2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt with her then nine-year-old daughter Mikaela (pictured together)

2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt with her then nine-year-old daughter Mikaela (pictured together) 

Rather, that we shouldn’t hide our bodies when we’re wandering around the bedroom or stepping out of the bath. Nor should we be hyper-critical of our flaws in their company.

After all, children are like sponges — if a little girl grows up seeing her mum nonchalant about being seen nude in the home, it imprints upon her the important message that her mother is comfortable in her body, whatever its shape and size. So she can be, too.

‘A mother represents a little girl’s version of normal,’ explains child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer. ‘She learns more from observing and modelling her behaviour, and is more likely to copy that, than anything else.

‘The very best thing a mother can do to promote good self-image in her daughter is to provide a happy, healthy and confident role model she can mimic. If she sees you confident in your skin, she’ll naturally expect to grow up feeling the same way, too.’

Highlights from Taryn Brumfitt’s Australia Day acceptance speech 

‘We weren’t born into the world hating our bodies.

 ‘This is something the world has taught us.

‘Body shaming is a universal problem and we have been bullied and shamed into thinking our bodies are the problem.

‘And it’s working, because 70 per cent of Australian school children consider body image to be their number one concern.

‘We’re facing a paediatric health emergency with rates of suicide, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and steroid use related to body dissatisfaction soaring.

‘We now know that young people with poor body image are 24 times more likely to be depressed and suffer from anxiety.

‘There is so much despair in this nation for children and adults when it comes to what we think and how we feel about our bodies.

‘Australia, it is not our life’s purpose to be at war with our body.

Taryn Brumfitt is presented with the Australian of the Year award by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Wednesday

Taryn Brumfitt is presented with the Australian of the Year award by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Wednesday

‘It’s not our bodies that need to change; it’s our perspective.

‘Every adult is a role model to a child and I’m not here to shame you or make you feel bad. I’m here to ask you to shift the way you think.

‘This is not about encouraging obesity; this is not what I do. And this issue is not simply about weight or size, it’s about the way that we feel about all of ourselves — our skin colour, our height, our age, our gender, our unique selves — and it’s learning to move, nourish, respect and enjoy our bodies because you can’t look after something you don’t love. 

‘Australia, we have 28,000 days on the planet if we’re really lucky and we’re not meant to spend them at war with our bodies.

‘When you take your final breath on this earth, what thoughts will be going through your mind? What will you be thinking about?

‘And no-one has ever said to me ‘the size of their bum’.

‘If we can embrace that perspective now while we are capable, breathing and able, and have the gratitude for our bodies we can all access a more joyous, rich and abundant life.

‘There is a lot of work to do and it starts early and it starts with us being role models for our kids by creating empowering environments where they can thrive.

‘We’re tired of just talking about it, we are tired of the misery and pain of hating our bodies.

‘My goodness Australia, we are ready for change, for ourselves and the generations to come.

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Letting your daughter see you naked, says Dr Gummer, delivers a strong message. ‘It makes the sight of an undistorted version of the female form a completely matter-of-fact part of her life and shows her that there’s no such thing as the ideal body — we simply have the body we have.

‘A mother is a girl’s very first and strongest role model — if she sees her embracing her body, seeing it’s imperfections as the marks left by life’s experiences rather than things to despair about, then she’ll stand a much better chance of having a positive relationship with her own.’

This is a message I feel deeply about, not least because I used to loathe my body — so much so that at my lowest ebb, I considered surgery, in the desperate hope it would make me happy.

After Mikaela’s birth in 2009, I became obsessed with getting back to how I’d looked before I became a mum.

I was struggling psychologically to live comfortably with my saggy tummy and droopy boobs. My husband kept telling me that he loved me for who I was rather than the body I was in, but I couldn’t feel that way about myself. He found me beautiful, but I didn’t.

And as much as I had adored carrying our children, I felt as though my body was somehow broken as a result.

So in 2012 I booked myself in for surgery, convinced that it would fix my self-loathing, too. But one afternoon in the run-up to my operation, I watched Mikaela playing. She was running around in a swimsuit and as I looked at her I realised that despite the changes her body would experience over time, to me it would always be perfect. 

Taryn says that she believes every little girl should grow up seeing her mother naked on a regular basis 

Taryn says that she believes every little girl should grow up seeing her mother naked on a regular basis 

The idea of her having someone cut into her precious skin devastated me — so I embarked on a punishing diet and exercise regime, hoping I could regain my figure that way instead.

For the next three months I was in the gym at five every morning with a personal trainer; I weighed every morsel that passed my lips.

It worked. Twelve weeks later I had lost 33lb and boasted the kind of bikini body so many women aspire to. And yet as I stood there with my taut belly and toned thighs, one thought ran on a loop inside my head: it wasn’t worth it.

Getting from a size 14 to a size 8 had stopped me playing with my children and sharing meals with my family — two of life’s simple pleasures. Food had become something to agonise over rather than relish. Instead of now being ecstatic, I’d somehow managed to make myself even more dissatisfied than before.

I’d sacrificed too much, while sending out a message to Mikaela that my body wasn’t good enough the way it was. It was a defining moment — and from then on, I was clear in my mind that I was going to live a life where I embraced my body, whatever its shape or size.

A switch had been flicked inside my brain. My body wasn’t an ornament to be admired — it was a vehicle to carry me through a rich and fulfilling life.

The cover of Ms Brumfitt's influential book, Embrace, which was accompanied by a documentary uncovering why poor body image has become a global epidemic

The cover of Ms Brumfitt’s influential book, Embrace, which was accompanied by a documentary uncovering why poor body image has become a global epidemic 

I stopped weighing myself and started looking at my naked form in the mirror, appreciating the way it serves me, the joy it brings me. I began to see that the lumps and bumps, the wrinkles and saggy bits tell the story of a woman growing and changing.

Instead of feeling I had to cover this body up as soon as I stepped out of the shower, or as I dressed, I started letting Mikaela see me bare and confident. As she started asking questions, I realised that my honest answers could help her grow up accepting her body, too.

This was an epiphany that, a few months later, I went on to share with millions more women when I posted before and after images of myself on my Facebook page.

Only the before picture in this case was of the thinner me — and the after, the me I’m meant to be — several sizes bigger, no longer toned and taut, but looking happy, healthy and content.

This struck more of a chord than I could ever have imagined.

Women contacted me in their thousands to share their feelings of disgust at how they saw themselves and thank me for showing them that self-esteem is about more than your size.

Taryn says that women have told her they feel judged by society for their weight, and revolted by what they see in the mirror

Taryn says that women have told her they feel judged by society for their weight, and revolted by what they see in the mirror

Many messages were heartbreaking. ‘I have a four-year-old daughter but have never swum with her because I don’t want to wear a bathing suit,’ one mum confided.

‘I’ve not been intimate with my husband for three years, because I think I look disgusting.

‘He tells me he loves me but I just can’t bring myself to be naked in front of him,’ confessed another.

Women told me they feel judged by society for their weight, and revolted by what they see in the mirror. They praised me for doing something to build up self-esteem rather than tear it down.

A mother is a girl’s very first and strongest role model — if she sees her embracing her body, then she’ll stand a much better chance of having a positive relationship with her own

It set me on a mission to help women shake off the shackles of body dissatisfaction. A mission that needs to start in the home.

‘Being naked around your daughter, and responding to any of her questions about your body in a similarly non-critical way, will encourage positive body image in both of you,’ says Dr Lauren Callaghan, a clinical psychologist specialising in body image issues.

‘It needs to be natural and unscripted — perhaps wandering around in your undies when you’re looking for clothes to wear, rather than being fully naked if that doesn’t feel right to you. But what doing that can achieve for you both can be extremely powerful.’

There are other ways, too, that we can help our daughters: by banning talk of diets in the home; being mindful of conversations we have with other women, particularly where we praise weight loss; getting girls media literate from the age of ten, so that they understand just how much editing of images they’re exposed to on a daily basis; and encouraging them to exercise for enjoyment rather than to punish their bodies.

And, of course, by letting your little girl see you as you are.

Your body might well be the thing that helps her embrace her own for the rest of her life.’

Embrace, directed by Taryn Brumfitt, is on iTunes and Amazon. Discover more about Taryn’s The Body Image Movement at bodyimagemovement.com  

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