Over the weekend, a review of Embrace was posted on the world’s number one parenting website based in New York City – Scary Mommy. With over 4 million followers on social media alone and the potential to share the message of the film with so many people, I was naturally interested to learn what they thought.
Embrace received a less than favourable review which wasn’t ideal on such a big platform. Despite being a first time filmmaker, I fully appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and actually have no issue with the documentary being liked or criticized. What I do have an issue with however, zero tolerance in fact, are incorrect assumptions, incorrect facts and critiquing of Embrace by those who haven’t seen the film – all of which ensued as a result of Scary Mommy’s review.
I’ve been called many things in my journey to body loving, and inspiring others to do the same.
I’ve been told I promote obesity, that I’m lazy and that I am a bad role model for my children. And despite being an ordinary mum of three from the burbs – much like the regular readers of the Scary Mommy – I’ve developed a thick enough skin to not let the comments of others, particularly those I’ve never met, dampen my desire to help others with my message. Woe is me? There simply isn’t time for that when you have the weight of the body positive world on your shoulders! World being the operative word here.
This latest aggressive attack on my character falls into the great race debate, with the review concluding that despite Embrace (and the Body Image Movement) claiming to be a global social change project, that there wasn’t enough diversity in the film.
Before I share why this is so personally upsetting to read, let me begin by addressing some of the incorrect statements made in the review.
The review claimed that the only significant interview with a black person in the entire film was with a black woman in the film’s ending photo shoot, and that her interview was reduced to one line. Please see the transcript from Tenisha’s interview featured in Embrace below.
I’m hoping that there’s a woman out there that’s plus-sized that really doesn’t like her body too much and sees me in my bra and underwear and is like, “hey, it’s not that bad, you know?” Especially for moms, you know weight comes with having children, some stretch marks, a little cellulite. At the end of the day, no one looks at you like, “ew!” It’s you that tears yourself apart and sets the stage for people to frown at you. But the more that you love it, everybody else will love it too. I don’t have a problem at all. It’s okay to love yourself exactly where you are. I have a rule of thumb – if you are in my presence, you’re not allowed to talk bad about yourself at all. It’s contagious. We can either make the negative contagious or we can make the positive contagious, so we’ll just go make the positive contagious. No choice.”
A little longer than just “one line long”.
As for the “only black person in the film”, please do not devalue the important roles Khristina and Lea, both women of colour, played in Embrace.
Another incorrect statement referred to the ethnicities of some of the film’s stars.
The review states, “To be fair, Taryn does talk to an Arabic woman who proudly wears facial hair (Harnaam Kaur), a Jewish actress (Nora Tschirner), and a Dominican model (Renee Airya).”
Firstly, Nora is a German actress and not “a jew”. Harnaam is not Arabic. And Renee is not from the Dominican Republic (this is just where we filmed her interview).
Similarly poorly written and with little integrity were some of the words left in the comments section.
One woman wrote, “In 90 minutes, you couldn’t have found room for one woman of color?” I asked her if she’d seen the film … she hadn’t.
Another woman wrote, “As a white woman, I can’t imagine how hurtful it would be to turn on a documentary like this and basically see no representation of myself.” I asked this woman again, if she’d seen the film … she hadn’t.
And this. “This documentary is a problem because the message is to embrace yourself, but it excludes people of colour that just reinforces that message they’re not the ones who should embrace themselves. Representation matters.” A comment from yet another woman who, you guessed it, hadn’t seen the film.
It was important for me that Embrace was inclusive and as a first time filmmaker, I sought as much representation as I could with the limitations that I had.
Some of those limitations were personal, for example I really wanted to travel to South Africa and parts of Asia, but with no resources or contacts on the ground in those places (and with a film crew of just myself and another person), I didn’t feel amply prepared. Would I have loved to have gone to South Korea to discover why 1 in 5 women have cosmetic surgery – yes. Would I have loved to have gone to Iran to find answers to why their country is the nose job capital of the world – yes.
So here is why this review has hit such a personal note for me.
While the author of this review may believe they’re advancing matters of social justice, I see this as having backfired. Who, in their right mind, would want to stand up for anything they believe in these days if they’re honourable intentions could be shot down so publicly?
I greatly fear the impact these toxic conversations will have on younger audiences. I feel really disillusioned by the anger and vitriol in some people’s comments and think 20 year old me would be running in the opposite direction of taking action or using her voice to advocate for anything in fear of getting It ‘wrong’.
Rather than encourage people to further explore global issues like body dissatisfaction, explore every nuance and facet of the epidemic, I fear that conversations like this will discourage others from wanting to take any action whatsoever to help make a difference because of the potential retribution that can ensue for not ‘doing it right’ or in a way that doesn’t please everybody. I’ve seen so many fabulous women I know do an outstanding job of leading businesses, creating record profits and kicking tremendous goals, only to be judged for not doing it ‘well enough’.
A single documentary, book or person is not going to be the silver bullet for what is a very big global issue.
I encourage everyone that is so deeply passionate about wanting to see greater representation in the body positive movement to go ahead and make that happen. I am not the sole solution to this problem, but then again, I never claimed that I was.
I am beyond proud of Embrace and the amount of information I was able to include in a very short 90 minutes. It was impossible to include everything, for everyone, but when I remember that this film is about my body image journey and my experiences, I feel I more than accomplished what I set out to achieve.
Embrace began as a tiny idea born in my hometown of Adelaide, Australia, that to my surprise grew rapidly into a worldwide movement. Will I apologise for where Embrace was born, in a Western country? No. Will I apologise for the resources I had to make this film? No. Will I apologise for being a white, able-bodied woman? No. To do so would dishonour the very message of this film.
We simply can’t be all things to all people. We can, however, be more forgiving of people attempting to ‘be’ that someone for the people, someone who is attempting to make an impact and create global social change. After all, it takes more courage to take action than it does to sling judgment from the sidelines.
You can start taking action right now. JOIN THE MOVEMENT