Ten years ago Taryn Brumfit became Australia’s unassuming poster woman for positive body image when a reverse progress pic started doing the rounds online.
Now, the bestselling author, director, body image campaigner and newly crowned 2023 Australian of the year has become an unlikely controversial figure, at least for some.
Former journalist Mike Carlton was slammed for his ‘ignorance’ after tweeting his low opinion of Brumfitt being made Australian of the year to his almost 200k followers following the announcement.
‘My Australian of the Year would be a doctor or nurse working nights in intensive care or the ED, dealing with COVID and daily death. Real, compassionate work. For very little money,” he wrote in the tweet.
“NOT someone who makes a buck out of saying it’s ok to be a bit fat. Good night.’
The tweet sparked outrage online, with journalist Kate Emery responding in a fiery tweet:
“Give me a f*cking break. Eating disorders kill people, whether this grumbling dude knows it or not.”
Carlton responded with, “Meanwhile in Ukraine”.
Let’s chat stats for a hot second.
Because according to our latest research in our Big Youth survey, 51% of young Australians say they don’t have a positive body image.
To be a little more specific, we’re talking 58% of females and 43% of males.
So perhaps a woman who’s spent the past decade dedicated to promoting “self-compassion and self-acceptance” might be a pretty decent fit for Australian of the year?
If that doesn’t convince you, take one of Brumfield’s latest posts to her 141,000 followers from her @bodyimagemovement Instagram account, which recognised her work to date but points out how much more needs to be done.
“Much of the last ten years of my work has been about the personal journey to self-compassion and self-acceptance (you might notice I’m not focused on ‘body positivity’, and for good reason. But the fact is that we have to address the way the environments around us feed into poor body image as well.”
Unhealthy environments feeding into poor body image popped up in many of the responses we received during our Big Youth survey.
One 16-year-old female from Victoria, for example, told us how the biggest challenge to her body image is due to comments she receives at school.
“I struggle with negative thoughts towards my body and constantly comparing myself to other people I know or who I see on social media,” she said.
“I sometimes worry that the reason my friends are excluding me is that I’m not as pretty as all of them.”
And a 17-year-old female from rural NSW told us that while they haven’t experienced bullying or harassment, they’ve experienced “demoralising comments” in the media and in person about their body that, over time, have been a challenge in maintaining a positive body image.
“Grow your hair out. Try some chin creams. You look anaemic. Don’t touch your eyebrows. Go look in the mirror. Try the pill it will help. Are you pregnant?” she said.
As Brumfield points out, “there’s no sense telling kids to embrace their bodies if they get conflicting messages at home from family, or experience retail environments that don’t reflect them in all of their incredible diverseness, or don’t have body-image safe environments in which they can learn and play at school.”
If addressing those environments is Brumfield’s priority, well that sounds like a mission worthy of an Australian of the Year to us.