Australian of the Year for 2023 Tanya Brumfitt could never have expected her simple ‘before and after’ photo would be seen by 100 million people and spark a global body positivity movement.
But her pictures smashed an ever-present stereotype in society of what women should look like and what constitutes health and happiness – the before; a toned and taut Brumfitt at her bodybuilding peak and the after; a bigger, imperfect but clearly happier woman.
The moment would lead the now 44-year-old – crowned as our top Aussie at a glittering ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday night – to become an activist, writer, director and public speaker on a decade-long mission to change how we perceive ourselves.
Tarryn Brumfitt (pictured), 44, has been named as the 2023 Australian of the Year
A ‘reverse’ before and after photo by Ms Brumfitt sparked a global movement towards embracing body positivity (pictured)
Aussie of the Year Ms Brumfitt has become an internationally recognised public speaker and her ‘Embrace’ series of books and films are a global phenomenon with her work even earning her praise from UN Women.
The Body Image Movement, which she founded in 2012, teaches people – young women in particular – to love and appreciate their bodies and has taken her to a global audience from her humble hometown of Adelaide.
But she says her mission over the next 12-months as Australia of the year will be dubbed Embrace Men and focus on helping young men cope with many of the same struggles.
‘Men have been left out of the discussion and, like a lot of subjects, they haven’t been asked to explore the feelings that they’re feeling,’ she told the Australian.
‘For a long time we were focused on women and how women feel about their bodies and we ignored men. But men have a lot to say … about how they feel about their bodies.
‘My biggest concern is around young boys and steroid use, which is on the rise and comes with a whole raft of issues including toxic masculinity and how they treat women.’
She was presented with the award by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday night (pictured)
In her acceptance speech on Wednesday night, Ms Brumfitt said body image shaming had become an epidemic.
‘Australia, it is not our life’s purpose to be at war with our body,’ she said.
‘Collectively we are facing some of the most challenging environmental, humanitarian and social issues of our time.
‘What if, instead of spending our days consumed by hating our bodies, we could invest our time together to solve these challenges?
‘What if instead of spending their precious time and energy at war with their bodies our young people were free to become the leaders, big thinkers and game changers the world needs more of right now?
‘It is not our bodies that need to change, it is our perspective.’
The body acceptance campaigner said in her winner’s speech Australian’s could achieve so much more if we weren’t consumed with body image
Ms Brumfitt with her partner Tim Pearson (pictured) a nurse who was by her side at the awards on Wednesday
Ms Brumfitt said we as a society have been ‘bullied and shamed into thinking our bodies are the problem’.
‘It’s working because 70 per cent of Australian school children consider body image to be their number one concern,’ she said.
‘We’re facing a paediatric health emergency with rates of suicide, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and steroid use related to body dissatisfaction soaring.’
She added that data shows young people with poor body image are 24 times more likely to be depressed and suffer from anxiety.
‘This is not about encouraging obesity, this is not what I do,’ she said.
‘This 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 is learning to move, nourish, respect and enjoy our bodies because you can’t look after something you don’t love.’
Ms Brumfitt told Daily Mail Australia fitness influencers were building a multi-billion dollar industry from exploiting women’s insecurities
The former body builder and mother-of-three (pictured) founded the Embrace Body Image Movement in 2012 which has gone global reaching more than 200million people
A 2016 documentary she directed, titled Embrace, followed Ms Brumfitt’s own path to body acceptance and was picked up by Netflix and seen by millions of people in 190 countries.
The mother-of-three followed that up with Embrace Kids in 2022 which is aimed at teaching children between nine and 14-years-old to respect, move, appreciate and nourish their bodies.
She has also written four best-selling books and created Embrace Hub, which offers parents, children, teachers and communities free research-based information about fostering body positivity.
Reaction to the Australian of the Year winners was overwhelmingly positive on Wednesday night.
‘This is a pretty bloody great list, I reckon. For all of the controversy about the date, these are people we should all be able to get behind,’ one person wrote.
‘Well done Taryn, as someone who has a history of eating disorders, this is pretty important to me!’ another said.
‘What an honor to know and work with you. A wonderful speech with a powerful message,’ former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.
Though not everyone was on board with her message of positivity.
‘Aussie of the Year all about body image? Very important issue in third world countries. Great leadership from Australia,’ one sarcastic commenter wrote.
The movement has attracted the attention of Hollywood superstars such as Drew Barrymore (pictured) and Rebel Wilson along with talk show host Ricki Lake
Ms Brumfitt previously wrote for Daily Mail Australia that every young girl should see her mother naked to learn what normal bodies look like and that perfection does not equal happiness.
‘A mother is a girl’s very first and strongest role model – if she sees her embracing her body, seeing its 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,’ she said.
‘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.
She said that after her daughter Mikaela’s birth in 2009 she became obsessed with getting back to how she had looked before she 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,’ she said.
Ms Brumfitt said being healthy was not about images of perfection fed to woman and girl’s through advertising and social media but about genuinely loving and taking care of your body
As much as Ms Brumfitt had ‘adored’ carrying children, she said she felt as though her 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,’ she said.
‘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.’
‘The idea of her having someone cut into Mikaela’s precious skin devastated me, so instead I embarked on a punishing diet and exercise regime, hoping I could regain my figure that way instead.’
For the next three months she hit the gym at five every morning with a personal trainer and painstakingly weighed every morsel that she ate.
‘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.’
She said going from a size 14 to a size 8 had stopped her playing with her children and sharing meals with her family, two ‘simple pleasures’ she would not get back.
And food had become something to scrutinise rather than look forward to.
‘I’d somehow managed to make myself even more dissatisfied than before,’ she said.
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.’
Ms Brumfitt (pictured) previously wrote for Daily Mail Australia that mums should let their daughters see them naked so they learn to accept what normal body image is
She also took aim at popular fitness influencers were she said were banking a million-dollar industry from women’s low self-esteem.
‘Transformation programs like Michelle Bridges and Kayla Itsines are preying on women’s insecurities and luring them into a false pretence that they will have a body as good as theirs in 12 weeks,’ Ms Brumfitt said.
She claimed one of the main problems with these kinds of programs is that they constantly share information about the diet, weight loss and the transformation but don’t share the reality of an individual’s situation.
‘They tell us about all the success stories, we see the before and after photos but we rarely hear about the kilos that are gained afterwards,’ she said.
‘It’s time to pull in the Weight Watchers, the Jenny Craigs and all the transformation programs out there because they’re putting people on a cycle of dieting, weight loss and weight gain.
‘If the current weight loss solutions that are widely and aggressively promoted actually worked, then why do we have this obesity epidemic?
‘It’s important that we get the message across that it isn’t about promoting mediocrity and obesity, it’s about forcing women to connect, nourish, move and enjoy their bodies,’ she said.
Another issue that Taryn has with these kinds of programs is that they tend to focus on how you look, how much you weigh, the calories you consume and your BMI.
‘When women chase a body type that’s not naturally theirs by using methods like scales and calories in, calories out, it leads to a route of failure and weight cycling,’ she said.
‘I understand weight cycling because I’ve been there, I’ve done it.’
2023 Senior Australian of the Year
Professor Tom Calma AO from the ACT, an Indigenous human rights and social justice campaigner, was named the Senior Australian of the Year.
Professor Tom Calma AO accepts the Senior Australian of the Year award from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (pictured)
His work over decades laid the foundation for the Close the Gap campaign.
He is already an Order of Australia recipient in recognition of his work as an inspirational advocate for human rights and distinguished service to the Indigenous community.
2023 Young Australian of the Year
Socceroo and Barefoot to Boots charity founder Awer Mabil was named the Young Ausrtalian of the Year.
Soccer star 27-year-old Awer Mabil (pictured) was awarded Young Australian of the Year for his work with the charity he founded Barefoot to Boots
Originally from Kenya before moving to South Australia, he founded the charity with his brother to promote health, education, and gender equality outcomes for refugees using football as a doorway to connect.
The 27-year-old also scored one of the penalties that secured Australia a place in the World Cup, saying that kicking the crucial goal was ‘the only way to say thank you to Australia on behalf of my family’.
Australia’s Local Hero 2023
Amar Singh from NSW, who through his Turbans for Australia charity has tirelessly helped thousands in the community, is Australia’s Local Hero for 2023.
Founded in 2015 his charity delivers food hampers to those in need and has helped victims of bushfires and floods which have plagued the country in recent years with food and accommodation relief.
Australian of the Year Tarryn Brumfitt (left) with Senior Australian of the Year Professor Tom Calma (centre) and Australia’s Local Hero Amar Singh (right)
2023 AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR
ACT – Olympia Yarger (Canberra), insect farming pioneer and founder of Goterra
NSW – Craig Foster AM (Sydney), human rights and anti-racism activist and former Socceroo
NT – Samuel Bush-Blanasi (Beswick Community), chair of the Northern Land Council
Queensland – William Barton, multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and producer
South Australia – Taryn Brumfitt (Cumberland Park), body image activist, director, writer and speaker WINNER
Tasmania – John Kamara (Hobart), humanitarian and co-founder Culturally Diverse Alliance of Tasmania and African Communities Council of Tasmania
Victoria – Dr Angraj Khillan (Essendon), pediatrician and co-founder Health Awareness Society of Australia
WA – Professor Samar Aoun (Bunbury), researcher and advocate for end-of-life care, bereavement and grief support
2023 SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
ACT – Professor Tom Calma AO (Chapman) WINNER
NSW – Teresa Plane (Narrabeen, Sydney)
NT – Bernard Tipiloura (Tiwi Islands)
Queensland – Claude Lyle Harvey OAM (Gold Coast)
South Australia – Sandra Miller (Glandore)
Tasmania – Dr Frances Donaldson (Hobart)
Victoria – Professor Frank Oberklaid AM (South Yarra)
WA – Theresa Kwok (Joondanna)
2023 YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
ACT – Kofi Owusu-Ansah (Canberra)
NSW – Lottie Dalziel (Bondi Beach, Sydney)
NT – Jahdai Vigona (Darwin)
Queensland – Talei Elu (Seisia)
South Australia – Awer Mabil (Walkley Heights) WINNER
Tasmania – Meriem Daoui (Kingston)
Victoria – Darcy McGauley-Bartlett (Bendigo)
WA – Nagmeldin (Peter) Bol (Thornlie)
AUSTRALIA’S LOCAL HERO
ACT – Dr Shamaruh Mirza (Waramanga)
NSW – Amar Singh (Prestons) WINNER
NT – Sacha King (Darwin)
Queensland – Melissa Redsell (Warner)
South Australia – Christine Robertson (Ridleyton)
Tasmania – Keith Parker (Sheffield)
Victoria – Belinda Young (Sassafras)
WA – James (Jimmy) Murphy (Leederville)