$6.2 million to combat young people’s body issues

With the announcement of Federal Government funding to support The Embrace Collective’s work, Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt says having their message reach everywhere that kids live, learn or play is critical.

The Embrace Collective, a health promotion charity led by Taryn Brumfitt and body image expert Dr Zali Yager, is on a mission to reach more than one million Australian children with their message to ‘embrace every body’.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler announced a $6.2 million funding package to support nine key initiatives of The Embrace Collective.

The initiatives aim to reach Australian children, aged 0 to 18 years, across all settings where they live, learn and play – in school, home, sport and community group settings.

Brumfitt said consistency of messaging, starting from early childhood and through to adulthood, and having empowering “real role models” who create meaningful change in the world, would help young people “build a foundation of who they are” and give them an “armour” of positive body image messages to take into adulthood.

“We really want our kids to understand that what they look like is the least interesting thing about them,” Brumfitt said.

“By the time they reach adulthood, they’ll have had a lifetime of thinking about messages that put the focus on who they are, what they do, how they contribute, as opposed to what they look like.

“We’ll have our resources in every environment, and the professionals and people around the kids will know what to say and do to help them foster positive body image.”

The statistics around body image and young people are alarming: 77 per cent of young Australian adults report body image distress, a 33 per cent increase from 2009 figures; while 22 per cent of adolescents are affected by eating disorders.

Brumfitt and Yager recently returned from Canberra where The Embrace Collective’s mission had received bipartisan support.

“There wasn’t one person that Zali and I met that didn’t understand, appreciate or support our plans,” Brumfitt said.

Dr Yager is an internationally-recognised body image expert who has worked in research and academia for nearly 20 years.

“In terms of Zali and I coming together – it’s academia and research meets creativity impact – and it’s very powerful,” Brumfitt said.

“There’s been decades of research that’s just sat in universities and has been under-utilised or unused.”

The Embrace Collective’s initiatives are building on this research to reduce weight stigma and minimise risk factors for developing eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

The organisation brings together a global network of experts, advocates, leaders, young people, creatives and communities to guide the evolution of the body image movement into the next decade.

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“We’re about bringing that out and getting it into real life in practical ways that everyone can work with,” Brumfitt said.

These include tools for teachers in the classroom that she said are easy-to-adopt – “we’re saying, here’s a vignette from the film, press play in your classroom and have a discussion”.

Research shows there is a misconception that people need to feel bad about their bodies in order to be motivated enough to look after them.

“The science is showing that this is just not the case. The more shame people feel, the more they avoid physical activity and healthcare,” she said.

“Another really interesting thing about the research is that those people with a higher appreciation of their body image are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables, move their body and wear sunscreen – they’re more likely to look after it.

“Stigmatising weight and making people feel bad about their bodies doesn’t lead them to better physical health and mental wellbeing.”

The issues around body image are not restricted to western society and have been shown to arise in places where there has been an infiltration of western media.

This was highlighted in a study conducted in Fiji by Professor Ann Becker, before and after the introduction of television. It found adolescent girls were using disordered eating behaviours in order to change their appearance and look more like what they saw on the screen.

Brumfitt said while there has been some change in Australia around body image over the last decade, including more diversity of body types in the media, reaching all young people, as earlier as possible, is the key to building healthier self-image and reducing eating disorders.

“The concept of positive body image has moved beyond #LoveYourBody focus and it’s not just about women and weight,” she said.

“People are understanding that it’s about how we all feel about our bodies, whether we identify as women, men or non-binary.

“This has become an issue for everybody, starting in childhood. But the good news is that we know what to do about it, and we’re going to do it – starting with one million kids around Australia.”

Corporate and individual donations to support the work of The Embrace Collective are tax deductible.

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