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''What do you think you'll be thinking about when you take your last breath?''
This is a question Taryn Brumfitt says she's asked women thousands of times over the past few years.
''I've never heard anyone say 'cellulite' or 'thigh gap'.''
Yet, the 36-year-old says that too many of us waste our time thinking about perceived imperfections such as these.
She knows because she used to do the same.
"You are so disgusting. You shouldn't go out. Your husband doesn't want to be with you. You are gross. Look at how your tummy wobbles.''
This was what the Adelaide-based mum of three used to tell herself when she looked in the mirror. So she decided to do something about it.
What followed involved a bikini contest and a blog, along with transformation photos and footage that have gone viral. So much so that Rosie O'Donnell has invested in Taryn's latest project and hers was one of the Huffington Post's most read stories last week, generating 258,000 Facebook ''likes''.
But, this is no ordinary transformation story. In fact, the narrative is decidedly backwards.
Following the birth of her third child, Mikaela in 2009, Brumfitt headed to a cosmetic surgeon. She wanted a tummy tuck and a boob job. After years of fighting ''unsuccessfully'' to get her pre-baby body back, she was delighted, she says, at the thought of getting ''it all fixed''.
A week later, while watching her daughter play, she was struck by a question. ''How am I going to teach her to love her body if her mum can't do the same?''
Plagued by the thought, she hit the ''rock-bottom'' of self-loathing.
''I felt so trapped,'' she said. ''I wanted the surgery for me, but I couldn't do it for her.''
Then another thought occurred to her: ''I wonder whether it's possible to love my body without surgery?''
The thought grew and every time she looked at herself in the mirror and started to tell herself she was disgusting or fat she stopped herself. ''I had to fake it until I made it,'' she says. ''It started really slowly and was a conversation of 'what if?'''
She began a blog called Body Image Movement about her journey towards self-acceptance. ''I know if I can change, then I other women can change too,'' she says. ''So many women feel [bad about themselves] and they don't want to feel it any more.''
It wasn't just about changing her thoughts, but her approach to exercise and eating, too; making healthier choices to ''feel better'', rather than punish herself.
In the midst of this quest remained curiosity about the typical transformation - the ''fat'' to ''thin'' fantasy where life and self-perception miraculously perfect themselves to match perfectly honed limbs. She began training two to three hours a day, ate a protein-dense diet and ''didn't have much time to be with my family''.
''I looked healthier, but I was extremely imbalanced,'' says Brumfitt, who showed off her new form in front of more than 700 people in a 2012 INBA bikini contest. ''I was really grumpy ... it's not easy to have that body.''
She concluded that the shining image doesn't always represent the reality.
''I did have the perfect body and, you know what, nothing changed about how I felt about my body.''
The result of the experiment was Brumfitt's surprising ''before'' and ''after'' shots.
Her ''before'' picture is from the bikini contest, all toned, fake-tanned limbs, drawn-in belly, glamour make-up and megawatt smile.
It contrasts with the ''after'' photo, which shows an attractive, smiling blonde with pale skin and the supple curves of a woman who is toned in some parts, soft in others.
When she posted the photos to the blog's Facebook wall last year, she received 3.6 million hits and nearly 60,000 ''likes''.
She also received her fair share of ''dislikes'' from people shocked that she could be proud of her ''after'' shot.
She was accused of promoting obesity, of using childbirth as an excuse for being ''fat'' and for putting people off their food by putting her stretch marks on show.
The criticism inspires her to keep challenging stereotypes, she says, at the same time arguing that appearances can be deceiving. Her brother, who played Sean Penn's body double in the movie Thin Red Line, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. Yet he was the most ''tall, gorgeous, strikingly healthy looking man'', she says.
Now, although strangers level criticism about her flaws, she is no longer among them. ''I love my body, I respect it and I'm grateful for it,'' she says. ''I felt so anchored for such a long time by these heavy, negative thoughts about my body ... I had to learn to grow this muscle of loving my body. There's no turning back.''
So passionate is she about the pursuit and helping others shift out of their own self-loathing, she has her sights set on making a documentary on the subject, and has turned to KickStarter to help fund its production.
— Rosie (@Rosie) May 17, 2014
The project to create EMBRACE - pegged as ''The documentary that will create global change'' - has already raised $152,000 and the trailer more than 3 million views.
''We are constantly told to be something other than what we are,'' she says. ''That we are gross or that we need to change ... We're not encouraged to love our bodies unless they conform to one idea of beauty ... but beauty is so much more. We need a different currency for beauty. We have to change the currency of health and beauty.''
And that starts with challenging our perceptions, she says. On her blog, in response to the ''trolls'', she writes: ''I'll think of you next year as I take my healthy, wobbly belly across my first triathlon finish line. I'll remember to salute you with my middle finger teamed with a positive and chirpy, ''Go f*ck yourself!''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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