By: Dr. John Souza, Jr
At 7:30 pm on a Monday evening, the movie theater in Hilo, Hawai’i was nearly filled to capacity as over 100 souls gathered to screen the documentary film Embrace: One Women’s Journey to Inspire EveryBODY. Of those souls, nearly 40 were from Pacific Quest and included young adult students, staff, and therapists.
Three months prior my wife (Deepa Ram-Souza, MA) had asked if I would be willing to help her bring a screening of the movie to our local theater. She believed the documentary focusing on what film director Taryn Brumfitt calls the “global epidemic” of poor body image would be well-received on our little Big Island.
At first we struggled to garner interest, selling only a few tickets. Then Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Ph.D., caught wind of the effort, kicking it up to Co-Executive Director Mark Agosto, MBA. Next thing I knew PQ had purchased 40 tickets! This shouldn’t have surprised me, given that the year prior PQ’s leadership had helped champion an effort to take several young adult female students to a showing of The Vagina Monologues at the University of Hilo’s Performing Arts Center.
Indeed, the documentary itself was truly eye opening and inspiring. In lucid and compassionate filmmaking, Brumfitt tastefully shared what were sometimes very ugly realities about how women have been influenced to be hyper-focused on “youthfulness” and an “ideal” image of physical appearance. Through compelling interviews with courageous (and beautiful) women (and men), the film offered an assessment of the origins of poor body image and examples of how people have worked through their own personal struggles with body image; taking the viewer to the edge of some uncomfortable (and often extreme) examples of body image issues, but without exploiting the storytellers or losing focus of the larger issue of women’s body image.
After speaking with my wife, our 12-year old daughter (who with her friends, was also in attendance), and several PQ employees who attended the screening, the take away seemed to be that there are no “flawed” bodies because there is no ideal toward which to aspire. That is to say, the “idealized” images we may have about a woman’s (or a man’s) body are simply not real. And even for those idealized images that might actually exist (i.e., are not altered using Photoshop), the hyper-focus on “youthfulness” privileges only a small part of the larger human experience, obscuring the joy and beauty of the diversity of life, including aging and death. This Body Image Movement invites everyone to “redefine and rewrite the ideals of beauty.”
The message many seemed to take from the film is that in life the “beauty” of the body resides in its manifest diversity. This made me think of the garden, made of many plants which themselves are comprised of non-plant elements (e.g., water, soil, sunlight, etc.). When considered this way, no plant is “more” or “less” beautiful anymore than sunlight is more or less beautiful than water or air. All things are interrelated and therefore all things are uniquely beautiful. And this, I believe, is what I am taking from the film: The real beauty in life is not the thing (e.g., the body, the plant, the element, etc.) but the relationship between things. On a personal level, for me the real beauty of life is knowing that I am married to a woman that would care enough to take on such a project; that together we are raising a daughter who has the kind of friends, and who live in a community that cares enough to show up for such events. On a professional level the real beauty is knowing I work for a company that has the kind of leadership that in the spirit of better serving our students and our employees, is open to seizing such an opportunity and has resources to actualize it.
The next day, while visiting students at Reed’s Bay (PQ’s young adult program), one male student asked, “Hey Dr. John, I loved that movie, but what about one for men?!” I passed the message along to my wife, who said she would look into it. Beautiful.