Taryn Brumfitt had some words ready – all Australian of the Year finalists have to, just in case – but was still flooded with nerves as she walked to the podium to accept the award of a lifetime.
“Of course, there is this moment of shock when you’ve got to pull yourself together really quickly because you’ve got to make the most important speech you will ever deliver,” says Brumfitt. “It’s quite a moment.”
Brumfitt spoke from the heart about the scourge of body shaming with its associated problems of anxiety, depression, anorexia and suicide. For 70 per cent of Australia’s schoolchildren, how they look is all they care about.
Enzo Cornejo, an inspiration for Brumfitt.
Her Embrace Kids documentary featured a non-binary teenager, an autistic girl, and launched into prominence the amazing Enzo Cornejo, an 11-year-old Adelaide boy living with progeria, the disease of premature ageing. Loved and supported by his family, friends and school, Enzo in the documentary projects confidence and happiness and just wants to get on with life.
“It felt obvious to include the voices of everyone’s lived experience,” Brumfitt says. “I think perhaps we need to remember that body image is not just size and weight, it’s appearance; it’s about how you feel about all of you.”
It is hard after meeting Enzo not to be swept away by his rock-solid self-belief, and his positivity inspires his teachers at school, his classmates – and Brumfitt. On the top of her Australian of the Year draft speech wrote the words: What would Enzo do?
“I read that before I did the speech because Enzo just shows up in the world as he is, unapologetic, confident, with pure joy, and he’s a truth teller, he speaks the truth,” she says. “I feel very grateful for having met everyone who made that Embrace Kids film but particularly Enzo. I know you shouldn’t have favourites but I do!”
Her announcement as Australian of the Year was praised by many and criticised by a few. Among her critics was Sydney author and former broadcaster Mike Carlton AM who tweeted that he would have preferred a frontline health worker doing real, compassionate work, “NOT someone who makes a buck out of saying it’s OK to be a bit fat”.
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