When Taryn Brumfitt was named Australian of the Year in January, she was prepared for the debate that would follow.
Having already worked towards improving Australia's body image for 11 years, she was well aware that there was still an education process needed around the topic.
But she was ready to get to work. Or rather, continue the work she was already doing. Because, as Ms Brumfitt said, the work she does, and the work the Embrace Collective does, is about undoing decades worth of damage on society's idea of healthy, and body image.
"I don't think it helped that we have spent a lot of time in this country with campaigns like the 'Life. Be In It' Norm campaign, which was shaming someone's body. It was also stigmatising someone in a larger body, sitting on the couch. They were pretty damaging ads," she said.
"What we're enthusiastic about is being able to focus on the self-compassion side of things and how we feel about our bodies and ensure that everybody knows that shame and stigma do not motivate positive health behaviours."
'Life. Be In It' was an ad campaign from the Victorian State Government that ran from 1975 before being rolled out across the country a few years later. The main character, Norm, was a middle-aged man with a prominent belly and was depicted as lazy because of it. It was such a prominent advertisement that it was named in the National Museum of Australia's Defining Moments in Australia History project.
As noted in Ms Burmfitt's 2022 documentary Embrace Kids, the 2011 Marvel film Captain America depicts the main character as weak and useless before he undergoes a life-threatening procedure to give him a superhero "worthy" buff physique.
It's messages such as this that this year's Australian of the Year wants to take head on, believing that everyone will be better for it.
"I've never met anyone who's learned to embrace their body and regretted the decision to do so," Ms Brumfitt said.
"It should come with a 100 per cent money-back guarantee. Embracing your body feels good, and it's good for your health. And I think it's just now a case of people catching on, understanding what we're here to talk about, what we're saying. They're not feelings, this is science, as well as common sense.
"And it's an opportunity to turn around those heartbreaking statistics - 77 per cent of adolescents are in body image distress. We know that adolescents with a lower appreciation of their body image are 24 times more likely to have and develop depression. So it just makes sense to get this one right. This is too important. The stakes are high on this."
It was announced last month that the Embrace Collective, the health promotion charity led by Ms Brumfitt and body image expert Zali Yager, would receive $6.2 million for their Embrace Kids program.
The package will be used to support nine key initiatives, to reach more than 1 million Australian children. These initiatives will be embedded across all the settings where children live, learn and play - school, home, sport and community groups.
The resources for these initiatives have been in development over several years and are based on research into what works and what doesn't.
"Australian of the Year has certainly opened up a lot of doors," Ms Brumfitt said.
"We went to Canberra, went to Parliament, shortly after I'd won to have the conversation with all of the politicians, and we got bipartisan support. There was nobody there that denied the issue and didn't want to get behind it.
"It does open up doors, people are listening. People are respecting this issue now, that it's important for people's physical health and mental well-being that we focus on body image being an important issue."
For 63 years the Australian of the Year has celebrated exceptional Australians.
The nominations for the 2024 Australian of the Year awards - which include the Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero - are now open.
But the only way someone can be considered for the award is if a member of the public submits a nomination.
"The awards are not a popularity contest, they are judged solely on merit, so one nomination is all that's needed for someone to be a candidate," Foreman said.
"From nominations received, the awards program recognises 128 people around the country before announcing recipients for each category in all states and territories. The four national recipients are then decided, so your nomination could have a big impact on someone whose story should be shared."
Nominations can be made at australianoftheyear.org.au before midnight July 31.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.