Taryn Brumfitt: body image activist named 2023 Australian of the Year

<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Taryn Brumfitt, a body image activist who directed a documentary about women’s body loathing and her path to accepting her own skin, has been named the 2023 Australian of the Year.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, made the announcement at a ceremony at the National Arboretum Canberra on Wednesday night.

Brumfitt, 45, heads the Body Image Movement in Adelaide, an organisation focused on body positivity and acceptance, and directed the 2016 documentary Embrace, which has been seen by millions on Netflix.

Brumfitt has also written four best-selling books, and her most recent documentary, Embrace Kids, was released in September and aims to teach children to nourish and appreciate what their bodies can do.

Amar Singh, local hero of 2023, Anthony Albanese, Taryn Brumfitt and Professor Tom Calma at the 2023 Australian of the Year awards.
Amar Singh, local hero of 2023, Anthony Albanese, Taryn Brumfitt and Professor Tom Calma, senior Australian of the Year, at the awards in Canberra. Photograph: Martin Ollman/Getty Images

“Taryn has inspired millions of women around the world to be more comfortable in their own skin,” the chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche, said.

In her speech, Brumfitt said Australians had been bullied and shamed into thinking our bodies are the problem, and the nation is facing a paediatric health emergency as a result.

“There is so much despair in this nation for children and adults when it comes to what we think and how we feel about our bodies. Australia, it is not our life’s purpose to be at war with our body,” she said.

“This is not about encouraging obesity… this issue is not simply about weight or size, it’s about the way that we feel about all of ourselves… it is learning to move, nourish, respect and enjoy our bodies because you can’t look after something you don’t love.”

The 2023 Senior Australian of the Year is the Kungarakan elder and human rights campaigner Prof Tom Calma. Calma, 69, is currently the co-chair of Reconciliation Australia and chancellor of the University of Canberra.

Calma was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission between 2004 and 2010. His 2005 report calling for governments to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health and life expectancy formed the foundation of the Close the Gap campaign.

Calma also co-led the co-design of the voice to parliament initiative, and in his speech, Calma said he wanted to address senior Australians as “the demographic being targeted with myths and misinformation” about the voice to parliament.

Anthony Albanese with 2023 local hero, Amar Singh.
Anthony Albanese with 2023 local hero, Amar Singh. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

“[The voice] addresses the injustice of [First Nations’ peoples’] past exclusion and provides healing for the future,” he said.

“The voice is not about special rights for first peoples. All Australians will remain equal in the eyes of the law.”

The Australian Socceroo, Awer Mabil, was named the 2023 Young Australian of the Year.

The Adelaide-based 27-year-old grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp after his family fled civil war in Sudan and came to Australia when he was 10.

A year after Mabil first played for the Socceroos, his sister died in a car accident in 2019.

Mabil co-founded the Barefoot to Boots not-for-profit organisation aiming to improve health, education and gender equality for refugees.

The sports star was unable to attend the awards due to football commitments in Europe. His mother and uncle accepted his award on his behalf.

The 2023 Australia’s local hero was named as Amar Singh, the founder of Turbans 4 Australia, a group that every week packages and distributes up to 450 food and grocery packages to people experiencing food insecurity in western Sydney.

The group also provided hay to farmers during drought, as well as supplies to Lismore flood victims and bushfire victims on the south coast of New South Wales.

In his speech before the ceremony, Albanese said those recognised represent the very best of Australia’s national character.

“A diverse group, united by a common quality: they inspire us,” he said.

“They inspire us by living and serving and upholding our nation’s values: our compassion and generosity, our courage and initiative, our ingrained sense of fairness and our deep belief in service to community.”

Brumfitt takes over as Australian of the Year from the tennis champion, Paralympian and disability advocate Dylan Alcott. Alcott was named Australian of the Year just before the Australian Open final where he retired from his sporting career.

Alcott joked he was a washed up tennis player and about to become “washed up Australian of the Year” on the night. He said getting to speak to the lived experience of people living with disabilities to all who would listen in the past year had been the biggest honour in his lift.

“Wimbledon was cool but this is pretty special,” he said.

Albanese said each of the outgoing recipients had “brought tremendous passion, great decency and endless good humour to your roles”.

In his speech, the prime minister pointed to the upcoming referendum on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution and a voice to parliament as a chance for Australia to unite.

“I believe – just like tonight – it will be an uplifting moment of national unity,” he said.

“Every Australian can be proud that the society we have built together, down the generations, includes the world’s oldest continuous culture.”