Embrace every body

How Dr Zali Yager is breaking global barriers in body image research

With a sense her research was not reaching the real world, UOW graduate and body image expert Dr Zali Yager founded health promotion charity The Embrace Collective, now making a world of difference in how we think about our bodies

Zali’s journey is linked closely with body image advocate and 2023 Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt. The pair began working with together in 2016, following the release of Taryn's first film Embrace (available on Stan and Beamafilm). “I went and saw that film, and thought – well, that's just [achieved] more than our evidence-based interventions!” Zali says.
“I reached out to Taryn to see if we could conduct an evaluation of the film (see Yager et al., 2020, BMC Women's Health), and we soon realised the power of bringing science and creativity together”. 
Zali and Taryn focused their dynamic energy into Taryn's second film Embrace Kids (available on Binge), with Zali coming onboard as an advisor. The duo also wrote an accompanying book for parents (also titled Embrace Kids), created body image resource, The Embrace Hub, and are serving in co-Executive Director roles at The Embrace Collective.

Dr. Zali Yager and Taryn Brumfitt Co-Executive Directors of The Embrace Collective, Dr Zali Yager (left) and Taryn Brumfitt (right).

Winner at the White House

The journey towards a world free of judgement and shame about our bodies has taken Zali from Parliament House in Canberra to the US White House. “It was an incredible event," Zali explains, referring to a White House State Dinner honouring Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in October 2023. “Think ballgowns, string quartets at every turn, amazing food and incredible people."

As for the US President Joe Biden? “He was really lovely, and so interested in our work. At one point, our Prime Minister was raving about all the great work Taryn was doing as Australian of the Year, and it was such a pinch-me moment!”

An empowering body of work

As a body image expert, Zali has applied her UOW Bachelor of Education (PDHPE) to develop initiatives such as the ‘Bye Bye BMI’ campaign in 2023. The campaign involved a year of collaborative advocacy between The Embrace Collective and Eating Disorder Families Australia to update the Australian school curriculum. The goal was to advise against activities like recording food diaries, calculating calories, and teaching about BMI in food and nutrition education.
“We have mounting evidence our mainstream approaches to teaching about food and nutrition can actually quite harmful. Making people feel bad about their weight, or what they are eating is not an effective way to motivate people to engage in healthy behaviour and can trigger eating disorders in vulnerable young people,” Zali explains. 
“We need to move away from some of these approaches and put the focus back on health instead of weight" she says.  
For this UOW graduate, the journey isn’t slowing down. Later this year, Zali plans to deliver on the Embrace Kids grant, which was established for the Federal Government to distribute evidence-based resources. These resources aim to support the adults who work with kids in the places where they live, learn, and play. Find out more about Embrace Kids programs.
“Our vision is for a world where young people don't feel shame about their appearance,” Zali says. “We’re working towards achieving this by empowering the parents, educators, and sporting coaches around our young people to change the body image environment to enhance the physical and mental health, and wellbeing in younger people”.