After losing 172 pounds, lifestyle blogger Brooke Birmingham was contacted by Shape magazine to be featured as one of their “Success Stories,” and the editors there requested that she send a photo of herself to show the transformation.
In keeping with the other images of fit women in sports bras and bikinis in Shape, Birmingham sent a photo of her post-weight-loss body in a two-piece bathing suit. The photo of Birmingham showed her midsection, showcasing the loose skin that is characteristic of significant weight loss. Birmingham says that Shape asked her to submit a different photo, this time with a shirt on (citing "editorial policy"), and she refused.
“This is a body that has done amazing things, and looks AMAZING in a freaking bikini,” Birmingham wrote on her blog, Brooke: Not On a Diet. "This is the type of body they should have featured because it can give people hope. Hope that they can lose weight healthfully and even if they don't end up with airbrushed abs of steel, they're gorgeous and shouldn't be ashamed of whatever imperfection they believe they have.”
The way women are presented in the media does not allow for an errant eyebrow hair, much less loose skin set alongside images of women with rippling abs and tight stomachs. In refusing to publish Birmingham’s photo of her body post weight loss, Shape is just perpetuating and upholding an impossible-to-attain standard of female beauty.
A spokesperson from Shape responded to the controversy, saying “This is a result of a misunderstanding with a freelance writer. This does not represent Shape’s editorial values and the comments made about Shape’s ‘editorial policy’ are absolutely untrue. Shape prides itself on empowering and celebrating women like Brooke, and any indication that we would not run the piece with the photo provided was wrong, as we would have been proud to share her inspirational story.”
Regardless of what this statement says, I can clearly see from the Shape website that bodies like mine or Brooke Birmingham’s are not what they want to present as the “ideal.” Even though Birmingham lost a significant amount of weight, which is something that society pressures all fat people to do, she still couldn’t meet the standard of what it means to be “thin” or “fit.”
Frankly, Shape would likely never have published a photo of my body even if I did have a shirt on. The lack of body diversity in magazines is not limited to people who fall just outside of conventional beauty norms, like Brooke Birmingham. Magazines for women should feature photos of all women, including women of color, fat women, disabled women, and yes, thin women. Women shouldn't have to significantly alter their bodies to find representations for their bodies in media, but they do. The weight loss of celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Simpson, and Oprah makes this fact very clear.
None of this is to suggest that Birmingham isn’t incredibly brave for sharing her photo with the world, because she is. Unabashedly loving a body that isn’t accepted by society is difficult, but it seems that she is happy with the results of her transformation. I do wish, though, that she would have felt empowered to share that photo of herself in a bikini before she lost all the weight.