Blogger Brooke Birmingham lost an incredible 170 lbs. throughout the past four years — catching the attention of a Shape Magazine freelance writer, who contacted Brooke for permission to feature her in their Success Stories series.
Traditionally, Shape‘s Success Stories feature anecdotes a woman’s weight loss journey along with before and after pictures. Although it’s not required, many of the after pictures feature women in bikinis or sports bras.
Brooke, who regularly chronicles her story on Brooke Not on a Diet, was eager to share her own story of weight loss — but wasn’t going to sugarcoat the journey. Wanting to demonstrate people “shouldn’t feel ashamed of how they look,” she submitted a picture of herself in a bikini… Complete with some of the excess skin that resulted from her admirable weight loss.
“I wear a bikini because it makes me feel good. Just because you don’t have what the media portrays as the ideal body, you’re still beautiful,” she later said on her blog of why she feels empowered in a swimsuit.
Shortly after sending in the picture, Brooke was again contacted by the Shape writer. This time, the author more specifically requested a picture of Brooke with a t-shirt on. Brooke said the writer told her it is “just their editorial to be fully clothed, simple as that” … Even though a scroll through their website shows that isn’t accurate.
Speaking with Buzzfeed this week, Brooke said this felt like a passive criticism of her achievements: “I felt like my body wasn’t good enough to be featured on their website.”
After talking with the writer a bit more, Brooke decided to retract her permission for Shape to use her story.
“If I couldn’t have the picture of me in my bikini to go along with my story, then it wasn’t MY story, the story I wanted to tell and shout out to the world, not their ideal story,” she said on her blog. “So, if I couldn’t tell it my way, then they weren’t going to be able to tell it at all… I get that they’re a business. I get that America is judging on appearance, but at the same time, some of us need to see the real thing.”
Brooke’s blog post about the experience has since drawn a lot of attention and support — accomplishing exactly what she set out to do in the first place.
“The response has been ‘I needed to see a picture of this. I needed to know that my body is okay like this.’ Yes, there’s been negative people but I didn’t do this for those people,” Brooke said. “I did this for people to know that they are not alone in these issues.”
Shape has since addressed the controversy, saying the freelance writer isn’t under contract with the magazine. The spokesperson added that what the freelancer told Brooke “does not represent Shape’s editorial values and the comments made about Shape’s ‘editorial policy’ are absolutely untrue.” There’s no word on whether they will allow Brooke to share her Success Story with the bikini picture.