This Woman Lost 172 Pounds, So Why Won’t a Fitness Magazine Show Her Body?

‘Shape’ magazine rejected lifestyle blogger Brooke Birmingham’s photos because her stomach looks normal.
May 7, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Thumb through most health and fitness magazines and you’ll be looking at a Photoshopped-to-hell-and-back fantasy: If you follow all the monthly eating tips and workout tricks, the mags claim, you’ll drop pounds and end up looking like the model on page 47 sporting six-pack abs while she does bicep curls. If lifestyle blogger Brooke Birmingham’s experience is any indication, those mags aren’t too interested in reality.

Birmingham ate right, worked out, lost an incredible 172 pounds, and still had loose skin on her belly. Apparently, showing that real stomach terrified the editorial team over at Shape magazine.

Shape was totally down to tell 28-year-old Birmingham’s story as part of its monthly Success Stories feature. A reporter contacted her via email, and they had a perfectly normal interview. Everything was rosy until Birmingham sent over an image of herself rocking a bikini to accompany the story.

“My editors were hoping you could send over a different after photo. (You look ah-mazing, of course, but they are looking to include one with a shirt),” Birmingham’s contact wrote.

Birmingham, who blogged about the experience on her website, wasn’t buying it. “Really? Have you logged on to Shape’s website lately?” she wrote. “You can find MANY women in bikinis on the site.”

Just none without perfectly toned, flat tummies.

A back-and-forth ensued, with Birmingham’s contact saying that showing fully clothed women was a new policy and Birmingham challenging the veracity of that claim. When Shape wouldn’t let her show her real body, Birmingham backed out of the feature and went to town writing about her experience.

“This is the type of body they should have featured, because it can give people hope,” she wrote. “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.”

Exactly.

Of course, Shape is doing what too many other media outlets do: perpetuating the idea that women need to look like models to be seen. Or promoted. It’s well known that in corporate America, thinner people are more likely to move up the ladder. We fat-shame in college admissions too. A study last year found that applicants who were heavier were more likely to be rejected from grad school if they went for an in-person interview. And we body-shame larger women, such as actor Gabourey Sidibe, by questioning their confidence.

Health and beauty magazines such as Shape, and the advertisers that hawk their wares in them, want us to believe the fantasy. But at a time when women are positively clamoring to see themselves as they really are, maybe publications will finally figure out that a magazine that celebrates women instead of trying to constantly make us feel less than might go gangbusters at the newsstand.