Brooke Birmingham is a 28-year-old blogger who, through hard work and diet, shed 170 pounds in a little under five years.
It’s the kind of story that you’d think any fitness magazine would dream about showcasing. It’s about persistence, health, and body positivity, all chronicled on Birmingham’s blog “Brooke: Not On a Diet.”
Shape magazine reached out to Birmingham about featuring her in their “Success Stories” section, asking Birmingham for a photo of herself in a bikini to show a “before” and “after” comparison of all her hard work.
But when Shape saw the photo of Birmingham in a bikini top, they e-mailed her to say that they wouldn’t be running it and told her to instead send a photo of herself in a t-shirt. (The magazine has since blamed the situation on a freelancer and stated: “This does not represent Shape’s editorial values.”)
Why did this happen? Because Birmingham’s shot was an honest one. She showed herself in a cute blue bikini top, toned arms and legs on full display. She also showed the common result of weight loss: a gathering of loose skin around her waist.
Birmingham is a gorgeous woman. Her story is a triumph, and her dedication to her health is something that should be applauded. But what’s really extraordinary about Birmingham is that she refuses the shame that is the fuel of the fitness-beauty industrial complex. She told Buzzfeed that at first, “I felt like my body wasn’t good enough to be featured on their website. When you log onto their website the first thing that pops up is a woman in a sports bra. There have been other success stories with women in bikinis.”
But then she decided to tell Shape “no, thanks,” to pull the story from their magazine and write about the experience instead: “If I couldn’t have a picture of me in a bikini to go with the story, then it wasn’t MY story,” she explained on her blog.
What Birmingham’s conversation with Shape gets at is a truth that Alexandria Symonds wrote about in New York Magazine last year: “The experience of significant weight loss is much more psychologically complex than the multi-billion-dollar diet industry.”