What Losing 172 Pounds Really Looks Like

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photo-(1)Photo: Courtesy Of Brooke Birmingham.
From airbrushed images to plastic surgery to Spanx, society teaches us, in not-so-subtle ways, that being pretty — and an incredibly narrow definition of that word — should be everyone's ultimate goal. What's worse is we get it from every angle. Even outlets claiming to celebrate women can perpetuate these fabricated beauty ideals, touching up or entirely pushing aside honest stories and images in favor of something a little more...aesthetically pleasing.

Today, xoJane brings a perfect case in point. Fair warning, though: This story will probably make you really, really mad.

Brooke Birmingham is an Illinois-based blogger who runs a healthy living site called Brooke: Not On A Diet. Over the course of four years, she lost over 170 pounds and gained quite a following. Among those who took notice was Shape magazine, a representative of which reached out about doing a "success story" profile on Birmingham to be featured on Shape.com. Birmingham agreed, and provided the photo above to be used in the feature.

The Shape writer handling the story thanked her for the photograph, and called Birmingham for an interview; everything seemed fine.

A few days later, she received this email from the writer.
firstemail_0Photo: Courtesy Of Brooke Birmingham.


Birmingham was understandably angry, and pushed back against the request for a different photo:
myresponsePhoto: Courtesy Of Brooke Birmingham.


After a few more emails in which the writer repeatedly cited an "editorial policy" against bikini photos, Birmingham decided not to be included in the feature. She took to her blog to share her feelings on the subject, and to share the photo with her readers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting post has been lighting the Internet on fire today.

Click to the next page for the rest of the story.

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beforePhoto: Courtesy Of Brooke Birmingham.
We spoke to Birmingham, who said she's "in total amazement" at the response to her story. But, she added, "I, of course, have received negative comments and completely expected that. I know that not everyone thinks I look great in a bikini, but that's okay. I didn't post the picture for those people. I posted it for the ones that needed to see it."

When asked for the magazine's point of view, a spokesperson for Shape provided the following statement:

“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.”

Whether or not Shape did anything wrong, ultimately, is beside the point. The point, as Birmingham pointed out with incredible grace, courage, and eloquence in her post, is that our society simply doesn't accept the physical realities faced by the vast majority of women. Fitness magazines and shows like The Biggest Loser fetishize and glamorize weight loss — but, they don't embrace, or even address, what losing weight really means. This isn't just about Shape. This isn't even about Brooke Birmingham. It's about a cultural shortcoming: We want our "health" inspiration to come in an easy-to-use, shiny, pretty package. We want to believe anyone can look like a Barbie doll by following a few simple steps.

But, stories like Brooke's are shifting the conversation back to reality. She writes, "My body is real, not Photoshopped or hidden because I feel like I should be ashamed. This is a body after losing 172 pounds, a body that has done amazing things, and looks AMAZING in a freaking bikini." Talk about inspiration.