Shape magazine has come under fire for suggesting that a woman they wanted to feature on their website for her impressive weight loss keep her shirt on in her "after" photo, an incident they say was "a misunderstanding."
In a post on her site last week that has since been republished on xoJane and the Huffington Post, Brooke Birmingham wrote about a Shape magazine writer (who she did not name) who contacted her about being included in the "Success Stories" section of their website, which features stories of people who have successfully lost weight. Birmingham told the magazine she was interested, scheduled an interview and sent along photos of herself before and after her 170 pound weight loss.
— Brooke (@babnotonadiet) April 28, 2014
Apparently the photo of Birmingham in a bikini wasn't Shape-worthy. She received an email back from her contact that said the Shape editors wanted a different photo. "(You look ah-mazing, of course, but they are looking to include one with a shirt.)"
When Birmingham pressed back about why, she got this response:
It's just their editorial policy with these specific stories to be fully clothed, simple as that. Trust me, we are do excited to have you be a part of it, are inspired by your weight loss, and you look great in that bikini photo. My editor simply asked for another option.
If you feel better talking this out on the phone, let me know. I am so sorry that I offended you with that request! It wasn't meant to be insulting, just in line with the photos they are planning to run.
In a follow-up phone conversation, Birmingham says the editor told her it was Shape's policy "now to include fully clothed photos for the feature." Birmingham took issue with that, writing on her blog, "I was to be a part of their Success Stories feature on the website, where there are women in bikinis. Why all of the sudden was it 'their policy'?"
Birmingham decided not to move ahead with Shape, but her story has been picked up by sites like BuzzFeed, getting so much attention that her website is having trouble handling all the traffic. In their write-up, Buzzfeed included screenshots of bikini photos of readers featured in the "Success Stories" section Birmingham would have been in. It looks as though the "Success Stories" section is rarely updated, however. An article of reader-submitted weight loss photos from the end of April includes pictures of readers with their shirts on, though another prominently featured (but from 2012) has bikini shots. The 2012 article also looks a lot like a sponsored post for a weight loss supplement masquerading as an article.
That being said, the rest of Shape's website does feature a fair number of women in body-revealing clothing – like Holly Madison, featured in a "Success Stories" piece from 2011 – or on their homepage just this afternoon. And it's also true that bodies post-weight loss don't often look the way magazine's like Shape make money telling their readers they will. (Never mind that many bodies pre-weight loss don't look that way either.) Whether this is an issue with Birmingham's body or not, if Shape's policy is to only show readers who have lost weight with their clothes on, that's an interesting tactic in itself, given that their magazine routinely features celebrities and other fitness gurus wearing whatever shows them at their toned best.
In a statement sent to Jezebel, Shape said:
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.
BuzzFeed also contacted the formerly unnamed Shape writer who got in touch with Birmingham, a freelancer named Jessica Girdwain. She told them, "I totally support what [Shape] says."
The magazine says their mission is "To be the leading authority on the active lifestyle and the go-to resource to empower women to live life to its fullest," and they consider their voice "Credible, inspirational and compelling." It touts its position as the 4th largest young women's magazine, resting behind Cosmopolitan, Glamour and InStyle with a circulation of 1.6 million and web traffic at 36.5 million monthly page views, but right above Women's Health and then Self.
Editor-in-Chief Tara Kraft took over the publication in 2010, after working as the Beauty and Fashion Director of the tabloid Star. According to Shape's parent company American Media Inc., "During her years at the celebrity weekly, Kraft played a particularly significant role in developing the lifestyle pages of the magazine, a significant component of the successful 2004 re-launch of Star as a glossy." Star and Shape are both owned by American Media Inc. (as is Ok! and the National Enquirer) and a year ago, Kraft was promoted to Vice President and Group Editorial Director for AMI's Womens' Active Lifestyle Group, staying in command of Shape but also overseeing publications like Fit Pregnancy. 2013 was a good year for Kraft: that's when she published The Bikini Body Diet, a book that teaches "mortals" how to get their own bikini body.