Marilyn McKenna of Seattle, Washington, has an active following online. In the past six years, she says she has lost nearly 120 pounds, and is a big advocate for healthy family living. Her husband, Robert McKenna, is also a former Washington state attorney general.
So when McKenna decided to promote a weight loss photo on her Facebook page last week, she says she had no idea Facebook would treat it like an ad -- and ask her to take it down.
McKenna talked to HLN about the incident, and said she didn't mean to cause any harm.
"I decided to change my profile picture on my 'fan' page on Facebook last Wednesday when a friend suggested that my current one wasn't reflective of how much I have accomplished," McKenna told HLN. "I didn't have a 'before & after' picture, but I remembered that I had a picture of me in my old fat pants that I'd taken when my husband and I were cleaning out our closet."
The picture is as striking as any before/after photo. It shows McKenna, slim and smiling, fitting her entire body into one leg of her old pants. However, the pants seemed to be the biggest problem.
"To reach all of your followers, Facebook requires that a fan page 'boost' (or pay for) a post, otherwise the post reaches only about 15% of your followers," said McKenna. "When I posted that picture I had no idea that a photo of me standing in my 'fat pants' was a violation of their policy which states that specifically a photo of someone holding up pants like that 'promotes an idealized physical appearance' and is therefore not allowed in a boosted post."
Facebook, however, had a slightly different story to tell. A representative from the company told HLN that Facebook did not ask her to remove the photo, nor did the company remove it for her.
"Ms. McKenna elected to promote the photo in question -- which, again, was never removed by Facebook -- essentially making it a paid advertisement... When one advertises weight loss products, services, or messages, we ask the advertiser to limit the audience of that content to people over the age of 18. Ms. McKenna, either by intention or by accident, did not restrict the audience appropriately."
McKenna contends that her "ad" was not in fact, trying to sell anything.
"It seems that Facebook has decided to lump me in with all of those websites and companies that sell gimmicky weight loss products, sketchy dietary supplements and other 'sexual health' products," she said. "It seems overreaching and arbitrary to me that someone advocating a healthy lifestyle through information and education would fall under the same category as these snake oil peddlers. I sell nothing on Facebook or on my website. All the information I present is entirely free of charge."
McKenna's weight loss journey began when she found herself "stressed out" at age 44. With four kids and a working spouse, she was overweight by more than 100 pounds.
"My weight seemed to be the one thing I could change," she said.
Over a few years, she lost the weight and brought her whole family along for the ride. Together, they exercise and make sure to bring healthy meal choices into the home. "It works best when everyone is supportive and on the same path."
McKenna says she didn't intend to break Facebook's rules, and she was trying to show what could be done, not promote an "idealized physical appearance."
"I have no intention of shaming anyone. I lived with shame for decades and know how damaging it can be. Instead I want to offer hope to those who are suffering and want to change the trajectory of their lives and their health," she said. "For me, those pants represent how far I have come. And much in the same way I am proud of the picture of me crossing the finish line of my first marathon, I am proud of the accomplishment that that picture represents."