A health and weight-loss blogger was offered an opportunity to be featured in an online profile for Shape magazine, but she turned it down after she was asked to cover up.
Now, she says she wants to share the beautiful, unexpected reality behind extreme weight loss.
Brooke Birmingham has been blogging about her health journey for the last five years. She's lost an incredible 170 pounds, and in the process, she says, she's discovered new levels of happiness and fulfillment.
So when Shape magazine contacted her to be featured in an online profile, she was excited to share her story. She sent them an "after" picture of her smiling, posing in a cute blue and black bikini. Loose skin around her stomach and arms was fully exposed, the evidence of years of hard work and pounds lost.
That's when, Birmingham says, things turned sour. The reporter she was in contact with asked her if she could submit a picture with a shirt on. Birmingham was skeptical. After all, this was for a magazine that regularly published pictures of half-clothed women. Could it have been because her "after" body didn't match the tight, super-toned images between their pages?
'They wanted to show the 'pretty' version of me'
"I was offended. More than a little offended," Birmingham told HLN. "When you log into [Shape's] website, the first thing that pops up are women in workout pants and sports bras." She said the Shape reporter insisted that her request was not meant to offend, and that the magazine's editors simply wanted to feature more fully clothed pictures.
Birmingham says that though the reporter was respectful and understanding, she didn't believe the editors' reasoning. After all, the site features other real-woman profiles that show a little skin. "I did a little research, and there has been women in bikinis," she said.
The circumstances led Birmingham to believe that they simply didn't want to feature her personal weight loss reality.
"I felt like, since my body isn't society's 'ideal' body, and since my body doesn't appeal to their mass audience," she said, "that my body wasn't good enough, that they wanted to show the 'pretty' version of me."
"At least, their idea of pretty," she corrected.
Birmingham made it clear she wasn't interested in being featured if it meant she had to hide parts of her body. HLN has repeatedly tried to contact Shape, but has yet to receive a comment. However, a Shape representative told Buzzfeed Tuesday that the whole thing was a "misunderstanding" between the freelance reporter, the editorial team, and Birmingham, and that "any indication" they would not run the piece was "wrong."
'I tell them the truth'
Her results may not exactly reflect what you would see in a fitness magazine, but Birmingham says it doesn't make the process -- or the achievement -- any less rewarding.
"I love my body and I feel like people need to see what massive weight loss does look like," she said. "When I first started losing weight, I had no idea what my body would look like when I got done."
She says she gets questions all the time on her blog from people who don't know what to expect from their body transformations.
"I tell them the truth," she says. "I tell them I don't have a flat stomach. I deal with loose skin on my stomach and arms. It's part of what I have to deal with after years of abuse to my body."
Birmingham posted about her experience on her blog, including screenshots of the email conversations she had with the Shape reporter. She says the response has been "amazing."
"I never in a million years intended [this post] to do what it has done." She had told her readers about the Shape profile, and even posted the picture she was was going submit. "I felt like I owed it to my readers to let them know what happened," she said.
Despite the experience with Shape -- and some inevitable criticism ("I don't expect everyone to like what I have to say," she says) -- Birmingham proudly displays her bikini pic and says she won't back down from her message.
"I wanted to show those people who needed to see my picture. Who needed to feel that, the way they look, they are not alone. That they can say, 'This is awesome, this is something I needed to see.'"
After all, it isn't just about weight loss. Birmingham says her years-long journey from overweight and emotionally unhappy, to fit, healthy, and fulfilled, is more than worth a little extra skin.
"I would not have changed my journey or any of my life at all," she says. "Doing this, I learned a lot about myself. I am living the life that I had always meant to live."