Shape Magazine Throws Freelance Writer Under The Bus In Response To The Bikini Incident

brooke birmingham shape magazine bikini

When badass blogger Brooke Birmingham took to the Internet this week to complain about Shape magazine asking her to wear a shirt to cover her loose skin after a substantial weight loss, we were thrilled to see the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. The Internet can be a dark place, but almost everyone we saw was commenting in support of Brooke and condemning Shape for alleged editorial policies that celebrate health and fitness, but only if they also conform to conventional standards of physical beauty. The resulting furor was loud enough that Shape eventually decided to respond, and they’re blaming the whole thing on a freelance writer.

In a statement to Buzzfeed, a spokesperson for 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.​”

But frankly, something smells fishy about this response.

brooke birmingham not on a diet bikini

Brooke sent the photo of herself in a bikini and shorts to the writer after a quick phone interview. A few days later, the writer got back to her and said, “My editors were hoping you could send over a different after photo.” The editor had reportedly asked for a picture of Brooke wearing a shirt.

When Brooke pressed the writer for the reason why another photo was necessary when other photos in Shape’s Success Stories featured women in bikinis and sports bras, the writer just said it was what her editors were asking for.

“It’s just their editorial policy with these specific stories to be fully clothed, simple as that. … My editor simply asked for another option.”

For Shape’s statement to be accurate, the writer would have to be just flat-out lying about having talked to her editors about the photo. It’s possible, but it really seems more likely that her assigning editor did ask her to get a different photo, especially since Brooke’s version of the story ends with her declining to send a different photo and the story being canceled.

If the story doesn’t run, the freelancer probably doesn’t get her entire fee and is out a bunch of money. So if the freelancer were really just operating on her own without editorial pressure to get another photo, one would expect the writer to have suddenly written back saying, “Oh look, they decided to run it with the bikini photo after all!”

But that didn’t happen, despite the writer writing and calling to attempt to convince Brooke to send another picture. For Shape‘s response to be believable, all this cajoling and eventual killing of the story would have to have happened without the writer ever talking to her editor about the picture or asking anyone at Shape if the bikini picture would be OK. That stretches the bounds of imagination.

Buzzfeed contacted the writer in question, Jessica Girdwain, to get her side of the story, but all she would say on the matter was, “I totally support what [Shape] says.” She is reportedly not currently under contract with Shape, but she is a freelance health and fitness writer whose livelihood depends on magazines like Shape, so going against her employer on the Internet would seem like a dangerous career decision.

(Photos: Brooke Not On A Diet)


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    • DW

      Good for her for calling bull on this. They show women all the time in bikinis inside and on their covers. They just seem to have a problem with someone who lost a lot of weight and shows the real result of that — without surgery to magically smooth and tighten everything away. I’m so glad I don’t read those “fitness” magazines any more.

      • star1234

        And those surgeries leave long scars–prob also not consumer magazine fodder.

    • guest

      as we would have been proud to share her inspirational story.​”

      Wrong Shape, wrong. What you meant to say is, “We would BE proud to share her story, and would be doing so in X issue.” Girl, bye.

    • guest

      Thank you for this article! What a lot of people (foolishly) don’t realize is that the freelance writer is not in charge of which pictures are included in the feature. At that point, the writer is just a link between the editor and interviewee. Shape doesn’t want to take the responsibility, even though it was entirely their call. It’s also not fair of this woman to be capitalizing off of this so much. She will go on tv to tell her story of being a victim but will not say how nice and communicative the freelance writer was with her (as shown in the private emails she posted on her blog).

    • star1234

      As a lifelong health freelancer, I have been asked to get “a different picture” many times. It is not even the writer’s job–or didn’t used to be — to chase art. No mag or site I wrote for would have printed that picture. Sad but true.

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