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 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)