Shape Controversy & Losing Weight

As the weeks go by and the end of the semester seems as close as ever, I am finding it hard to think of topics that involve an intersection of fitness or health with social media. But because it’s difficult for me to find a topic, it only means that I am learning more than I previously knew. Looking back, I am very glad that I chose fitness as my topic; not only is it something I’m passionate about, but doing so has forced me to delve deeper into it’s world – and particularly it’s presence on social media. I’ve had to reflect and really think about the social media aspects of fitness that I had previously just accepted.

Thanks to Professor Mason, I was reminded of a controversy that happened about two years ago where a woman, Brooke, who lost over 150 pounds was asked to be featured in Shape magazine in order to show her “success story.” However, while most women on the page are clothed in bikinis and the like, Shape refused to have Brooke featured on their site without her wearing a shirt. The reason for this was because she had a noticeable amount of lose skin hanging from her stomach. They required her to wear a shirt and cover her excess skin even though the other woman are able to show their stomach.


You can find the original article, where Brooke tells her experience here.

The controversy with Brooke and her experience with Shape magazine is a reflection of a larger issue in the fitness world. Shape refused to allow Brooke to be presented with the extra skin on her stomach because that would then present an image of fitness that doesn’t meet society’s “beauty standards”. These standards are very predominant, and are very easily seen in social media.

When browsing on Pinterest or Instagram, there are numerous before and after pictures of women (and sometimes men). The before picture would represent how they looked pre-fitness (working out and dieting, typically) while the after picture is meant to be a contrast to how they used to look. It represents their progress and success. However, there seems to be a trend and criteria for an “after picture” on these social media platforms – such as a flat, toned stomach.

Take a look for yourself – A quick search of ‘before and after’ weight loss photos on google images produces a prototypical image.

The difference in Brooke’s situation is that her “after” picture wasn’t “typical” in that she didn’t have a flat stomach. What Shape didn’t realize (or maybe they do, and they are just jerks?) is that Brooke’s body is very typical and natural of a person who loses a large amount of weight (I believe she lost 172 pounds) – especially in a short period of time. By refusing to show her picture, they are refusing to acknowledge her body as being typical, as well as refusing to acknowledge her struggles and the struggle of others who undergo similar situations.

“This is the type of body they should have featured because it can give people hope. Hope that they can lose weight healthfully and even if they don’t end up with airbrushed abs of steel, they’re gorgeous and shouldn’t be ashamed of whatever imperfection they believe they have.” -Brooke

I’m glad that Brooke fought against Shape’s refusal to allow her to show her stomach in their magazine. She was fighting against a norm and fighting against their refusal to acknowledge her body as a real example of weight loss. She shouldn’t be made ashamed for accomplishing something that required extreme endurance and perseverance. I’m also glad that this became a controversy because it was thus widely read and people (hopefully) were able to become more educated on weight loss and fitness.

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