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By Jane Weaver

Bikini-phobia paralyzes many women, even actresses and models with seemingly perfect bodies. Not Brooke Birmingham. The Illinois blogger who lost 170 pounds has turned a rejected bikini photo of her post-weight loss body into a viral campaign for “real” bodies.

After years of following the Weight Watchers diet plan, Birmingham, 28, says she was to be featured on a before-and-after weight-loss spread for the website for Shape magazine. Birmingham submitted a photo of her in a two-piece swimsuit, proudly show the folds of her belly. When the magazine’s writer asked her to submit a different “after” picture, one with her wearing a T-shirt, Birmingham became frustrated, especially after seeing other photos of women in bikinis on the site. “I don’t feel like my body was given the same respect as others on their site,” she wrote in a blog post on May 2, saying the magazine rejected her "real" body.

The magazine, in a statement featured on TODAY, denies her claim of rejection.

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“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.”

Despite Shape’s denial, the picture has gone viral. Birmingham’s story has been picked up by numerous websites as the latest example of the fashion and beauty industry’s pursuit of unrealistic PhotoShopped perfection.

“Magazines are in the beauty business and always have to pick the ‘perfect specimen’ for everything,” said TODAY anchor Tamron Hall Wednesday. “We’re in a world where beautiful models are airbrushed so it doesn’t surprise me.”

In an email to TODAY, Birmingham wrote: “I did this not for attention but to show all women and men they can be perfect in their own image and they don’t need to listen to what the media’s perception of what ideal image is. I didn’t do this to start an issue with Shape. I did this to show the true body of a major weight loss. I love my body. I do this for the people to know they’re not alone.”

The reality is, anyone who loses more than 100 pounds is left with loose, sagging skin. It’s the less explored part of extreme weight loss. And research show that many people are surprised with how unhappy they are with their bodies, even when they’re reached their goal weight. 

Birmingham has had plenty of support on social media, and says she's happy for the attention she's brought to the issue.