The Strange (and Hilarious) End to My Short-Lived Career as a Fitness Model

by Charlotte on January 15, 2014 · 30 comments

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Last time you’ll see this view, guys!

A few weeks ago I discovered something strange: All the photos that the Gym Buddies and I did for Shape Magazine’s website, to illustrate the articles I’d written and demonstrate the exercises I described, are gone. Yep, gone. Megan with her curly locks and impish grin, Krista with her hijab and flawless skin, Daria with her sweet smile and pregnant tummy and I with my spastic, silly poses and loud outfits – all erased. All the characters like Sensei Don, Turbo Jennie, Creepy MMA dude, Intern Brittany and Breakdancing guy – deleted. Heck, they even took out Allison who with her rad muscles and shiny hair actually looked like a legit fitness model. Don’t get me wrong – all my articles from the past 5 years are still there and indeed many of them are still in heavy rotation and pinned and tweeted and all that fun stuff, for which I am very very grateful. But us? The girls that actually did all those workouts? Replaced with stock photos that are alternately bland, hilarious and occasionally tragically wrong.  What was our crime? Being real, flawed people I guess. Or, as one of my editors put it, “We’re trying to go for a more streamlined, homogeneous look on the site. We want it to look professional.” We weren’t professional models, see.

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 Nope, pro models do not lunge with poopy diapers that close to their hair. (From The Park Workout)

On one hand I was really sad to see all these pictures of average, normal women with various body types, in various stages of life and with varying fitness levels gone because we’re not “streamlined” or “homogeneous”. I felt like we showed that fitness could be fun and imperfect and messy and yet still be a great workout. But on the other hand it was kind of a relief to not have to worry about my butt showing up on the homepage screen at random intervals. It’s not that I don’t like my butt – I actually have no quibbles with it one way or the other – but I was not prepared for the level of physical scrutiny that we would all have to endure.

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This is how we dealt with the stress. (From the Jump Rope Workout)

Thanks to the site’s popular Facebook page, Pinterest and Twitter account, I got to read every comment people had about our pictures – and they had lots of them! Some were kind – one memorable woman cheered a picture of Allison doing a heavy back squat, proclaiming it’s about time the mag showed women hoisting some serious iron – but some of them were very not kind. I won’t repeat them as I actively try not to spend any time thinking about them but it got to the point where I just couldn’t read any of the commentary on any of my articles.  To this day I’m still not sure if I should just shut up and be grateful I had the privilege to do something like this or if it’s okay to feel ambivalent about this.

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Allison IS one tough chick! And, for the record, the dorky headbands were totally my idea. She was just being a good sport. (From the Lift Like a Dude Workout)

And so while a part of me is sad to see that evidence of a truly wonderful time of my life erased, part of me is relieved that it’s over. I gave up actually being in the pictures over a year and a half ago, in favor of instead directing the photoshoots with pro athletes and photographers (which by the way is F-U-N). It was just too much pressure for me. I thought I was past all that insecurity stuff and was strong enough to take it. But I really wasn’t. It got to me. It hurt.  I didn’t talk about it much at the time as it wasn’t really a conscious decision to quit but I found that more and more I only accepted assignments that didn’t require me to be in them, at least not photographically. Plus, Shape is not my personal scrapbook and my personal preferences don’t matter. I do a job for them and I try to do it to the best of my abilities and let’s be honest: I’m not a model. They’re certainly correct about that. So if that’s the look they need then that’s the look they should use.

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Photobombing a REAL MODEL. One of these things is not like the other… (From the NFL Cheerleader’s Workout)

But I think my case shows an interesting phenomenon that is happening more and more lately: the intersection between “real” person and model. With the rise of the first-person “It happened to me” type essays, the before-and-after stories, the success stories and other profiles of people, there’s a need for good pictures of real people who aren’t models doing fitness-y things. Which means we either 1. Get models to pretend to “reenact” or “illustrate” the story – which, ugh, nothing sucks like being told you’re not pretty enough to be you. 2. We try to teach real people to act like models. 3. We only choose stories to highlight where the real person already looks like a model.

Thankfully #3 doesn’t happen very often in my experience. In all the magazines I’ve worked with, they’ve always cared about the story first, which I think is great. But that often leads us to option #2. This can have interesting results – not so much for the mag, they usually get their pretty picture – but more for the person who is suddenly catapulted out of anonymity. They say everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame but not everyone has to do it in spandex…

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Or swimsuits. That one wasn’t weird at all!  Also, yes, I’m a grown adult who still has to plug her nose. (From the What to do in a Pool if you Don’t Swim Laps workout)

Several years ago I did an interview with a women’s magazine on how to get comfortable enough with your body to feel good working out in a gym. And ironically the story included a photoshoot. My limited previous experience as a fitness model was super fun and so I was all psyched to do this shoot. They sent me my own stylist! And makeup artist! And camera man (who giggled like a Teletubby)! And lighting assistant!

They all descended on my gym to transform me into a workout nymph and then photograph me doing something fitness-y. My first clue that things might not go as I envisoned should have been when the makeup artist turned me into Sarah Palin in yoga pants. “Did you know if you dab some brown eyeshadow into your part line, you can hide how visible your scalp is through your hair? The flash will reflect off your pale skin and make you look bald!” she added helpfully as she teased my thin hair into ridiculous heights and I acquired a new body issue to worry about. (Tip #1 for feeling comfortable in your body: not this.) When I saw the finished product I was actually sporting a Sarah Palin bouffant with Tammy Faye Baker makeup. Honestly I was one cigarette short of Absolutely Fabulous.

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 Clearly I needed the makeover since I do crap like this in my real life. Glamorous is the plank-pick-up-toys move! IN AN APRON, like a boss. (From the housework workout)

Next up: wardrobe! My first top was cute – a little blue Danskin number with a built-in bra that was flattering albeit a little boring compared to what I normally wear. (True story: Today at the gym as I was waiting for Zumba to start a lady pointed at my neon blue and purple dip-dyed capris and said “Whoa, those are some pants!” I answered her, “My plan is that if I can’t wow them with my dance skills at least I can blind them with my pants so they won’t notice when I trip up!”)  I held weights and preened and curtsied and tried to look “comfortable” in this completely uncomfortable situation. (Note: I started out curling 20-pounders as is my usual but then I realized that we weren’t stopping at 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Nope, I ended up bicep curling for a solid half hour straight. While smiling. Which is how I ended up with wussy baby weights in the picture. I have new respect for fitness models and their pink dumbbells. I was sore for days.)

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 No, you don’t get to see the final picture. I’m sorry. But this is from a different shoot, just to show you how many many awkward photos I got to take! But divebomber pushups are the best, seriously you should try them. (From the Embarrassing Gym Moves workout. Oh yes we went there.)

The second outfit was where it all went wrong. We were well into hour two by this point and when I went into the bathroom to change, I discovered the second top had no built in bra. I had no bra. The stylist had no bra. (For me. I’m sure she was wearing one.) So I sucked it up and went commando, hoping it wouldn’t be too obvious. It was terribly obvious. Especially when the flash went off. Turns out my scalp isn’t my only skin to catch the glare! For the first time in my life I had empathy for Kristen Stewart. I blushed and roundhoused with my arms clamped to my chest. The photographer tried to reassure me, “Don’t worry, that’s what Photoshop is for!”

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 You can’t photoshop this kind of joy! (From the Girls Rule workout)

I never thought there would come a time in my life where I would pray to be Photoshopped! Then we moved to yoga poses. (It still amazes me how many takes photographers will shoot just to get one good shot! We shot for 3 hours and got hundreds of snaps – just for one solid picture.) There I was sitting in a full lotus, bathed in golden light and trying my best to look ethereal and not constipated. I was relaxing, it was fun. But then the woman who was there to keep the powder from sweating off my scalp and smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt and pick the lint off the butt of my pants leaned down and whispered, “Sweetie, could you lift those up? They seem to be, uh, falling.” At first I thought she meant my feet. She did not.

I blushed from head to toe and then in true Charlotte fashion exclaimed, “I can’t help it! I’ve had 5 children! AND I BREASTFEED!” The photographer burst out laughing. The assistant almost dropped her light reflector thingy. And the stylist looked as if I had just convinced her to never ever procreate. I couldn’t stop myself. “You think these are bad? You should see my stretch marks!” Then I made them all turn around while I put the girls back where anatomy charts say they are supposed to reside. I’m sure they will remember me always.

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So in the end, I don’t regret any of the fitness modeling (or “fitness modeling” if you prefer) that I’ve done. But I’m also not sad that that phase of my life is over. Please don’t get me wrong – the purpose of this post is not to whine or complain! I loved having the experiences I did and I also completely understand why Shape made the choice they did. And hey if I get the yen to snap some pics, I can always put them up here (which I feel totally great about since I have THE NICEST readers on the planet and I am so grateful for you guys!). Plus I’ve still got all the originals from all those shoots and the outtakes will entertain me for eternity!

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 Like this one. Every time I see it, I laugh so hard I can’t breathe. Turbo Jennie looks like a bronzed goddess while Allison and I look like her sex slaves. (From the Hip Hop Workout)

What kind of fitness model do you prefer – aspirational, average or a mix? Have you ever had to do a photoshoot for anything? How’d it go? What’s the worst/most awkward/hilarious picture you’ve ever had taken of you??

DSCN1100Every single photoshoot we’d try to take a group shot of us all jumping. It never worked. Never. Which is why it’s perfect to me. (From the Beach Workout)

DSC_0162Oh the things we did to that tire… (From the Fitness Test Workout)

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From my very first fitness photoshoot ever! I’m the black outline on the far left! 

 

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

penny January 15, 2014 at 2:39 am

This IS aspirarional fitness modelling, C! I would give my eye teeth to be in your gang!

Px

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Jenn January 15, 2014 at 5:21 am

What a fun read! Loved all the pics. I’ve never done any fitness model stuff. (Nor do I think I will ever.) I have done a few things for photog friends and friends who owned stores and needed someone to pose in their pics for them. I’m college I was friends with a bunch I students in a prestigious photography school. They took me all over CA for assignments. I have lots of cool shots from this days like being an angel in a Death Valley to playing in fountains in San Francisco. Good times!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma January 15, 2014 at 6:16 am

I hate streamlined and homogeneous. A few months ago I contacted the person who does our local YMCA FB page to complain about the stock footage they always used, when we had a much more interesting bunch of REAL people that we knew at our own Y. Partial success! Although the stock footage still shows up on the official ads and brochures, they also post fun photos, such as this one that I myself took and sent to them:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151821307342204&set=a.10150477563322204.367606.221816577203&type=1&theater

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Joemama January 15, 2014 at 9:15 am

That’s a great picture! I love the wee hat.

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Keeon Taylor January 15, 2014 at 6:28 am

The divebomber pushups are really good. A good one to do for those who want to vary their pushups. I like the plank pic up toys pic. It’s a great way to remove an excuse like being to busy to workout. Overall nice pics and everyone seem to be having fun staying in shape.

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Carla January 15, 2014 at 6:42 am

ahhh one word: FILA

more words: worst experience evah :-)

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Megan @ Meg Go Run January 15, 2014 at 6:45 am

I totally would have picked out your shadow!

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Teo Seifer January 15, 2014 at 7:03 am

Loved the Post. Loved the photos. you all look extremely hot, really! Mummies really active and curvy. Wauuuuu!!
As to your question…Got some photos I took for the Fitness Manual I wrote in spanish cause Im Argentinian living in Brazil now (for health reasons) that were horrible really. The photographer was a crook. My hair was a dissaster and he would not say anything. Haha. We took about 300 hundred until we came to chose one for the cover here http://SecretosdeTuPersonalTrainer.com

Enjoy!
Cheers

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Abby January 15, 2014 at 7:51 am

I love your pictures because they’re YOU and that’s what I can relate to (well, I wish I had your muscle and your butt, but whatever. You know what I mean.) As an editor myself, I can tell you that I wouldn’t completely place the blame on your oust from the story on the editor. The political pressure behind every word and every picture printed in a magazine is incredible, and like you said, everything will be scrutinized with a fine-toothed comb.

While I love to see more relatable women in magazines, I also understand that being a fitness model is someone’s job, much like being a fitness writer is someone else’s job. And like you said, it’s better to not have to deal with the comments that would’ve happened regardless. ;)

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Heather C January 15, 2014 at 7:54 am

This post had me laughing over my breakfast and I don’t blame you for not minding not being in the photos anymore. People being able to comment about that stuff would scare the crap out of me. I have never done a professional photo shoot but I was on Oprah some years back. I was supposed to show up to the set with my hair done, which I did, but the stylist totally redid it telling me it would look better on camera (a comment that had me wondering what was wrong with my hairdo). They also put more makeup on me than I have ever had on in my entire life, like airbrushed foundation and all that jazz. On camera, it looked good but I had to go straight from the show to the airport and I felt so conspicuous with my face all plastered with stuff. The first chance I got I went to the bathroom and wiped off as much as I could with tp. It was gross and so not me.

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Amy @ Run Mom Run January 15, 2014 at 9:49 am

I get tired of fitness models that look over photo shopped. I think it looks bland and uninteresting. There is no real personality. But I understand why the magazine made the choice. I don’t read shape anyway, so I guess I’m not losing anything!

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Azusmom January 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

I would SO much rather look at photos of you with the gym buddies than “streamlined, homogeneous” fitness models (read: very young, mainly caucasian)! Honestly, even when I was in my teens and 20′s I NEVER found bland fitness models inspiring. And these days I want to be inspired by people who are similar to me: Women who have kids and jobs and responsibilities that go beyond maintaining a certain size. YOU inspire me, not some 20 year-old, cute as she may be.

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crabby mcslacker January 15, 2014 at 10:17 am

This whole topic makes me so furious I could spit. You and your gym-buds are BEAUTIFUL! And healthy and active and SO much more attractive than the fake-looking folks fitness mags prefer.

Glad you managed to have at least a little fun along the way. And I know I can always come here for inspiring shots of cute gals having a great time working out.

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Darwin January 15, 2014 at 10:19 am

The ONLY power Internet Trolls have is if we believe the negative things they say…but it can still hurt…
…and the lecherous stuff is no doubt both shocking to your system and invasive…I can see how you would love to be free of all of those things.

Sadly, when you lived on “Frat Row” (where they are not known for their decorum, classiness or restraint) you probably had occasion to hear the same…or worse.

(I had a wonderfully exhilarating and life-affirming experience where I got to take the wind out of the sails of not one but TWO “frat” houses. Remind me to tell you about it sometime Charlotte. Think “karma”;)

Perspectives in regards to appearances are inconsistent even in professionals circles.

I have done limited photo-shoots as a model; I have done commercials; I have done television and some film and a LOT of stage. I have had agents in two countries…but almost all of my work was done stateside. I played a variety of roles especially in theater. I did over 70 roles, and only ONE was written specifically as “native”.

I got back to Canada, got an agent, got sent out to stuff and they said: We don’t have any parts in this production written for natives.

In the U.S., my “look” was considered “unique and interesting”.

In Canada…my “look” was simply considered …”not white”.

Even though they now have the Aboriginal People’s Television Network…they are generally focused on “life sucks on the reserve” or “life sucks in the hood” (Yes…young natives DO think they are black.) Neither image is healthy to reflect back to young natives. Or even old natives.

So…professional perspective is unreliable and most often tainted in some fashion.

As to your pictures with the Gym Buddies…

…THOSE pictures are not “broke” …so they have no need to “fix” them by replacing them.

The are not only real…but spectacular AND adorable!

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Joemama January 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I love your real pictures, Charlotte. You’re as cute as can be and your friends all look like such fun. It was brave of you to allow your pictures on that site. The scrutiny would be too much for me, though you look toned and powerful and slender in every picture. I can imagine the comments because people are exceptionally jerky when hiding anonymously behind a keyboard.
Also, Ab Fab is one of my all time favorite shows, sweetie-darling. I would’ve loved to see a Charlotte/Patsy hybrid.
And I love divebomber pushups. They are, oddly, about the only pushups I can do with good form.
Good post today.

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smac-a-roo January 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

The one that alwasy gets to me: catalogs… you see these little girls who have probably never lifted a weight in their life :modeling” fitness clothes”. I guess I do love the athleta catalog, I usually “drool” over how fit those models look…

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Jessica Fletcher-Fierro January 15, 2014 at 11:24 am

I would like to see real people doing the workouts, instead of stock photos, so I’m bummed about the Shape decision. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be online in that context for people to tear apart. So I can understand your feelings. A loss for us, a win for your psyche maybe?

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Kim January 15, 2014 at 11:57 am

I love to see real women – I’m sad that they replace your pictures with actual fitness models!!

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stacy January 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I find your pictures interesting. You all look like you are having fun and that is nice to see. I am trying to improve my squats and the picture of Allison is definitely inspirational. I wish more magazines would show women lifting heavier weights. I would read more fitness articles if it included the pictures of you and your friends working out.

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Amanda January 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I’m just going to say it: thank goodness that cheerleader in the front has REAL CALVES. Am I the only one sick of seeing actresses with undeveloped calves? It sets kind of a crappy example – it says, “I don’t exercise; I just starve myself.” Most of us who stay in shape just eat healthy and exercise, and that leads to calves. Which, thank goodness, that model has. PHEW.

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Geosomin January 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm

That’s too bad. I liked the personalized photos, but I suppose I can understand the streamlined approach. Stock footage just makes me less interested usually.
Plus the photos of you and the girls were always so goofy and fun. I’m glad you still have them :)

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Diane Fit to the Finish January 15, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I did a photo shoot for two national magazines for my 150 pound weight loss. Although they were good experiences I did feel very self conscious waiting to see the final result.

I think “real” models are awesome because it is real life. That’s what women who stay fit look like, not a slim model who works very hard to stay tiny.

I understand though, why you’ve got some relief in your psyche from having the pictures gone.

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Saskia January 15, 2014 at 2:50 pm

The big reason I go to shape for workout advice is because I read your blog, and I trust what you write, and I loved that there were normal people in the pictures! That made me trust the whole website more. So I find it very unfortunate that they’re moving towards a “professional” look.

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Happier Heather January 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm

The streamlined thing is SO boring and I’m glad I no longer subscribe to Shape Magazine. I’d prefer to see a mix of real athletes and average people as inspiration. Fitness models just don’t inspire me.

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Stephanie January 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Honestly, this is part of the reason why I don’t read magazines–I wish we saw more of ‘real people.’ Not that models aren’t real, but all the photoshopping and homogeneity kind of makes me gag. I’m sorry they aren’t featuring your pictures anymore…

I will say I do love to look at the Athleta catalog because the models are just lovely. They actually have some visible muscle. Not a whole lot, but they aren’t just generic thin, and I love Athleta for that.

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quix January 15, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I’ve seen a lot of these over the years but I looooooooove this post. I think y’all are way more fun than stock models. I can’t even pick a favorite!

One of my 15 seconds of fame moments was I was supervising voice overs for the game I worked on, and I got to get in the booth and record some characters, as what I thought was placeholder. Some of it got replaced, but I remained in for 2 fairly major characters. I keep waiting for them to replace it, and I’ll be both relieved and sad. So, I think I can kind of relate. :)

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Debbie @ Live from La Quinta January 15, 2014 at 10:24 pm

You are so funny! I love love love the pictures, and they are the ones I would much prefer to see accompanying your articles. Who needs to see yet another real “fitness model?”

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Katie January 16, 2014 at 11:33 pm

I’d completely forgotten until reading this that I’ve let my Shape magazine subscription lapse….abotu 6 months ago. Weirdly, though I’ve subscribed for about 10 years, I haven’t even missed it. Maybe that’s because all the models look identical so the stories tend to mush in my brain?

I guess what I’m saying is that stories are tied to the pictures. Your stories worked so so well with your pictures because we got to see YOU smiling and having fun. That made me want to do whatever crazy workout you were trying. It’s too bad that they did this. I can see that it would work better for some articles, but not all.

Your pictures are fantastic. I miss the Gym Buddy videos, too! :(

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Sarah January 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

I know this was posted days ago but I only just got around to reading it and I just want to say: “one cigarette short of Absolutely Fabulous” is just brilliant!

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Val January 26, 2014 at 4:28 am

Hi Charlotte,
I think your pictures working out with your friends were fun and genuine, bursting with energy and much more interesting and inspiring than dull, staged stock photos.

I wonder if the editor didn’t explain herself clearly and really was referring to technical quality of images rather than the content (you and your friends modeling). Stock photos are shot in a studio with thousands of dollars of professional lighting and there are lighting designers whose only job is to correctly light the space.

It’s a shame they didn’t offer to send a professional photographer to capture your workouts, the images would be so much more compelling than polished but soulless and boring stock images.

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