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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.)
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!”
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.
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!
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??
From my very first fitness photoshoot ever! I’m the black outline on the far left!