- Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Hello Sunshine x Together Live Tour
- Cheryl Strayed spoke to Insider about her photo being heavily edited in Vogue during a major milestone moment in her career.
- Vogue featured Strayed in its “power” issue in 2012 amid the release of her best-selling memoir “Wild,” complete with a photo shoot.
- Strayed told Insider that the photo was so heavily edited, some of her friends asked if a model had been hired to pretend to be her.
- Looking back, Strayed said she believes the body-positivity movement has “absolutely changed us for the better.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Cheryl Strayed first got the call that Vogue wanted to feature her in its “power” issue, featuring women who “inhabit and embody power,” the author was elated.
“Wild,” the memoir that would turn her into a household name, was on the cusp of being released. And Vogue not only wanted to run an excerpt of the book, it wanted to include a profile of Strayed – complete with a photo shoot.
But that milestone in her career was tarnished when Strayed opened the issue, months later, to find that her photo had been edited so heavily that even her own husband didn’t recognize her.
‘I looked fake, like a Barbie doll version of myself,’ Strayed recently told Insider. ‘I truly thought they made me look worse, not better.’
- Jeff Vespa/WireImage
But this was 2012, long before the body-positivity movement went mainstream and Twitter became a tool for calling out powerful brands.
“Jezebel did an article about me being Photoshopped, and there were some comments made on social media, but there wasn’t a huge outcry,” Strayed said. “It was more like, ‘Well, that’s lame, but that’s Vogue.'”
Strayed, who turned her famous Dear Sugar advice column for The Rumpus into the Dear Sugars podcast, was discussing letters she had received from two women who had been chained to diets for decades. One woman said she was tired of “being a slave to the scale.”
“When I read this letter, I felt this woman in so many ways was telling the story of my life and the story of the lives of so many women I know,” Strayed told her co-host Steve Almond during the episode.
“It’s just so familiar to me, and so painful and exhausting. There’s still always this thing inside of me that I should be skinnier, and I could be if I was a better person.”
“Everywhere we turn we are undermined,” she added. “Feminism is popular now, and yet everywhere we turn we are actually undercutting ourselves and each other in ways large and small.”
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Strayed said this was never “made more alive” to her than seeing herself edited in Vogue.
When Vogue told Strayed that her profile would include a photo shoot, she immediately began to worry about her body
“My very first thought was I’m going to try and delay the photo shoot as long as possible, because I need some time to lose weight,” she told Almond. “I was a size 12, and you can’t be a size 12 and be in Vogue magazine.”
When the photo shoot rolled around three months later, Strayed said she was still the exact same size. But on that day, she felt beautiful.
“I actually felt great!” she told Insider. “They did my hair and makeup. I wanted to be thinner and I felt a bit self-conscious about that, but I was at a healthy weight. I felt strong and pretty.”
Strayed and her husband, Brian Lindstrom, were on their way back to Portland from the San Francisco Airport in March 2012 when they realized her Vogue issue was out. They rushed to get a copy, excitedly paging through it to see how Strayed’s profile had turned out.
- Michael Buckner/WireImage
‘We open it up and there is a picture of me, and immediately my husband says, “Is that you?” Because we were not sure.’
“They made me skinny, they gave me a boob job and some weird face job, they actually made me uglier than I am, but they made me thinner,” she added, speaking to Almond. “They said, you know what, we’re going to feature you as powerful but we’re going to make you skinny first, because that’s how you have to be. What they were very directly saying is you are not enough, you are not okay as you are in your size 12.”
Strayed told Insider that, at first, she wasn’t even sure if it was her picture. Friends had even asked her if a model had been hired to pretend to be her.
“I knew it was me because I knew I’d been wearing those clothes and standing in that spot, but it took me a few minutes to be convinced it was me and they hadn’t swapped someone else in,” she said. “Seeing what they did to the photo was utterly shocking.”
After the confusion passed, Strayed said she became angry
“I was appearing in Vogue because I was a writer, not a supermodel,” she said. “I wasn’t in those pages because I was pretty. I was in there because I wrote something they wanted to publish. They didn’t need to change my appearance to do that, but they chose to anyway.”
“That choice spoke volumes about what their values were, how very narrow their view of beauty,” she added. “It’s a sexist way of looking at women that I reject entirely. Also, as someone who has often written about being brave and authentic and transparent, it struck me as particularly offensive that they did that to me. It was a kind of betrayal.”
Strayed told the Vogue editor who she had been working with that the photo was “disturbing” to her, but there was no further discussion, she said.
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And while the edited photo struck a huge chord with Strayed, it didn’t end her personal struggle with body acceptance
“It woke me up, but it didn’t stop me from the cycle that I’ve been in essentially all of my life,” she told Almond. “I have my skinny phases, and I have my fat phases. I feel good when I’m at one phase, although it’s never thin enough, and I feel bad in the other phase. And I know that this is not an unfamiliar cycle for so many women.”
But there has also been change. During that same podcast episode, Strayed had counselor Hilary Kinavey and dietitian Dana Sturtevant on as guests. The women founded Be Nourished, which strives to help people become body-compassionate.
Strayed told Insider that she credits Kinavey and Sturtevant with showing her how she can think differently about her body.
“I still struggle with feeling okay about myself when I’m on the upper end of my range (as I am now!), but I can say I’ve gotten closer to accepting myself,” she said. “As Hilary and Dana said on the podcast, we don’t change overnight. Even if I can’t shout to the sky ‘I LOVE MY BODY,’ their words have helped me be more gentle with myself. Progress has been made.”
Strayed said she believes the body-positivity movement has also ‘absolutely changed us for the better’
“Girls and women are still body shamed all the time, but at least now we have a way to see it for what it is and to talk about it,” she added. “There are role models like Lizzo who are openly rejecting cultural narratives about female beauty, and that matters so much. I think more people are feminists these days, and therefore more vocal about when they see sexism. I think we’re more willing to call out those things now to say, ‘Okay Vogue, it’s time to change.'”
It has been more than seven years since that edited picture was published, but Strayed knows one thing to be true.
“The real picture of me is so much prettier,” she said. “I know it without seeing it! Authenticity is power, and it is beauty.”
Representatives for Vogue did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
- Read more:
- Lili Reinhart called out a body-slimming app that makes people look ‘skinnier’ in photos
- 10 of the most inspiring body-positive moments of 2019
- 6 reasons why Ashley Graham is this generation’s body-positive icon
- Anne Hathaway says she was told not to gain weight when she was a 16-year-old actress