Why I’m breaking up with Cleo
In this guest post, Cleo reader Madeleine Rigelsford reveals the humiliating process she went through after the avowedly body positive magazine chose her for its Body Challenge feature before dumping her.
The latest edition of Cleo magazine features the Cleo Body Challenge – in which ordinary readers talk about their weight struggles and the magazine helps them get in shape by the end of it. I was nearly one of them.
I applied. It involved providing the participants with a trainer and a nutritionist – they would be followed on their journey across four-page spreads in three editions. They asked readers to write in, telling them their weight struggles and to provide photos.
Like everyone, I wrote in and gave a brief background about my weight struggles. I included some photos of myself which showed past shots and present ones.
I received an email back from Cleo’s entertainment writer, Josephine, saying that I was perfect for the 12 week challenge: I was the right age, height, weight and I had a “real will to succeed”.
I was ecstatic. And also fearful about putting myself out there.
I organised time off work to go to the shoots.
From here on it was all go. Josephine and I were in constant contact. She told me they would find me a trainer in my preferred area (work or home) and I was to meet with him and train five days a week in a gym. I opted for mornings and somewhere close to work. I was to see a nutritionist and she would write up meal plans. The final issue sounded the most tantalising. They would dress me up, and I would have my hair and makeup professionally done.
The idea of the first photo shoot made me want to cringe.
It was made pretty clear that I was to look miserable in it and that it would be the ‘I’m fat and hate my life’ shoot. I was so nervous.
I left work early, jumped in a cab and was on my way to the Cleo office. I was greeted by my new Cleo buddy who met me in the lobby holding a pile of clothes. “You’re soooooo pretty,” she cooed.
The photo shoot was horrible.
They put me in super tight clothes. I felt naked in the first top. It was so tight, you could see every bump and roll, we stood in the mirror as they talked about me like I wasn’t there.
I stood tugging at it, red faced as two guys (one was the photographer) watching us. I begged her: “Please don’t make me wear this.”
She conceded: “Maybe not that one.. we want to see stuff ,but you look naked.”
Thank god. I breathed a sigh of relief as she instructed me to put on the looser pink top.
The next half hour was spent with a photographer and Josephine critiquing my body. I had to stand straight on and then side shots were taken. He was taking photos on an upward angle and I was only allowed to do a slight smirk. They kept saying not to smile too much. Each photo he took popped up on a large computer screen where she would sit and um, and ah over the photos.
Seeing the pictures of myself was confronting – like when you hear the recorded sound of your own voice and question ever speaking again, or see yourself drunk in a video and wonder how you have any friends.
The photographer told me he had recently lost 25kg and that I should stay away from pizza. Josephine chimed in that I should “try to stay away from coke”.
I was still excited about what would be coming next – the embarrassment of the shoot would be made up for by the coming transformation. It felt like a new start.
I told all of my friends and family.
Then it began to go wrong.
On the day of my first session, the personal trainer got in touch to say that I was too far from him. And that he was only available twice a week.
I wondered if I had got the details wrong. I got in touch with my BFF at Cleo asking whether twice a week was enough.
They dumped me.
She wrote back saying that she had chosen ‘a back up challenger’ who lives in the Eastern Suburbs where she had four trainers willing to train her immediately.
She offered what seemed like an inadequate apology given what I’d been through.
This is a magazine that prides itself on making women feel good.
For what Cleo is supposed to represent, I am shocked and furious that they would do this to someone.
My expectations were raised. I was made to feel like I would look and feel so much better after the challenge.
In truth, I felt better before I ever applied for the thing.
Cleo has lost a reader.