Cosmopolitan Under Fire for Weight Loss Tips In Cancer Story

Elise Solé

A controversial headline on a Cosmopolitan story about a woman who lost weight in the wake of her cancer diagnosis has caused outrage on social media with many calling the magazine insensitive.

Formerly titled “How This Woman Lost 44 Pounds Without ANY Exercise” the story follows an Australian mom of two named Simone Harbinson who after getting her appendix removed due to plaque buildup, was diagnosed with malignant carcinoid tumor of the appendix, a rare form of cancer that spread through her body. Harbinson subsequently experienced a slew of health problems: surgery to correct bowel leakage (which left her with a long incision down the middle of her stomach), an infection that caused her to be quarantined, a partial lung collapse, and a blood clot.

As a result of her newly limited lifestyle (she was too weak to resume her exercise routine), Harbinson developed restrictive eating patterns and turned to food for comfort. “When I look back now, I wonder if being so strict on myself through the week triggered these binges,” she told Cosmo. “That relationship with food wasn’t healthy.”

Ultimately, Harbinson was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by her cancer diagnosis and was prescribed medication. Still, she turned to food for comfort and ending up gaining 35 pounds.

It was only until February 2016 when Harbinson discovered a fitness program called The Bod on Instagram, and began following a healthy 12-week eating plan, that she lost 44 pounds without hitting the gym. “It’s not just a physical transformation, but the mental transformation within has been incredible,” she told Cosmo. “I love my body, flaws and all … I am so proud of all that I have accomplished after everything I have been through.”

On Tuesday, Cosmo changed the headline to “A Serious Health Scare Helped Me Love My Body More Than Ever,” the damage was already done on Twitter.

Particularly inflammatory was this line, which the magazine deleted (however, the previous version can be viewed here): “Simone’s weight loss success is proof that ANYONE can lose weight without breaking a sweat simply by eating more mindfully — no gym required.”

Cosmo did not respond to Yahoo Beauty’s request for comment, however, to be fair, Cosmo makes it clear upfront that its story is about body image. “I was never satisfied with my shape or weight,” Harbinson says in the beginning of the piece. What’s more, despite the fact that Harbinson was not diagnosed with an eating disorder, there is evidence to suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder is linked to disordered eating. And omitting how severe illness and weight gain would affect a previously happy and healthy young woman would be remiss.

In the past, Cosmo has done important work — its September interview with Ivanka Trump on the president’s childcare and maternal leave policy garnered praise for its tough questioning that caused the first daughter to cut the meeting short. And its hard-hitting journalism has won the magazine an award for spotlighting LGBT issues.

However, in the latest story, the weight loss theme overshadows the bigger picture. While we learn that Harbinson’s cancer had metastasized, that she underwent surgery to remove the affected areas, and that doctors didn’t believe she’d need chemotherapy, the story quickly loses its medical thread and veers into meal planning tips, leaving readers questioning wondering whether Harbinson is currently cancer-free — or whether she would still have a happy ending with only her health, not her dream body.

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