Self has pulled a diet plan from its website in response to a social media backlash and reader complaints about its restrictive nature, which according to some may have been triggering for those with eating disorders. The meal plan in question was a component of the brand's "January New Year's Fitness Challenge." Carolyn Kylstra, who stepped up from her role as digital director to editor-in-chief when the magazine announced it would cease print publication last month, penned a note to readers explaining why the publication made the decision to remove the diet plan.
Though the concept of a health and wellness themed publication printing a healthy meal plan may not on its surface seem worthy of much criticism, those taking issue with it on social media felt it was restrictive and could be triggering to those who have suffered from eating disorders. No doubt this notion was all the more pronounced given that the issue's cover star, model Iskra Lawrence, has been a body-image activist who has spoken out about her own struggles with disordered eating in the past and worked with the National Eating Disorders Association to raise awareness. "In partnering with a body positivity advocate who is a role model to many people who have struggled with and are in recovery from disordered eating, we should have been much more sensitive to this issue. It's clear that this type of information could be triggering," wrote Kylstra in the statement.
Lawrence spoke out about the controversy on Wednesday in an Instagram post (above). "I don't believe in diets, haven't controlled my food since my recovery and would never mean to advocate for them," she wrote, going on to thank Self for listening to those who spoke out against it. Both Self's statement and Lawrence's Instagram post mention the National Eating Disorders Association as a resource for those who may be struggling with an eating disorder.
One critic, a 23-year-old blogger named Megan who runs the body-positive site Bodyposipanda, took to the internet to write an open letter to Lawrence explaining her specific issue with the food plan being "essentially Clean Eating 101 and restrictive as hell." She went on to explain her emotional reaction: "I was jotting down the numbers and adding them up in my head I nearly started crying, because it felt so damn familiar to all those years I spent doing exactly that every single day, trying to make the number lower each time, hating myself if it wasn't."
Fitness publications, especially those geared toward a female audience, have struggled to strike the right tone as the conversation surrounding body positivity has become more prevalent, and readers began to call for shifting the focus from weight loss and calorie counting to increasing strength, confidence and overall health. A part of Self magazine's redesign under the leadership of Joyce Chang two years ago was to avoid discussing "weight loss" and instead focus on health. At the end of 2015, Women's Health editor-in-chief Amy Keller Laird published a letter to readers explaining a shift in the magazine's language; they'd no longer be using the term "bikini body" or telling readers how to "drop two sizes."
It remains to be seen how Self will continue to evolve as a brand now that it's a purely digital entity, but this instance of engaging with its audience (and critics) via social media and swiftly responding is perhaps a signal of what's to come.
Update 1/4/2016: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the diet plan originally appeared in the print version of Self. Self declined further comment on this story.