01/07/2015 02:59 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 11:59 EST

Brooke Birmingham's Bikini Photo Finally Appears In Shape Magazine

An Illinois woman who lost 172 pounds proudly appears alongside the bikini models in Shape magazine's most recent issue -- excess skin and all.

Brooke Birmingham, a Weight Watchers leader and blogger, made headlines last May after she said a photo she submitted for the magazine's "Success Story" feature was rejected, apparently because she was wearing a bikini.

The magazine's policy was to show models in this feature fully clothed, a reporter told her, an explanation that Birmingham rejected. Her dramatic weight loss had left her with a lot of loose skin around her waist, an image she wanted shown as an example of how "after" photos don't always look perfect.

"If anything, they should want my picture on their site. My body is real, not photoshopped or hidden because I feel like I should be ashamed. This is a body after losing 172 pounds, a body that has done amazing things, and looks AMAZING in a freaking bikini," she wrote on her blog.

Her photo went viral. Only a week after she posted it on her blog, she and an editor-at-large from the magazine, Bahar Takhtehchian, announced on Today that Birmingham would appear in an upcoming issue of Shape alongside other "real" women.

Takhtehchian said that the decision not to include the photo was a miscommunication with a freelance writer and that the magazine was excited to celebrate Birmingham's weight-loss journey.

“We want to start a larger discussion about what happens after you lose a significant amount of weight,” she told Today.

A new, professional photo of Birmingham appears in the magazine's January/February issue, but you can also see it here. Shape also included a story about Birmingham's weight loss and personal growth on their website.

As part of the magazine feature, she and four other women participated in a discussion about how losing weight had changed their lives, she wrote on her blog on Monday, and appeared in a group photo shoot. The most exciting part, though, was her bikini shoot, during which she said she was "treated like a model."

When a friend told her that the issue was out on newsstands, the blogger couldn't hold back her emotion.

"I instantly started shaking. I couldn't believe that everything had finally come full circle," she wrote.

"There are not enough words to express how amazing the entire experience was. Like I said before, I had NO idea that everything would come to this. I’m so glad it did though, our stories are meant to be told because there are bits in your story, my story, everyone’s that someone out there can relate to."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Bahar Takhtehchian was the editor of Shape magazine. She is actually an editor-at-large. We apologize for the error.


Photo gallery Lost It: Weight Loss Success Stories See Gallery