The paparazzi knew they had a good get — a female celebrity in a swimsuit always is — but this was the jackpot. The public face of weight loss in Australia and as such the body everyone wants to critique. And so, as Magda Szubanski and some friends enjoyed an impromptu swim at Bondi Beach in January, a long lens was hard at work, capturing full-length frames.
What the public saw published the following week were photos of a happy woman enjoying the surf. What they didn't see, however, was a candidate for Victoria's Secret's next angel and, for some, this came as a shock.
Even after losing a remarkable 36kg and maintaining her goal weight for two years — the true achievement in weight loss — Magda is still popularly considered a big girl. She is aware of this and, what's more, knew this would be the case when she set out. Magda always had a goal of 85kg (down from 121kg at her heaviest) and at a 157cm was aware these statistics would never crunch down to a Miranda Kerr.
Yet Magda was and still is okay with that. Her goal in losing weight was to regain her health and, as such, save her life. She doesn't need to look like a supermodel. Doesn't want to. Never has.
So, when the beach photos were published, Magda once again heard the comments. Most, she concedes, were the usual "good on you" votes of encouragement that she credits with making her public weight battle the most "rewarding and life-affirming experience" of her life thus far. Yet she was aware of other comments, too, those jarring reminders that her idea of body confidence and society's have a long way to go before they meet. And it saddens her still.
"I actually love the beach photos," Magda says, straight-faced. "Honestly, I really do. I think it's great to be photographed the way I am. My body shape is very normal for an awful lot of people. I am what I am and I'm not ashamed to be so.
"I know that there are people out there thinking I should lose more and I might. Ideally, I'd be a vegan. Maybe I'd have to be to please some people, but as long as my basic health parameters are sound, I am happy.
"I don't know if I will lose more weight and I am not about to make any promises. It just doesn't matter. If this is as good as it gets and I am healthy, then I'm fine about that. If I lose more, then that's fine, too. I'm about to turn 50! My hormones are changing. I'm doing my best and that's all I can do."
When Magda hits the big 5-0 on April 12, family will be large in her thoughts. She will be raising a glass to those who have gone before her, along with her loved ones still here. Happily, her 85-year-old mother is and, listening to Magda, she had better have her party shoes ready as she's going to be busy.
"I am going to party all right — many times and in many different ways — a hootin' and a hollerin', massive series of parties," Magda says, that cherubic smile returning.
"I want to go overseas, I want to party, I want to fully embrace it. I want all my friends together, a big gathering of the clan.
"There's a certain kind of peace of mind when you get to this age — it's a great time of life. You still have the energy to enjoy. I'm a party animal and I get out there and have a lot of fun.
"And I can now say that I genuinely like myself. I do. And now I like myself, not despite my faults, but because of them. And I'm glad for them in a way, I embrace them.
"I have a real sense of what I want to do, how I want to live this next art of my life, what sort of a person I am and what things matter to me. I really feel fantastic. I really do. I feel… I don't know, I'm just lovin' it. I really am."
Read more of this story in the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
Video: Magda chats to Kerri-Anne Kennerly