How plus-size swimwear designer GabiFresh turns body shaming on its head


Back in 2011, plus-size fashion blogger Gabi Gregg helped to popularize the so-called “fatkini” when she posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing a black-and-white striped bikini with that hashtag in the caption, an idea she borrowed from Tumblr.

With one photo, Gregg reclaimed the term “fat,” which mainstream media has long used as synonymous with unhealthy, and gave an emblematic middle finger to body shamers everywhere. She also started a movement. Scroll through posts tagged #fatkini on Instagram and you’ll see more than 20,000 photos of plus-size women flaunting their bikinis on the beach and by the pool, not to mention taking selfies with them in the mirror.

Gregg is now in her fourth year designing swimwear for her collaborative line GabiFresh for Swimsuits for All. The swimwear line is trendy, vacation-ready, and features everything from high-waisted bikinis with edgy cutouts to low-waisted bikinis with animal prints to one-pieces with zip-down fronts to fun swimsuit coverups. “I wanted to bring the same trends and the same cool options that everyone else had in straight sizes to the plus-size market,” Gregg told Fusion in a phone interview.

Since starting her fashion blog GabiFresh in 2008, Gregg—who appeared on the March cover of Ebony magazine alongside singers Jazmine Sullivan and Chrisette Michele and actress Danielle Brooks—has become an important voice for plus-size women in the fashion industry, encouraging fashion labels and retailers to keep plus-size women in mind when creating their collections.

“We [plus-size fashion bloggers] have the influence to literally change the industry and that has been amazing, to push retailers and designers forward not only in terms of their thoughts about plus-size women, but how they are designing and making things for us,” said Gregg.

We talked with Gabi Gregg about the term “plus-size,” body positivity, and her favorite summery styles.

One of the things I find most exciting about your plus-size swimwear line with Swimsuits for All is that it accentuates curves instead of covering them up. Was that important to you when creating your designs?
Each year, I try to push the boundaries a little more. I’m always really conscious of wanting to push the boundaries and wear things that people say I shouldn’t wear. And that’s in all clothing, but in swimwear I think it’s really important to not feel ashamed of your body and be able to show the same amount of skin as everyone else. I try to avoid making swimsuits that just cover you up or are what people consider “slimming.” It’s more so about having fun, expressing yourself, and wearing bright colors, cool cutouts, adding hardware and different details. Basically, all the things that I see in the mainstream or straight-size world, [I want to] bring to the plus-size world and know that we can do that, too.

What’s your relationship with the term “plus-size?”
I’m a fan of it. The girls in my community, most of us are fine with the label. It’s a way for us to come together. I understand why models who are a size 8 don’t want to be called plus-size, because they’re not. But for those of us who are, we find value in it. There’s a movement called “Drop the Plus,” and it’s like, okay, well, you’re not thinking of the women who are plus-size who might actually embrace that term. I don’t think that’s fair. For all of us who use the label in order to find clothing that fits us, I think it’s important. It’d be great to go into a mall or a store and know a place will carry my size, but as of right now, that’s not the case. So, I think it’s valuable and necessary in order to know who has plus-size clothing and who doesn’t.

Since you’ve started blogging, how have you seen the fashion industry change for plus-size women?
It’s like night and day. When I first started there were so few options. There were basically no retailers except for Torrid, Lane Bryant, and Ashley Stewart. There weren’t very many places where I could get clothing, and very few that had my style and were what I considered fashion-forward. To see so many mainstream retailers adding extended sizes and plus sizes has been amazing. I mean, we still have a long way to go, but the fact that I now can log onto ASOS, or Eloquii, or Forever 21 Plus and find things that I like is so different from the way it used to be.

What about representation on the runways and in advertising? What have been some of the most important moments for you?
I just feel happy that [plus-size representation] has been happening more consistently now. For a long time, it always felt a little bit exploitative, and like a one-off. We’re finally getting to the point where it seems like it’s going to stick around. They’re not using one plus-size girl per year. But still, why is it that every time a plus-size girl does anything, it has to be a headline? That speaks to how far we have to go. It shouldn’t be a big deal that a plus-size girl is on a magazine cover, but it is, because it never happens. I think Tess Holliday getting signed to Milk was a huge deal because she is a size 22-24, and to see her be mainstream and visible has changed so many girls’ lives. Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated made a lot of waves. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.

Did you always love your body and promote body positivity?
I didn’t. It was definitely something I learned about as I got older. I was taught, like everyone else, that you should be thin and you should be on a diet if you are overweight. It was coming at me from all angles, both externally and internally. It wasn’t until I discovered body positivity on the internet in college that I really started to change my views of my body and bodies in general. That didn’t happen until I was 19. Then, there was no real social media, but I [joined] fashion forums and I became a part of a community on LiveJournal called “Fatshionista.” That’s where it started.

How has your body image changed since you were 19?
It’s constantly changing. I don’t think you ever get to a point where you are like, I like myself and I’m never not going to like myself and I am going to love every little piece of my body forever. That’s very rare. It’s just a constant work in progress of becoming aware of the pressures that you face from society and no longer internalizing them. And if you do encounter those feelings, [you have to] realize it’s not your fault. It’s not something you should blame yourself for. Put the burden on society instead of yourself for not feeling perfect. Now that I am a lot more comfortable with my body, I am not constantly wondering what other people are thinking. Something that really changed is I’m not comparing myself [to other women].  It’s weird to me to know that other women are looking at me and comparing their bodies to me. I think that is really damaging.

What role do you think social media has played in fostering body positivity?
It’s changed so many lives, including my own. It’s given people a voice that they didn’t have before. It’s allowed people, specifically the marginalized communities, to come together and find community in a way that they weren’t able to before. The reason that so many of us are more confident—and also why retailers are starting to listen to us—is because there is power in numbers. To be able to make demands together has been really impactful.

Do you have a body positivity mantra?
I don’t think I have a mantra. But I think representation is so much more important than people realize. When you don’t see yourself reflected, it doesn’t feel good. Whenever I am having a low point or a bad day, something I do is just scroll through certain hashtags or my Instagram feed. I curate my Instagram feed so that there are images of beautiful women of all shapes and sizes who are body positive. That way, I’m not seeing the same thin white bodies that [are] everywhere else in mainstream media.

You’re not just a fashion blogger, but you are a huge voice in the plus-size women community. Do you feel a lot of pressure, given all that responsibility?
I think being in the spotlight is always tough for certain people, including me. For a long time, I’ve put that pressure on myself. It made me feel uncomfortable that I was supposed to be a representative for so many people because I felt like I had to be the right way in so many different ways. It wasn’t until probably the last year or two that I let that go and realized that I just have to be myself and people can either like me or not. It’s way too much to take on the pressure of representing an entire community when all I can really do is just be myself. No matter what my opinions are, someone is always going to disagree with me. The quicker you realize that, the better.

When do you think the media will get to a point where a plus-size women walking down the runway or appearing on a magazine cover isn’t a headline?
I think the only way is just to continue the work and keep pushing mainstream magazines and TV and movies and everyone to expand their diversity in terms of body shapes and sizes, as well as everything else. There needs to be a big shift when it comes to representation across the board, not just with bodies, with race and gender. That’s when I think things will become normalized and it will no longer be a headline when a fat person is in a bikini. Why should that be on the front page of a newspaper?

You participated in the Amber Rose SlutWalk last year. What was it like to be in a space all about promoting women and body image and defying society’s expectations?
Even as much as I believe all of the things that I am talking about, it’s still hard, because you encounter people who don’t believe those things everyday. You don’t realize how much emotional energy you use to either ignore them or talk to them about it, while still feeling frustrated. To be in a place that was completely judgement-free and body positive, about women feeling good in their bodies, was really exciting and empowering.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna’s friend’s Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.

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