The first time I saw Gabi Gregg in a fatkini, my brain exploded. I was scrolling through 30ish images of Gabi and other plus-size women proudly displaying their two piece-clad bodies for XO Jane -- and for the world. “What kind of person would do that?” I wondered. “Why in the world would you wear a bikini as a fat person? And, what’s more, why would you put that on the internet?”
Those women had the kind of bodies you cover up, not show off. I had the kind of body you cover up.
I’d worked in plus-size fashion far too long to be having those thoughts, I hate to admit. And, of course, they sprung from self-hatred. While the public me pretended I was above buying into society’s beauty standards, inside I hated myself for being fat.
Then, around 2013, I hired my favorite woman who ever worked at my old store. A tattooed beauty with self-confidence to spare named Yvette. She knew who she was. I was simultaneously intimidated and full of admiration. She came to work one day saying Buzzfeed and MTV News picked up her photo on Instagram and used it for a piece on fatkini’s. There it was, staring me in the face again – the fatkini. Except now a woman I actually knew was flaunting her body on the internet. Even bigger brain explosion!
Shortly after, a customer called to ask if we carried bikinis. We didn’t.
“I can’t believe that! Of all the places in New Orleans, I was sure you guys would have them. You’re always ahead of the trend,” she said.
I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that I, personally, had just graduated from the swim skirt to the tankini and was nowhere near ready to embrace a two piece for myself or my old store. Those were the days when I counseled customers with advice like, “This will hide your imperfections.”
Wow! Do those conversations go differently now. My current advice: “Does that make you feel beautiful? Great. Then wear it!”
My customers haven’t changed. They’re just as brave and fabulous as ever. But, I have.
As some of you know, I took a hiatus from New Orleans before opening Jaci Blue to spend a year in Los Angeles. (Coincidentally, bikini central.) At the time, I thought I was pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams. But really, I was discovering who I am and learning to actually like myself – flaws and all.
I’d left everything that I relied upon for my identity back in New Orleans, friends, social status, job, etc. There I was, standing alone on the West Coast with nothing but myself to love. That is, with the help of a few marvelous women I met out there. Through their examples of self-love I learned how to be a fierce female all on my own, regardless of the size of my waistline.
It seems oxymoronic that it would take a move to image-obsessed Beverly Hills for me to fall in love with my fat self. But that is exactly what happened. Life’s weird.
When it came time last fall to buy swimwear for Jaci Blue, I knew I’d carry bikinis: four different styles to be exact. What I could not have predicted was that I would actually end up wearing one of them. And when the time came this summer to jump back into the pool, a fatkini was my first choice.
Here is my cellulite, my stretch marks, my scars. All these are the story of my body, the story of me. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the girl who earned those “flaws.” My stomach is not “plus size model flat,” as Ashley Graham talks about in her book. But it’s the only stomach I know. It’s a good one too; it nourishes me.
Though social media sometimes seems designed to make people feel “less than,” if you choose, you can fill your Instagram feed with really beautiful women from all over the world with glorious bodies that look just like yours. Those women, much like Yvette, have the beauty and confidence to change the world.
I often wonder if it would have taken me 36 years to love myself if I’d had access to these images as a girl. So, in honor of my younger, lost self, I will now join in that number.
Hello world, this is my body. It is beautiful, and I love it. Try not to let your brain explode.
PS: I’m not always perfect about my body acceptance. Hours before this photo shoot was scheduled I ran in a fear driven craze to the nearest spray tan booth. The old tape playing in my head “OMG what are doing? They are going to see your stretch marks and blubber. You are so pasty. Fat always looks better tan!” As the chemical mist began to spray my fat naked body, I snapped out of the haze and had a little giggle to myself. Thank God life is about progress not perfection.
(Photos by Jennifer Zdon of Twirl Photography)