She was equally attacked and supported for a move people considered "brave," mostly by women who either label-shamed her or sent pictures of themselves in equal states of undress as a legion of body advocacy support.
But why was this such a big deal? Why did a plus-size woman in a two-piece make national news? Because, in Gibbons' opinion, her body didn't fit the norm. Today, she hopes that image is changing, albeit slowly. In our interview, she joked that her next move might be wearing just a couple of pasties.
In all seriousness, she said, "I really love showing my body to women, so it's more normal. Four years ago, it was shocking. Oh, my gosh, here's this woman on the internet in a bathing suit! It's become more and more normal, and that's been my goal: that when you look at me, it's not a rarity, but more like Oh, look at this beautiful woman, not this plus-sized woman."
In her new book, Fat Girl Walking, Gibbons takes a look at where her body has been and where it's going. She was born with quite an inheritance: "mental illness and fat thighs." She fought through the mean girls of high school in small town Ohio and found love and three kids with husband, Andy. Then, she found the internet and a blog and a website and a TEDex speech... in which she stripped while on stage.
She didn't become a model until she turned 30, and even then, it was a terrifying experience. "True story," she said. "I queued up every season of America's Next Top Model. I'm like, Thank you, Tyra." Her biggest fear at photo shoots? That the clothes wouldn't fit. They always did, and that's when she started having fun. She's now pretty dang fearless in front of the camera, and why not? She said, "I have really fallen in love with my body."
But she still hasn't escaped the trolls: women who tear her down. Instead of dog-eat-dog, it's women-shame-women. Gibbons thinks it's in our DNA. She said, "Women are a selfless gender. When we do something for ourselves, it's seen as very selfish. If I don't feel great about myself, but I see you feeling great about yourself, I'm going to be the first one to put that in check. We're like, Wow, how selfish of you to walk around like you're beautiful?"
Gibbons was once privy to a job interview that would change her life. After the female candidate had left, Gibbons' female boss turned and asked, "Do you think she's too pretty?" The candidate didn't get the job, and Gibbons chalks this up to her own boss' insecurity.
As women, we're so happy to label each other. We throw around words like "ugly," "fat," "industrial size" and "skinny." Will we ever stop? Will the labels ever go away? Eh, probably not. Gibbons said, "In a perfect world, it would be great to say, 'We're not using these words anymore.' That's not going to happen. We need to change how we see those labels. If you're insecure and hinging your self-esteem on everyone around you, that's really damaging. We need to stop depending on everyone else for the actual narrative we use to address our bodies."
Which is exactly what Gibbons and her book, Fat Girl Walking, are trying to accomplish. She even lives this model in her own house with her 6-year-old daughter, Gigi, who hopes to one day open a bubble store. A what? A bubble store. Gibbons said, "I'm raising a tiny little feminist."
The truth is, nobody is safe online. No woman is safe anywhere, no matter her size. Gibbons said, "Shaming is never OK, in any capacity. Telling someone to eat a cheeseburger is just as harmful as telling someone to eat a salad."
In Fat Girl Walking, Gibbons has not written a diet book. She has written a true, funny, painful and inspiring story of one woman getting in touch with her body and what makes her beautiful. The message? Everyone's pretty. We're all women, and the shaming, personal attacks and body jokes have to stop with us.
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