Model Gabi Gregg (a.k.a. Gabi Fresh) opens up to PEOPLE about learning to feel confident in her own skin as she models her latest lingerie line — plus, why it’s important to continue to break down industry ideals.
Like most adolescent girls, I struggled immensely with my body image growing up. When I turned 12, I transferred to a suburban private school where I was surrounded by classmates who looked nothing like me. They were rich, white and thin. As a chubby black kid from a lower-middle class background, all I wanted was to fit in.
As I got older, I grew into my identity but continued to buy into the idea that my life would get exponentially better as soon as I lost weight. I loved fashion, and I would fantasize about the day when I’d finally reach my goal size and confidently wear sexier clothing, bikinis and lingerie.
In college, I was introduced to niche body positivity and fashion forums online where plus-size women shared their daily outfits and connected over shared experiences. Living in a larger body definitely affects how society treats you, and finally connecting with others who understood that experience was not only validating, but also healing. Just as transformative, though, was seeing images of women of all shapes and sizes confidently sharing photos of themselves. You have no idea just how important visibility and representation are until you actually see yourself consistently represented for the first time. I realized that maybe I was okay at my weight, and maybe the pursuit of thinness shouldn’t be my primary obsession in life.
Slowly but surely, I began to feel better about my own body. I reclaimed the word fat and started blogging about personal style and plus size fashion resources, quickly amassing a significant following. Creating a tight-knit community of women who were excited to finally have a place to cheer each other on and connect over where to get the latest fashion not only gave me a sense of purpose, but also fostered my self-confidence.
While I was having a blast experimenting with new outfit ideas and sharing photos publicly, in my private life I still struggled with how potential partners would feel about my body. I could dance around in my underwear alone all day — in fact, I preferred stripping down to my undies as soon as I got home! But the idea of anyone else seeing me in a state of undress was intimidating.
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As my blog grew, though, so did my understanding of feminism, body positivity and fashion. I loved clothing because it was a fun way to express myself — it was for me, not others — and I realized the same could be true of lingerie. While it’s almost always marketed as if its existence is for male pleasure, that didn’t have to be the case: I could wear lingerie simply because it’s beautiful and it helps me feel beautiful.
Once I understood that, I decided that the next Valentine’s Day, I would produce and model a lingerie photo shoot for my blog. I was excited to shoot and post the photos, framing it as an act of self-love. Much like the holiday, lingerie could be reclaimed as a way to treat yourself to something nice, without the pressure or expectation of what it signifies to someone else. The shoot was my first time wearing lingerie in front of others, and I genuinely had gotten to a place where I felt beautiful. Seeing the final pictures confirmed what I had learned to be true: the joy and genuine confidence radiated off of the screen and that’s why I looked beautiful. It was no longer about whether my body “good” or “bad.”
Little did I know that years later, I would be approached by Playful Promises to design my own lingerie line, but I truly feel that I’ve come full circle. I’m honored that I now get to create fun designs that empower the wearer, especially when she has usually been left out of this experience.
As a size 18 and 38HH bra top, going shopping for underwear can often be a defeating experience. I bypass all of the cute and sexy options and get to my section where the boring, beige bras are lined up like utilitarian uniforms. Because of this, when I design my collections I am adamant that each and every piece is made thoughtfully and includes statement elements that make it unique. This year, I pushed the envelope by not only incorporating fabrics like lace and mesh, but added even more specialty details like embroidery, sequins and cut outs.
I know that by consistently delivering exciting new options to plus size women who have previously been ignored by this industry, I’m helping to spread the transformative experience I had so many years ago of finally feeling deserving, worthy and empowered. I couldn’t be more humbled and honored to carry the torch.
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