With Head Held High

By Haley Wilson

We've all had that moment at the beach when a towel becomes a security blanket as we tiptoe towards the water and feel what seems like thousands of eyes upon us as the towel is reluctantly tossed aside to reveal our bathing suit-clad selves. Author Brittany Gibbons had this moment in front of multiple cameras and an audience of 700 people during a TED talk. The message behind such a statement? Hold your head high, no matter your size.

Gibbons, better known as Brittany Herself based on her popular blog, has taken strides to share her messages about body image and today's conceptions of beauty in an even more widespread medium: print. Her memoir, Fat Girl Walking, came out this June and, as the front cover explains, focuses on "sex, food, love, and being comfortable in your skin."

What led to this book, and to a blog credited with over half a million views per month? Gibbons describes herself as a compulsive journaler, but the inception of Brittany Herself started one morning in 2007. "I was watching the news one morning with a baby on my hip, and they did a story on a mom who made money by writing about her life online. The rest is history. I had created my blog by that afternoon," Gibbons says.

Re-defining Beauty

Her blog—featuring recipes (the delicious and the skip-worthy), fashion (everything from swimsuits to formal wear), and her unflinching opinions on society's obsession with weight—is known and appreciated for its frank discussions on the definition of beauty. Gibbons receives endless feedback from fans, both seeking advice and praising the self-confidence she spent a lifetime working toward. Gibbons shares one bit of advice most: "Plus-size women do not have the monopoly on body hate; we all feel it. This is a women's issue, and the sooner we realize that and stop fighting each other, the better."

With such an unsung message to share, Gibbons wasn't satisfied with just writing her blog: she took to the stage to deliver a TED talk that left audiences both inspired and reeling over her decision to strip down to her bathing suit, shedding layers of clothing gradually as she introduced her topics and concluding the talk standing in the spotlight, wearing a swimsuit, and declaring that she was doing this for women everywhere.

"TED was a greater stage to tell my story. To give a face to my body and my size. A girl like me in a bathing suit is often written off as just a chubby girl at the pool," says Gibbons. "I'm not seen as attractive, sexy, or even happy. But, I feel all those things. I love how I look, and I am the only one in charge of my narrative."

Moving Beyond Her Blog

Gibbons' bold confidence and humorous takes on life's cringe-worthy moments plays a part in her book, but she assures fans that the memoir will not just be a print edition of the posts on her blog. "Fat Girl Walking is a funny and honest memoir of my journey as a fat girl, and becoming a force and movement, despite my size. It was also really important for me to talk about experiences, like love, sex and food, that aren't exclusive to only one size of woman."

Some might find the concept of inspiring millions of women and acquiring Internet fame daunting, but Gibbons has taken the process in stride, focusing on the beauty revolution she hopes to share with the world. "My goal is to get women to change the way society sees and defines beauty by getting them to see just how strong and beautiful they are, and then passing it on."

As for sharing her ideas with the Internet and supplying fans with steady blog posts, Gibbons maintains her quick wit and never fails to keep things real. "For me, it's still like I'm sitting on my couch talking to a friend. I have no actual concept of a mass audience, because it doesn't feel that way to me. It just feels like a conversation between friends. I think it's that intimacy that people are attracted to."

Engaging with Readers

While Gibbons' dedicated readers are a constant source of inspiration and fun (she once officiated a fan's wedding!), she often turns to her favorite celebrities, such as Lucille Ball, Gilda Radner, Louis CK, and David Sedaris, for inspiration.

Gibbons also loves to engage with readers and fans alike on a personal basis, hosting an annual sleepaway camp for adults in Ohio dubbed "Camp Throwback." There, guests can expect the typical activities of camping like bonfires, swimming, and bunking in cabins, but also enjoying live music each night and participating in Drunk Field Day.

Though the event takes place in her home state, in an ideal world Gibbons would host it in Australia, "even though I'm terrified of sharks and snakes, and so many things can eat you there."

If you're not among the lucky few that attend Camp Throwback and would like to meet Brittany Gibbons, you can find her and Fat Girl Walking at this year's Festival of Books. She will participate in two "Women Behaving Badly" events (7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at Barefoot Dance Studio in Rapid City, and 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at Deadwood Public Library), along with an SDPB live broadcast (11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, at Deadwood Mountain Grand) and a reading/presentation (10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at Martin & Mason Hotel).

Brittany herself looks forward to the community presence. "There is nothing more inspiring than being surrounded by so much creativity!"