As “The Barefoot Foodie,” Brittany Gibbons tried to be a famous food critic in the blogosphere, but that souffle never rose.
“It seems like I was always describing things as nutty or rich. I wasn’t very good at it. And nobody read it,” she said.
So the Swanton blogger veered into more familiar territory: “Brittany, Herself,” a humorous journal of her life as a wife, a mother of three, and a plus-sized woman struggling with a lifetime of body issues. Regarding her posts as a cathartic journey of self-discovery and a platform for women’s body advocacy, Gibbons had no idea her writing was striking a chord with scores of women experiencing similar feelings.
Seven years later, she has half a million monthly readers, national recognition, contracts with fashion companies to hawk their plus-size apparel, and a book deal with a publishing giant. And no one has found any of it more unexpected than Gibbons.
“I was living in a small town, and I had three small kids, and I really thought that this was going to be all for me. So this is an amazing twist. It’s a surreal experience,” she said.
“Fat Girl Walking,” a humorous look at “a girl fumbling about, and trying to like herself” will be published by HarperCollins in early 2015. Gibbons, 33, will offer a preview of her wit and wisdom in a presentation at the Swanton Public Library on June 5 from 7-8 p.m.
Armed with a college degree in English and a hidden desire to “Saturday Night Live” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the Swanton High School graduate started blogging in 2007. When the food critic idea crashed –“I thought it was going to be brilliant, and it wasn’t”–Gibbons began writing about topics she knew first-hand: marriage and motherhood.
“Other moms started reading me and relating to it,” she said. “They finally had somebody who wasn’t a Martha Stewart type telling them what they were doing wrong.”
Three years ago, Gibbons started mentioning her 200-plus pounds, and her difficulty in accepting her body image.
“I wanted to get to a place where I loved my body. I started taking on women’s body advocacy,” she said.
That led to an invitation in 2011 to speak at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) event at Bowling Green State University. Gibbons gave a sharp-humored speech about loving her body, then surprised the audience by stripping down to a bathing suit on stage.
She also became a spokesperson for plus size fashions by Lucky Jeans, ModCloth, and Lands’ End, for whom she posed several times in swimwear in the heart of Times Square in New York City.
“It was terrifying, obviously. It felt a little bit like going down in an airplane,”she said dryly. “But I thought, ‘It’s happening, so live through it and go on.’ The cause is just too great to not do it.”
It was a life-changing experience, she added. “Nobody was really negative, which is also great. I’ve had a lot of women say thank you. It’s turned into a huge community movement.”
The experience inspired Gibbons to pose in bathing suits for her blog each spring; last year she took the dive and wore a bikini. The post went viral, and Gibbons was featured on “Good Morning America.”
“‘GMA’ did a story on it – ‘Girl in bathing suit’ - breaking news!” she said with a laugh.
She is now working with an underwear company called Dear Kate. She did a photo shoot for them last month; the results will appear in the company catalog on its website.
Gibbons said readers should make no mistake about her posts being a “mommy” blog. She writes in a candid, blunt, and sometimes crude adult style about her life. Her frankness and honesty has been featured in a dozen magazines, notably “Women’s Day” and “Ladie’s Home Journal,” which proclaimed her one of women who made the world happiest in 2013.
But what set the blogosphere and media buzzing was her post entitled, “I Had Sex Every Day For A Year.” It was a funny take on how Gibbons’ weight made her feel awkward in the bedroom, and how the experience changed her perception about her body.
The post went viral, and caught the attention of the “Today” show, which flew her to New York as a guest. Jay Leno also got into the act, taking a couple of comedic swipes at Gibbons on the “Tonight Show.”
Shortly afterward, she was courted by four different publishing houses, which asked if she was ready to write a book. Gibbons tabled the idea, preferring the interaction of the Internet, but eventually struck a deal with a HarperCollins agent. The book wittily covers her life from childhood to the present, including her lifelong issues with weight.
“It’s a daunting task,” she admitted. “I’m used to writing a thousand words at a time, and now I’m telling my story in 3,000-word chapters.”
She calls herself an accidental body advocate, but said, “So many women needed somebody to go up and do it for them. I get a lot of messages from women thanking me. I get a lot of emails from husbands thanking me for helping their wives. I’ve built sort of a ‘girlfriend’ brand just being myself.”
Gibbons was prompted to become a women’s body advocate, in part, after realizing how strongly her daughter resembled her.
“I thought, ‘I hate myself, so obviously there’s a problem here,’” she said. “I didn’t want her to grow up feeling like I did. She loves fashion and dressing up, so I’m trying to build her up.”
In the process of raising her daughter to have a positive self-image and sharing her feelings about body image on her blog, Gibbons said she healed herself. “I’ve gotten to a point where I appreciate my body so much. I just don’t want to lose a pound. And women need to know that that’s all right.
“We need to talk a little louder, and have women discuss that. It’s so freeing…and it changes our lives.”
Susan Bach, Swanton Public Library’s adult services librarian, said Gibbons’ story is one that will interest residents throughout the area.
“It’s a really amazing story, and a happy one,” Bach said. “There are so many different facets – the book, the blog, the body image work. This is amazing that someone could create such a great career working from home. The blog is very funny, and I think it’s something that people would enjoy. And there’s a huge intelligence there.”
Gibbons said she has discussed with her husband Andy moving their family to the big city to further her career, but right now she prefers her small-town roots.
“I still wake up every morning in disbelief that this is my life,” she said. “It’s a surreal experience.”