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SI Swim Search finalist Gigi Robinson wants to change how the world sees chronic illness.
The social media influencer was chosen among thousands of submissions to be flown to the Dominican Republic and be photographed by acclaimed photographer Yu Tsai. The winner of the annual casting call will become a rookie in the 2023 issue.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2022 issue, currently in newsstands, features cover girls Kim Kardashian, Maye Musk, Ciara and Yumi Nu.
The 24-year-old was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes chronic pain and makes one prone to bruises and injuries that can be slow to heal. The Gen Z star was forced to give up swimming, a passion of hers, but later discovered a new love for photography through which she can express herself both in front and behind the lens.
Robinson spoke to Fox News Digital about how SI Swimsuit is celebrating her body, the heartfelt piece of advice she received from editor-in-chief MJ Day and how she deals with trolls on social media.
Fox News: What compelled you to try out this year?
Gigi Robinson: This may sound funny or even strange, but I feel like I was kind of called to do this. I first got the idea after I saw Katie Austin last year. She won the SI Swim Search for 2021. She’s a couple of years older than me and also went to USC. I admired how she just went for it. I thought, if she could do it, then I could do it. So I wanted to try it for the chronically ill community. We don’t see representation too often… I think it’s something a lot of people in the United States experience. I wanted to spread the message of advocacy and representation.
Fox News: What was it like shooting for SI in Punta Cana?
Robinson: It was so fabulous. It’s so gorgeous. I believe there was a snowstorm the day I left. Twenty degrees and snowing. And then I landed in a sunny paradise that’s 85 degrees with a nice breeze. The food was good, the clouds and palm trees were beautiful, the sun felt so good.
There was a silver lining to my shoot. They shot different girls on different days. My day was the last day that the whole crew was there. Unfortunately, it started raining. I decided to throw a positive spin, like how can this work? I knew the images were going to be different. It’s not going to be sunshine. It’s going to be more of a cloudy haze. Hopefully, it will differentiate me, making me a stronger candidate for rookie.
And I ended up spending time with MJ Day because we were waiting for the storm to pass. No other model got that, which was so special to me. And then after the storm passed, we went back to the beach. There was the sunset and a nice evening sky. We then went to shoot again in the morning. It was the only cloudy morning *laughs*. But I thought again, just embrace it. Wear that orange bikini. Be the sunshine on the beach.
I got three opportunities to shoot. The first one, I took as my test. I’m learning and picking up the cues from everybody around me. The second time, I’m honing in on it and listening. By the third time, I was able to get the shot within eight minutes.
Fox News: Did you prepare in any way for this shoot?
Robinson: As somebody who has a history of disordered eating, especially because of the medications that I’m on, I am very sensitive to working out and dieting. I did not limit myself. I will say I was eating more salads, but it wasn’t because I wanted to look thinner. It was because I feel better that way. I was drinking more green juices and smoothies. But I wasn’t hindering my diet. I wasn’t fasting.
I got a spray tan, I got my nails done, and I got a facial and a lymphatic drainage massage. I got my blowout and my eyebrows done. Everything waxed *laughs*. That’s what I did to prepare. It’s not worth [going] in a spiral for a photo. I talk about body image online, the medications I take, the relationship I have with my body and how my weight fluctuates… I’m embracing myself as I am now.
It’s funny, I did a post on TikTok where I mentioned that I was on my period during the shoot. And I think that’s kind of a cool thing to say because it’s so normal. I was on a set that was predominately women. They were so supportive, like, “no worries, it happens all the time.” That was so reassuring to not be worried about being a little extra bloated. None of that mattered. The shoot was about the message of empowerment and embodying it. I’m just a vessel that’s able to represent that.
Fox News: It must be empowering for you to be part of a brand that’s welcoming of all bodies.
Robinson: Oh yeah, that’s the vibe I got from them. I even had a moment with MJ where I was like, “Look, my entire life, I’ve always wanted to cover up and wear a high-waisted bikini to hide my belly pouch. Or I wanted to wear tops that were more full coverage. I’ve been scared of triangle bikinis.” She’s like, “You know what bestie? You’re gonna try on that triangle bikini. You’re gonna try this style on and you’re gonna rock it. Are you kidding me? You look so hot. You’re going to embrace it.”
It felt like stepping into your femininity… You can express the different parts of who you are through fashion, or in this case, a swimsuit. You can wear a one-piece and be a powerful bad b—-. Or you can wear a skimpy little triangle bikini that maybe shows off your sensual side more. Or you can wear something with a little underwire or a push-up and be more playful. It didn’t matter what my body looked like. What mattered was how I felt in those swimsuits… I felt so confident in the things that we ended up choosing. It just made the shoot go by so quickly because I was having so much fun. I felt so confident in every swimsuit I wore.
Fox News: You wanted to raise awareness on visibility in terms of chronic illness. Is it true you were diagnosed with a tissue disorder at age 11?
Robinson: My chronic illness, or one of them, is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder. It makes it very challenging for me to do a lot of things. It affects people in different ways and it’s so dynamic. There’s no cure. You can’t just take a pill and it’s gone. It’s a long-term condition that affects everyone, including me, differently. It causes severe chronic pain in my body throughout the day. I bruise easily. I get chronic migraines because of it. My weight fluctuates because of the medicine that I’m on to try to manage it.
When I was diagnosed, I had to give up competitive swimming, which was a passion of mine. I truly wanted to be an Olympic swimmer and in my mind, that was going to happen. My doctors told me that I couldn’t. So I had to find a new passion. That ended up being photography. I fell in love with photography and the creative production behind it. I’ve looked up to Yu Tsai for years. Working with him was like a dream. I was not only in front of his lens, but I got to witness him at work behind the scenes. When I saw myself on the monitor for the first time, it just brought me to tears. Not only was I staying true to my message, but I was fulfilling a passion of mine. Everything that led to that moment felt so right.
Fox News: You described how your chronic illness can give you bruising. How did that impact your confidence over the years?
Robinson: I would say that having bruises on my body growing up was not something I really paid attention to until it became something that people would point out to me. Living in New York City makes it easy to wear long sleeves and cover up for at least half of the year. But when I lived in Los Angeles for college at USC, I would cover up all the time. If I ever did photoshoots, I would Photoshop the bruises out of them. I don’t think I really paid attention to how it affected me, but it ultimately contributed to my denial of my chronic illness.
I don’t think I accepted it until my full burnout occurred in 2019. I was struggling… It made me sit back and go, “You have these problems. You can’t run from them anymore. You can’t Photoshop them out of your life. You can’t hide them.” I wanted to advocate for myself. I was thousands of miles away across the country away from my family in LA, the Mecca of the influencer industry. Everyone’s gorgeous. In Hollywood, everyone is skinny and blonde. But the moment I stepped back, I realized I needed to accept myself as I am. That’s when the healing really began. And that’s how you can help others. It’s like a champagne tower. You need to fill that first cup for yourself in terms of self-love and self-confidence before you can let that overflow into other people.
Fox News: How do you deal with trolls on social media?
Robinson: I just feel bad for them. It’s not worth my energy or time. These are people who are insecure in their own journeys, so they feel compelled to comment on somebody else’s life. It’s almost embarrassing that somebody cares that much about what I’m doing. They’re so unhappy with their lives that they have to be concerned with what I’m doing.
It makes no sense… But thankfully, some tools let you filter certain terms like “ugly,” “fat,” “b—-” — all those nasty words. But the truth is, I’m on social media to post and interact with people that do matter, people that do care. So if someone feels like they need to write something like “gross,” I just delete it and move on. It’s not worth my mental space.
Fox News: What kind of message do you want to share with your followers?
Robinson: When it comes to my brand on social media, I’m committed to no retouching. I want people to see me as I am… I think it’s cool that now if you’re someone who bruises easily, you don’t need to Photoshop that out of a campaign. A person can see that and go, “Wow, that person is just like me.”
It’s about using photos to create a connection with others. And I think that connection is something so many of us are lacking, especially in the digital world that we’re living in right now… I’m excited to see how the media can represent more people in campaigns. I certainly feel a part of that.
Fox News: What’s one message you hope your photos will give with others?
Robinson: I just want to convey that you can look sexy and feel like s— and that’s OK. A lot more people go through that than we think. Living with a chronic illness can be so challenging. So I wanted to take myself out of that comfort zone and do something for myself that makes me feel sexy and confident. It adds this variety to my life that distracts me from my chronic illness. I hope it can, at the very least, empower others.
Don’t give a damn about wearing a bikini if you have bruises, scars, stretch marks, belly rolls, scratches — whatever. Life is not perfect. We have to remember that. I can’t say enough good things about SI and how it has empowered me. It’s just been such a dream. I’m very honored to have this role as a finalist. I am looking forward to the next stage, whatever that may be.