Gigi Robinson says her goal is to help young people, particularly those struggling with their body image and/or chronic illness, gain confidence and stand up for themselves
Gigi Robinson was in the Dominican Republic with a group of about a dozen other Swim Search finalists and a large film crew for days when it rained on one day of shooting. Neither the dark skies nor distant thunder stopped Robinson from shooting. She sat around for hours with her hair and makeup on, waiting for the storm to temporarily halt production, and shot anyway.
“I could have gotten insecure, but instead I had to check my ego at the door and say, ‘You know what? -year-old social media influencer told the New York Post. “And I love that. I think I’m so unique and so rare and it’s really important to me that the photos reflect that.”
Robinson, who is single, is one of 13 women selected as finalists in the 2022 Sports Illustrated Swim Search, a global casting call. The publication’s annual swimsuit issue, out Monday, May 16, features her and the others. The overall winner of the competition will be announced in August.
Robinson was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome when she was 10 years old and living in New York. Ehlers-Danlos is a connective tissue disease that causes chronic pain, making them very susceptible to injury and unusually slow to heal. Robinson’s illness was first discovered by her family after she was carelessly cartwheeling and breaking her elbow.
Less than a year later, Robinson broke her ankle and tore ligaments in her wrist, and it took the latter 13 months to recover. Luckily, her mother worked in healthcare, so she had access to top-notch doctors.
Robinson was soon in the office of a pediatric geneticist in Cornell and received her diagnosis. Robinson had taken up swimming but had to give it up because of her illness. “I really thought I was going to the Olympics. That’s how much I loved swimming,” she remarked.
Robinson was injured frequently throughout high school and college, and she was usually on crutches or in a splint. Her classmates would often question her, asking why she was taking notes on a laptop in class. Why did she choose the elevator instead of the stairs? Some professors told her that her registered ADA accommodation “wouldn’t be okay” in her lectures, while others advised her to “work harder.”
“I didn’t know how to articulate myself. I couldn’t stand up to teachers and say, ‘What you just said to me is unacceptable and I’m going to the dean.’ So I made art about it instead,” she explained. For her senior capstone project, she has compiled a picture book that depicts the intensely intimate experiences that chronically ill people are all too familiar with. “It’s like looking at the tiled ceiling from a hospital bed, or hearing the crackle of paper when you sit on the exam table in an ambulance, or the neon lights,” she added.
Robinson joined a social media focused organization called USC Reach while earning a BFA from the University of Southern California. She quickly became a brand spokesperson for companies like Tinder and Abercrombie & Fitch. She largely used her own social media platforms prior to 2020 to promote content about body image and marketing, but she didn’t mention her chronic illnesses.
According to Robinson, many creatives with serious or chronic illnesses avoid voicing their condition publicly for fear of being harassed. However, the pandemic changed Robinson’s perspective. “I was just like, ‘Gigi, you can’t post empty content about fashion and fizzy water online right now,'” she shared. She gradually began sharing her experiences with chronic diseases in hopes of creating more relevant content. “I would say that’s when I really stepped into that role as a lawyer.”
Robinson’s social media networks have built a combined following of around 150,000 people over the past three years. She has also been nominated for a number of WEGO Health Awards including Best in Show for numerous social media channels, Patient Leader Hero, Advocating for Another and Rookie of the Year.
Robinson’s goal is to help young people, especially those struggling with their body image and/or chronic illness, gain confidence and stand up for themselves. “The next generation will be even more digital than Generation Z and they need the role models that I didn’t have,” she explained.