Zakia Blain is here to snatch in all kinds of waists.
The 41-year-old entrepreneur behind FBF Body is Philly famous — and then some — for a variety of suck-it-in and smooth-it-out undergarments that include high-waisted panties, full slips, and compression leggings you can wear under jeans.
Here’s the best part: Unlike another intimate brand that rhymes with thanks, FBF Body Shapewear molds large bodies — up to size 5X — into hourglass figures. How do we know this for sure? Because Blain, a solid 2X, is not shy about letting her 173,000 Instagram followers watch her pull the FBF Shapewear up and over her jiggly belly. As a smooth silhouette appears, it becomes clear that the curviest of women have just as much right to show off their waistline as itty-bitty women do.
“People hate plus-size women who don’t have low self-esteem,” Blain told me from her 2,000-square-foot office and warehouse space in Trainer, Delaware County, where she runs her million-dollar-plus business, FBF Body. “My message with FBF is that you can still love your body while you are working toward the healthiest body that you can have.”
Blain’s bubbly, can-do attitude and networking skills have put FBF in some cool, high-profile places. She’s spoken at several entrepreneur conferences, including the annual Pretty Girl Sweat Fest in Atlanta, and last year Blain gave a presentation to hundreds of women at the Essence + New Voices Entrepreneur Summit. She usually travels there in her own wrapped car, which also acts as a mobile retail space. FBF Body Shapewear also made a few inconspicuous appearances on the red carpet this year when E! entertainment reporter Nina Parker wore a piece of FBF Body Shapewear underneath both her dresses for the Golden Globes and the Grammys.
People seem to believe that big women don’t lead healthy lifestyles. But that is simply not true. There are many a plus-size babes killing it in spin classes, practicing yoga (see Jessamyn Stanley), and making it happen on the elliptical, fighting to stay healthy and/or to keep preexisting health conditions in check. The problem is that the health and fashion industry treats those women either as afterthoughts or like they’re invisible. FBF Body speaks to those women, not as after thoughts, but as the driving force of a lifestyle business.
There also are FBF Body leggings and matching sports bras in basic blacks and pretty hues like berry. (Reality television star Syleena Johnson has worn FBF apparel on Marriage Boot Camp on We TV and R&B Divas on TV One.) She also sells bracelets and waist beads she sources in Sierra Leone.
The growth of FBF Body has coincided with Blain’s health journey.
Blain may never have been skinny, but she always has been active, running track and cheerleading at the Milton Hershey School, where she was a classmate of Deesha Dyer, the White House social secretary of the Obamas. Blain graduated from Temple in 2003 with a degree in education and started teaching middle school in Philadelphia that same year.
When she was 30, Blain was diagnosed with chiari malformation, a chronic brain disorder that causes her severe migraines, fatigue, dizziness, and anxiety. Doctors initially prescribed medicine that lessened the symptoms of the disease but made her stutter and resulted in other worrisome side effects. She found that eating right and exercising helped counteract some of them. “I started looking at diet and exercise as a way to get off my meds,” Blain said.
One 90-degree day in 2012, Blain and a coworker were power walking around Cobbs Creek Parkway. It was a difficult walk, so Blain understood when her friend blurted out, “F— being fat.” “I was like, yeah, I’m gonna put that on a T-shirt,” Blain said. She didn’t know it yet, but her lifestyle brand was born.
Over the course of five months, Blain went from 240 to 175 pounds. She was so encouraged with her own success she decided she wanted to inspire others. She started an online weight-loss challenge and named it FCKbeingFat, which would eventually evolve into simply FBF. Eight people signed up, but it didn’t take long before she had a following of thousands.
In 2014 Blain’s brain condition forced her to retire from teaching. She continued to grow FBF and introduced some T-shirts and workout gear. Her friends and family helped her fill orders on the days she couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually, she quit doing the challenge but continued with the apparel sales, under the FBF Body umbrella.
In 2016 she bought a Miraclesuit body shaper at the Macy’s in Springfield Mall. She tried it on and it felt like butter. So she laid the shaper on her bed and took a picture of it, posting it on Snapchat. After a few hours, a few hundred people took screenshots of the shaper, an indication that they wanted to buy it. “I should be selling these myself,” Blain thought.
That following week, Blain contacted Miraclesuit and asked if she could become a licensed retailer of the company’s shapers, and sell them on her website under what was now her FBF Body label. Miraclesuit agreed and sales initially were moderate. But then Blain took a video of herself easing into the shaper as she got ready for a party in Atlanta in March 2017. “Once I showed people how the shapers work, [sales] took off,” Blain said. She started selling thousands of pieces of shapewear a month. As Blain’s business grew, she organized it around her disorder. She sets her own hours, and her friends and family help her fill orders on days that she is too sick to work.
With each new style came a new video. Girl, where did you get that courage?
“When you grow up seeing women comfortable in their bodies, you are comfortable in yours,” Blain said. “I grew up with my aunt who was very comfortable in her skin. I wasn’t brought up to be ashamed of myself or to hide myself, so when it was time for me to put the shaper on, I was like, OK.”
In the last year, shapewear has become more visible. Brands like Shapermint and Honeylove are all over social media showing real women pulling spandex-blend compression pieces over lumps and bumps. In September 2019, Kim Kardashian released her brand of shapewear called Skims. And women are wearing these pieces under bodycon dresses and athleisure wear, too. But Blain’s FBF Brand is one of the few that truly is inclusive.
“I mean, look. If anybody could give up, it would be me," Blain said. “I mean I was a big girl. I had a brain disease. But I kept going, I didn’t let anything stop me.”