Ashley Graham on Why Models Like Her Are Not an Anomaly


Sep 17, 2015


Ashley Hoffman for STYLEITE

Ashley Graham wearing a lacy affair from her Addition Elle collection.

If you weren’t convinced that Ashley Graham is your down to earth homegirl, then you haven’t watched her in hype mode at a party for Lane Bryant. From the second she hit the stage for the Plus Is Equal New York Fashion Week interruption in Times Square, Graham was the shindig’s body love social director. There she was pointing at women in the crowd announcing she wanted to see women like them on the runway and also riffing about all the people who said no one would permit her hot bod to come near the cover of a magazine. She was posing for group shots, complimenting everyone’s dresses, and treating everyone like they came over for a group hang.

About the roar from the crowd who came to celebrate, she said “those are my girls, you know?” Today she’s showing her own lingerie show at Kia Stye360, so we chatted with her about that Sports Illustrated ad, why she talks about her cellulite, and why fashion needs to get that models like her aren’t an anomaly.

You’re the social director of this thing.
Yeah girl. I’m the hype girl. You’ve don’t enough speeches in your life, you know to keep it short, simple, and easy.

How’s this campaign personal for you?
The whole campaign is really getting the message out there that we need to start talking to the actual designers and letting them know, we want clothes our size as well, not just to go up to a size 12. That’s behind what Lane Bryant really wants but that’s also my personal message too. I would really love to see girls my size walk down the runway. I would love to see a 16, 18, 20 in a high-end store that’s easily accessible. That’s what they’re trying to get across here.

You’ve given this movement in high fashion a very powerful dose of publicity. So was there anyone whose body you looked to when you started that you were happy to see?
There hasn’t really been somebody in the industry that I’ve been excited to look at because I feel like I have his or her body. There are women that are beautiful, but it was really my mother growing up. She’s always been curvy. She’s never ever looked at herself in a negative light. She’s always been happy and active. I get a lot of that from her. It’s hard in the industry. There’s a handful of women that are considered curvy or plus-size or whatever, so I can’t say that I actually had a body inspiration my whole life.

The demand for more visibility is there. So what’s the hold up in your view?
I really have no idea. That’s why I call myself a body activist to get the message out to really help to change the minds of people in the fashion industry or the people who are driving the leading forces of the magazine and the makeup and hair campaigns…or even the contracts.

What’s a misconception about models like this?
They look at us and they just think that’s just what a normal girl looks like, possibly. But we want to create fantasy, and the illusion. That’s what fashion is. It’s all fantasy. I think in fashion, you really want to see yourself in the magazine. You see a body like mine, and you can relate to it. You see a body like all the girls in the campaign, you can relate to it. So I think that we’re changing that. We’re going into that direction finally.

Now that people are talking about it, what in your mind do people still not get?
I think that the thing people aren’t getting is that we’re not any different. We’re the same as the high-end fashion models. We want that good quality clothing. We want to be represented the same way everybody else is. We’re not an anomaly. We just happen to have a little bit more meat on our bones.

What does speaking in front of a crowd that’s amped about this feel like?
It’s really encouraging. You never look at your own body in the mirror and think, ‘I’m going to change lives, and I’m a person that’s going to change the industry,’ yet here I am. They want to see the curves. It’s encouraging to me because I never had anybody like this. Girls want somebody to look up to so they can say, I have her body, and it’s not bad to have her body. I talk about cellulite. I talk about my rolls. I talk about my back fat. I talk about the things that jiggle. Every woman has something that she’s not happy about, but as long as you embrace it and you decide to love it, that’s where the acceptance comes.

What convinces you that top editors are getting with the program?
I think that they’ve heard our message loud and clear. We are the everyday woman. Put us in your magazine. I think that they’re listening. I think it’s taking a long time. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and this is the furthest I’ve ever seen it come in terms of plus-size meets high-end fashion, but it’s a slow process. Some days, you get discouraged and some days you’re like, ‘we’re almost there.’

Do you remember seeing yourself in the Sports Illustrated ad for the first time?
I first saw it on TV, I was like AH! I’m in an ad, but I’m in Sports Illustrated. I made a vision board. I had put a picture of the cover, and I was like ‘I’m going to get the cover.’ God works in mysterious ways. I may not have been in the editorial, I’m in an ad, but I was in the pages of the magazine. They all congratulated me. They treated me like all the other girls. Gigi Hadid congratulated me. She took my hand, and she goes ‘sit by me.’

That’s pretty major. How do you feel about being a spokesperson for beauty ideals and self-acceptance, while people might not look to someone like Gigi Hadid to add to that conversation?
I think it’s a necessary thing right now because you don’t see women like me in the pages. If I have to be the person that’s talking about it, that’s fine. I’m more than happy to. If that means I got to write a book about it, that’s fine I will.

Ashley wearing Ashley Graham lingerie collection for Addition Elle.

What else is on your vision board?
Two things I can’t talk about that are popping off next year. I’ve Perfect Club, which are my workout videos, which are hopefully going to be launched this year, and I’ve been doing a lot more speaking engagements. I know everybody’s so different, but I have Bible verses on my vision board that are really encouraging. It’s just more impactful for me to know that it’s something that’s been said for centuries for so long that people have been going off of that has brought them to power and success. I say those mantras to myself all the time, and I think words have power. I really believe if you speak good, kind, loving words about yourself then you will get to where you want to be. You will end up loving your body. I do affirmation.

Speaking of words, should people just call you “model”?
Model! No labels.

Via Styleite 
More from Styleite 
Moms Review NYFW: Jeremy Scott Spring 2016
Rihanna’s Squad Goals Do Not Include Taylor Swift
Sara Sampaio: ‘People Don’t Understand Skinny Shaming Is Real’