Plus-Size Model Ashley Graham: "Curves are not a trend"

Model, Instagram star and lingerie designer Ashley Graham on how the industry is changing, why internet trolls don't bother her and what makes her feel beautiful


Ashley Graham for Addition Elle

Curvy girls are having a moment, thanks to models like Ashley Graham, 27, who has appeared in Vogue and Glamour. The Nebraska-born dark-haired beauty is committed to making the most of it, offering inspiration and real-life advice on Instagram to a population that’s been under-served for decades, and generally just being a wickedly smart and sassy ambassador for health and beauty at any size.

Graham has also done something truly necessary to promote change: she’s created a lingerie line for busty gals that is both fitted and sexy (cue the singing angels) for Addition Elle.

The frank and funny model talks to FLARE about how the fashion industry has changed, what she wants to do to push it even further, and the democratization of lacy underthings.

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘fashion industry’?
Now, I see opportunity. When I was a little bit younger I was frightened by that term—I didn’t know what it meant. I started modelling when I was 12 and it was kind of like, What is the fashion industry going to give back to me?

Now I see it as an opportunity because there’s so much diversity that’s coming in and out of it. I see the industry as a platform to speak my mind and to have women feel better about themselves, because throughout history women haven’t felt great about themselves in relation to the fashion industry. It’s not just about conforming to a certain type of beauty, it’s about being who you are and embracing yourself through fashion, through clothes, through art.


Ashley Graham for Addition Elle

You represent your own style and really bring home the idea that fashion is about being an individual.
I think that’s the best part about fashion; you can truly be your own individual.

How has it the changed since you’ve been working in it?
It’s changed immensely. I’ve been doing this 15 years and if you would have asked me five years ago, ‘Do you think you’ll be on a couple of magazines? Do you think that you’ll have your own lingerie line? Do you think that you’ll be a voice for curvy women across the nation?’ I would have looked at you and said, That all sounds good but I don’t really know.

To actually see where we’ve come from and where we are now, it’s incredible and I still have to pinch myself sometimes. At times in the past, it has felt like the plus-size girl was only going to be the catalogue girl. Now plus-size women are everywhere—magazines, commercials. It’s an incredible time to be a part of this movement and I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Curves are not a trend. They are here to stay.

Related: Meet Denise Bidot, Star of the “Beach Body, Not Sorry” Campaign

Why do you think this shift has come about?
People have wanted to see more curvy girls, and now there are big-name photographers shooting curvy girls. Magazines are saying, ‘We don’t really care that there is a plus size model in the magazine and as a matter of fact we’re not even going to talk about it, we’re just going to talk about the fact that’s she’s actually just a model!’ And the modelling agency IMG took on five plus-size models and they didn’t know how it would turn out, they were just excited to have diversity on their board. It’s people like that in this industry—who are willing to take a chance—who are going to keep this movement going.

I’m one of those women that look at curvy women with envy. I would love to have curves. What do you say to that? Is it silly for me to look at a picture of you and want beat myself up?
Yes. It’s the same thing as a big girl looking at a skinny girl wishing she had that… The thing that I really want to promote and that I want women to understand is that it’s not about wanting something else; it’s about being self-assured about your size and also just loving your body. I don’t promote obesity, I don’t promote bulimia or anorexia; I promote health at every single size.

You’re active on Instagram and are always posting inspirational quotes. How do you want to serve your fans?
I was told as a girl in high school that I should look up to Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and J.Lo because these women have curves. These were the only women people could point out who looked like me. I want women to feel like they have multiple women to look up to, that they have an opportunity to say, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter if I have cellulite, it doesn’t matter if I have rolls, it doesn’t matter if society thinks that I’m fat.’ I have people telling me I’m fat on Instagram all the time. I actually think it’s hysterical.

(Photo: @theashleygraham)

(Photo: @theashleygraham)

Yeah, at this point I don’t even have to say anything because my fans are so great they’ll just fight the battle!

God, trolls, go somewhere else…
Exactly. I wonder, Why are you following my page? I’m so confident and sure of myself that it doesn’t bother me anymore. But I want young girls especially to be able to have self-assurance in themselves and to understand that it’s not about airbrushing, it’s about real-life and taking care of yourself. I’m a real girl and I go through real issues.

It’s good to show people that you’re not going to cry about this nasty stuff.
No! Because it’s going to happen to you, you just have to get a thick skin and know how to deal with it.

Ashley Graham for Addition Elle

Ashley Graham for Addition Elle

How did your lingerie line come about?
Oh my gosh, it was just a conversation that I started having with Roslyn Griner, the VP marketing director at Addition Elle. She and I just hit it off, and I said, ‘Roslyn, I’m going to start a lingerie line and I want you guys to be a part of it.’ And she said, ‘I think that’s a really great idea.’ And sure enough within a few months, we were signing papers.

What did you want to do with your line that wasn’t already being done?
The fit is so important but also the fact that I want to feel sexy in my lingerie, and I want it to be an all-day thing. I wanted to do a sexy bra that fits me perfectly. Finding a bra that fits you perfectly is easy, but is it going to be in nude and black? Yes. Is it going to be lacy? No! Can I find the lacy stuff? Yes. Is it going to be in a DDD? No. My sister is a 44H and she can’t find sexy bras that are supportive to save her life.

Or else you have to spend a fortune…
Yes, and not a lot of people can do that! My bras are $60, I feel like it’s a reasonable price especially for a lacy, sexy bra. And that’s where it all started. It was basically things that I wanted to see in my closet and honestly these are the only bras I wear now.

Who do you look up to in the industry?
Carine Roitfeld has been an incredible woman to watch, and she’s one of the nicest women in the fashion industry. Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Gisele, Kathy Ireland, these women have made their modeling careers into empires and I really respect them for that. They just took a moment in time and created something great and that’s what I want to do. I’m ready to make a moment happen for curvy girls.

What makes you feel beautiful?
I feel beautiful getting dressed up to the nines. I love Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan, Rick Owens, Rad Hourani. I try to feel beautiful every day, but obviously I’m a woman so that’s not going to happen. But I at least like to feel confident when I walk out of the house.

What’s next for you?
Curvy Fit Club. It’s a workout video that I’ve put together with my trainer to help women who are more curvy keep their curves and keep them toned and get even more toned. It’s not necessarily to lose weight but to stay fit. You look at most workout videos and the girl has abs and she doesn’t have any cellulite and nothing’s jiggling on her. But all of those things happen to me. I’m just your average girl who likes to keep everything tight—I have to because I’m a lingerie model. I want women to feel inspired and not feel like they have to look at a twig when they’re working out. I want them to feel that they’re looking at themselves.

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