American model Ashley Graham opens up about becoming a mum, breaking down beauty and body standards, and why she wants to talk to Australian women about her “weird butt”.
It’s 8.30pm in New York and model Ashley Graham has just put her one-year-old son Isaac down to sleep. Now, it’s back to work.
“He went down early because I have this late-night interview,” she tells Stellar via Zoom, before going into mum mode as she details how she manages the two parts of her life. “I didn’t realise I could be this organised or that I could run on this little sleep. You really see a superpower inside yourself because you have to do it.”
It’s a conversation so familiar to working parents everywhere that it’s easy to forget that Graham was also the first “plus-sized” model to appear on the covers of Vogue and Sports Illustrated, and has hobnobbed with a who’s who of the fashion and film industry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s glitzy Met Gala in New York.
But that’s because the 33-year-old has built her brand on representing the everywoman. Whether that’s because of the size of clothing she wears – she’s a US size 12/Australian size 16 – or the cellulite she often reveals on social media, Graham is the antidote to an industry that’s painted the idea that beauty is about looking from the outside in and is only accepted if it fits into a sample size.
“If you go to some celebrities’ [social media], they’re getting tagged in their own photos, but if I go to mine, it’s a bunch of random women who are excited and celebrating being themselves,” she says. “I’m like, yesss! That inspires me. It’s important to normalise bodies of all shapes, sizes, genders and race.”
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“‘Your body is going to change someone’s life’”
From the moment she stepped into the modelling circuit as a 12-year-old girl who was scouted at a shopping centre in her home state of Nebraska, Graham has been a body activist. Her 2015 Ted Talk, Plus Size? More Like My Size, has been viewed more than four million times, while her podcast, Pretty Big Deal, is constantly on the top of the Apple Podcast charts.
But as with most discussions around women and their bodies, it’s a field fraught with landmines. Just ask Adele, Lizzo or any woman who has been embraced for their acceptance of their not-sample-sized body only to be met with criticism when they try to change it. So when you’ve made a career out of talking about your body, do you get sick of it and just wish the conversation would move on?
“It’s a woman thing,” Graham says in response. “We’re told to talk about our bodies, we’re told we have to discuss them and we’re also told we have to apologise for them. But there was a point when I had to tell myself, if you’re the one who’s pioneering something that’s changing the industry, you’re going to have to talk about your body for the rest of your life. I understand that.
“So, yes, there are days when I don’t want to talk about my body, my cellulite, or my weird-shaped butt. But at a very young age, when I wanted to give it all up, my mum told me, ‘Your body is going to change someone’s life.’ If I’m going to sit here and talk about my cube-butt and round cellulite arms and it makes someone out there go, ‘Thank goodness she’s talking about that because I don’t have to,’ or if it makes someone say, ‘Who cares?’ then I don’t care.”
The face of a new inclusive Aussie label
It’s why Graham is proud to be the face of new Australian fashion label Commonry, which dresses women from size 10 to 22 in fit-driven, fashion-forward clothes.
“I say no to a lot of work because it doesn’t match up with my values, but Commonry matches up with my values 100 per cent. [The brand] wants to take out old-school names, like ‘plus-size’ and ‘curvy’ and wants to make women, well, be women.”
It seems like such an obvious business venture considering the average Australian woman wears a size 14-16. And it still baffles Graham that brands like Commonry haven’t existed before now.
“We need an answer! I mean, we all deserve to be chic. It doesn’t matter what size [you are]. There’s a worldwide problem when it comes to a bigger body being under-served in quality, fashionable, accessible clothing.”
“Mums are given so much unsolicited advice, 24/7”
Were it not for COVID, Graham – who has modelled for the likes of Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Kors – would be in Australia promoting the brand. For now, she can only remain hopeful that she will get here soon. In the meantime, she’ll be broadcasting her support to her 12 million Instagram followers.
“When I wear the clothes I’ve shot [as a model] in my personal life, then I know it’s an incredible brand. Normally I have to tailor my clothes, and I didn’t have to tailor anything, which felt a bit shocking with my postpartum body,” she says, before adding, “I’m going to say ‘postpartum’ for the rest of my life.”
On motherhood, Graham says she’s learnt to ignore all the noise, like she has when it comes to her body. “One of the things I did – and which I’m so glad I did – is ignore all the advice I was given. Mums are given so much unsolicited advice, 24/7. I mean, I was getting advice from people who had never had children before. I’m like, ‘Do you even know?’ I’m glad I took what [advice] I wanted and implemented it. Mummy knows best.”
This story originally appeared in Stellar and was republished here with permission.