Ashley Graham is not the silent type.
The model and mom of three is famous (or to some, infamous) for being honest, authentic and filter-free, especially when she speaks about the realities of motherhood, body image and unrealistic beauty expectations.
She also has no illusions about what it means to be an outspoken advocate, including the near-constant questions regarding her body and how it has changed since giving birth to her three children — Isaac, 2, and twins Malachi and Roman, 6 months.
"The rest of my life, I will be talking about it," Graham told TODAY Parents. "There's not a day that goes by where I am not going to have that (body image) discussion with someone else or myself. And also, just being a woman and being in the fashion industry — being an 'influencer' and being on social media — it's constant."
The continuous questions and never-ending conversations are a good thing, Graham insists, and a sign that people are realizing that topics many people believe to be "off limits" or "political" are just part of people's daily lives.
"People are finally getting to the point where they realize that people are just people, and you don’t have to wear your advocacy on your forehead every day," Graham explained. "People who are activists or advocates or 'influencing,' they’re actually just living their lives and talking about what is most important to them."
That doesn't mean consistently fielding questions about her body doesn't become, at times, exhausting. Even Graham, with her unfiltered Instagram photos and unapologetic declarations of self-love and self-doubt, can grow tired of the incessant focus on her body.
"Yeah, there's days you don't want to talk about it," she explained. "But those are the days you just, you know, don't talk about it."
Which is why the proud mom is more about "being about it" than simply talking about it. Recently, she partnered with Affirm, a pay-over-time company that allows people the chance to invest in themselves, in the hopes that people — and particularly moms — get the chance to financially invest in self-care and self-expression via products that make them feel comfortable, confident and like their most authentic selves.
"As a mother you kind of put yourself second — it’s just inevitable," Graham said. "With Affirm, you're able to get something that maybe you didn't think you could afford, or maybe wasn't on your 'wish list' because maybe you felt like it wasn't a need for the home. Or maybe you wanted to try it, and this way you don't feel like you're breaking the bank or having to make sacrifices for your family in order to get the things you need or just want to try."
In a society that often equates motherhood to martyrdom, Graham says it can be a challenge to find the time to honor the parts of herself that exist outside the confines of parenthood. But she refuses to hide those parts just because she's a mom, especially because she wants to be authentic not only with her audience, but with her children.
"I remember when I saw my mom and dad as 'people' and not 'mom and dad' — it was a shock to the system, because they never let me see this other side of them," she explained. "I didn't get to know my mom and dad as 'Mark and Linda' until I was in my 20s! I want to do the exact opposite with my boys."
The Sports Illustrated model says she wants her three boys to know "Ashley," not just mom.
"I want them to know 'mom' first, 'Ashley' second — but you get to know both of them," she added. "Because if I hide something, and they're shocked by it? I mean...they're going to say, 'Why didn't you tell me that?' Or, 'Why are you different in the world than you are at home?' And one thing my mom always taught me was that whether you're in the house or out of the house — wherever or whatever situation you're in — be yourself. Don't be two-sided. And that's exactly how I want to parent."
This guiding principle is yet another reason why Graham refuses to be incessantly positive — after all, she says, you don't always feel positive about the world, your job and even yourself.
"I never really understood 'toxic positivity' until later in life," she explained. "I was actually interviewing Demi Lovato and she was like, 'I'm not body positive, I'm body neutral.' She made me realize it's not about 'faking it until you make it.' It's about actually having the words to say, 'Congratulations, you made it out of bed today.' To say, 'Body, you're living and you're working today.' And I have really understood that, especially through parenthood."
Graham says any honest parent will tell you that parenthood is hard — not every day is going to be perfect, and there are often more hard than easy days. Being honest about that reality, instead of insistent every second is worth cherishing, is tantamount to truly being authentic to not only yourself but the experience of motherhood, she says.
"I hate following people on Instagram that are just so filtered and so curated," she added. "It's just such a boring place to live, to me. So if I'm so bored with other people's pages, why not be the difference? That's my biggest thing in my head — just keep it real."
Recently, "keeping it real" included posted an unfiltered photo of Graham tandem breastfeeding her twins — Graham looking as exhausted as she says she feels.
"The second one knocks you out, doesn't it?" she joked. "I feel totally knocked out, especially having twins. And then they were each almost eight pounds each! I feel like it stretched my stomach out. And then my recovery took much longer than it did with my first one. At least I'm not peeing on myself this time. I did a lot more belly and breathing work than I did before."
Armed with another joyful and exhausting, but at least this time around postpartum pee-free reminder of her vast influence, Graham says she's still determined to, above all, say what she wants to say, when she wants to say it.
"I have always done that with my career, period," she added. "Whether it's my body, body acceptance, body confidence, motherhood, prenatal and postnatal — I consciously think, 'What am I posting? What do I want to say?'"
Of course, Graham doesn't know exactly what she will say until she realizes she wants to say it. But one thing is for certain — it will be the unvarnished, not always positive but always genuine truth.
"I always keep things like openness and vulnerability around me, at home and separate from social media," she explained. "So I know that whatever I'm posting, I'm doing it because I want to share. I don't want to do anything because I feel like I have to."