Ashley Graham is one of the hardest working people and most booked models in the industry. But the successful mother-to-be, creator of a digital series for Ellen Degeneres and host of the podcast Pretty Big Deal wasn’t always being sought out by brands and audiences. In fact, she was working tirelessly as a plus-size model within a media landscape that wouldn’t yet accept her.
In her Vogue cover story for the publication’s January issue, the 32-year-old reflected on the early start of her career when she was discovered in a mall in Ohama, Neb. at the age of 12. It was then that she started modeling bras for a Midwestern brand and was immediately thrown under the “plus-size” category.
“If you would have asked me then if I felt plus-sized, I would have said, ‘Well, I’m 12 years old and a size 10.’ I had no correlation with that word,” she told the magazine. “And as I grew up in the plus-size industry, it was like everybody was trying to do away with that label — get rid of it!”
But it was the plus-size sector of the industry that led Graham to her biggest break — not that it didn’t come without controversy. Namely, the young model’s appearance in a 2010 Lane Bryant ad that was “dubbed ‘too risqué’” for television.
“It was just me in lingerie and a trench coat going to meet my boyfriend for lunch and, you know, eating an actual meal. And it almost got taken off the air,” Graham explained of commercial — which was eventually kept on-air as a result of people calling it fat shaming. “Because why would a size 16 model in lingerie be banned from television and not a size 2 model?”
Still, Graham said that “it put me on the map...and it started a conversation.” It would be another six years, however, until Graham would debut on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and finally put the lessons that she’d learned from fellow model Crystal Renn to work.
“[Crystal] would teach me how to flip my hair naked in the mirror and how to pose and how to change my face. But I just never had the opportunity to do those things editorially until I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Graham said. “That’s when people started taking me seriously.”
Today, everybody wants a piece of the model who seems to be doing it all and more. Even during her pregnancy, she’s taken on more work to build her business and her personal brand — including a social media movement inspiring women to show off their unedited pregnant bodies and a fitness series called Thank Bod.
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