[Photo Credit: Behind The Velvet Rope TV CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
Ashley Graham walked into a department store.
She wanted to treat herself. As she perused the Valentino and Roland Mouret, she found a Balmain skirt she wanted to try on.
She carried the skirt up to a salesperson and asked if they carried it in her size.
The woman grimaced. “No. No, we definitely don’t have that size,” she replied.
The saleswoman was a size 2…
And Ashley Graham was a size 16.
Maybe something like that has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve walked into a clothing store and walked right out again when you realized they didn’t carry your size.
Maybe you’ve gone shopping for something really gorgeous, only to find a range of sacks and tents in the plus-size section.
Maybe you just want to be able to buy the same clothes as everyone else: the cute ones, the designer ones, the ones with shape and style.
Ashley Graham feels your pain.
And she’s in a position to do something about it.
What the salesperson in that department store didn’t know was that Graham was one of 2017’s top 10 highest-paid models in the world.
And that Graham had a journalist trailing her, documenting the whole scene.
Someone in the store finally realized what was going on and sent another salesperson to help her. Yes, they had that skirt in her size. Yes, they’d get one for her.
If this scene had happened three years ago, before Graham had her breakout moment as the first plus-sized model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, there wouldn’t have been a redemptive final scene. Graham would have walked straight out of the store, unrecognized and unserved.
But since 2016, Graham has had one of the most recognizable faces in modeling. She’s everywhere. On America’s Next Top Model. Backstage at the Miss USA pageant. Getting it on with Joe Jonas in the music video for “Toothbrush.” On EllenTube with her own original series Fearless.
And don’t forget Instagram, where she’s got 7.7 million followers and counting.
Yet Graham fully admits she still sees herself as a “fat girl.”
She’s not treated the same as other models. She’s been called a cow and a heifer on photo shoots. She spent her early modeling days hearing one agent after another admonish her to lose weight if she wanted more jobs.
It was guts and hard work that got her into modeling in the first place. Although she was scouted at a Nebraska mall, her parents paid several thousand dollars for her to attend a modeling course. She loved every minute of it.
She moved to New York City at 17 to pursue the dream … and ended up going off the rails. She partied, took drugs, and burned through $100,000 in a year. She hit rock bottom when her agent nearly fired her for missing a gig.
She loved modeling too much to risk it again. So she dialed back the partying and recommitted herself to her career. She started going to church again, where she met her future husband Justin Ervin.
As much as she loved modeling, she knew that her options were limited. She had plenty of work modeling plus-sized fashions for catalogs and department stores, but she never dreamed of doing a high-fashion editorial or getting on the cover of Vogue. Curvy girls like her didn’t get those jobs.
Then a 25-second television spot she made for Lane Bryant was banned.
Even though the commercial showed nothing more revealing than Graham trying on various bra-and-panty sets, her curves were apparently too much for primetime TV. The talk show circuit came calling, and Graham’s life was never the same.
“Until then, I was just taking pictures in some hideous clothes, and all people expected from me was to be fat and happy. That’s what my career was. I always wanted more, and that opened a new door for me, to know that I actually had a voice.”
She got up the courage to try for a spot in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, even though no plus-sized model had ever graced its pages.
Although she didn’t get the job the first time around, she struck a home run the next year, earning the coveted cover spot in a bikini she’d brought from home—because she was concerned the Sports Illustrated team wouldn’t be able to cope with her curves.
“You know how powerful it can be when you discover that you can do something you never thought you could?” she says. “It changes everything … and gets you thinking about what else you can do that you weren’t aware of.”
And that “something else” was designing her own clothes for curvy women.
She pitched a lingerie line to Addition Elle, designed swimsuits for Swimsuits for All, and released her own dress line with Dressbarn. Her designs are unapologetically bold and jaw-droppingly sexy.
From the time she was 12, Graham understood the power of curves. Middle-aged men would hit on her, without realizing she was half their age. Put lingerie on a skinny girl, she says, and the resulting image could be seen as girlish or artistic. But put lingerie on a voluptuous woman, and the result screams sex.
So why hide?
Today, Graham is a model and so much more. She’s a body activist whose TEDx talk has been viewed 2.8 million times. She’s been made into a Barbie doll. She’s written a memoir and a novel. And she just launched her own podcast, where she discusses race and privilege with guests like Gabrielle Union and Noor Tagouri.
We need more #BrilliantBabes like Ashley Graham showing us that fashion and beauty aren’t just for the few.
What She Said
I remember thinking, ‘If I don’t love that woman that I look at in the mirror, I am never going to be successful.’ That was the moment I had to start convincing myself to look in the mirror and start saying, “I love you.’”
The fashion industry may persist to label me as plus size, but I like to think of it as MY size.”
I say to myself: ‘You are bold, you are brilliant, and you are beautiful. Today you will not let other people’s words affect you. You are worthy of greatness!’”
I am more than my measurements. The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I’m over it… My body is MY body. I’ll call the shots.”
Stay Tuned for More #BrilliantBabe Profiles
Here at Your Brilliance, we believe the best way to figure out how bright you’re able to shine is to look up to other woman who are doing what you’ve always wanted to do.
The women you see featured in glossy magazines, climbing sheer rock cliffs and heading Fortune 500 businesses and crafting unique Etsy art from the comfort of their own homes, got there on guts and faith.
They didn’t know if they’d be able to succeed at their dream. But each and every one made the decision to take the first step. And the second. And the third.
We hope these profiles of brilliant women inspire you to reach for your dreams.