Ashley Graham Reveals The Real Moment She Started Succeeding

Photographed by Elisa Kreisinger.
She might be the world's most famous "plus-size" model, but that's nowhere close to how Ashley Graham would define herself. In fact, she'd prefer not to be defined at all, and laments "plus-size" as a term. ("Plus-size describes things, not people," she says.) Having pretty much come of age in the high-stakes modeling industry, she learned a valuable lesson, early on, about how to make her mark in one of the world's most competitive — and in, turn, critical — industries. “As a model, you’re always taught ‘That girl’s up for [your job], so what are you going to do to get it?'" she says. "It’s a lot of pressure. I think the moment I stopped competing and I stopped comparing myself to the women around me, in every aspect of my life, that’s when I started to succeed.” This week, Graham guest-stars on our new UnStyled podcast, and speaks with host Christene Barberich, global EIC & cofounder of Refinery29, about everything from getting scouted at 14 in a mall to designing clothing that's helping fuel a revolution of how we see the female form. A taste of their conversation is below. To hear the full episode, visit iTunes, and while you're at it, subscribe to UnStyled to get a weekly dose of unfiltered life, work, and style inspiration, straight from a host of incredible women we can totally relate to.

I think the moment I stopped competing and I stopped comparing myself to the women around me in every aspect of my life, that’s when I started to succeed.

I loved your TED talk. It was so inspiring and, to be perfectly honest, terrifying. I loved that you showed a picture of you and your mom and you talked about how your mom was a great support early on in making you feel more confident. A lot of us, though, didn't really grow up with that kind of mentorship. How did that prepare you for being in what is probably one of the most judgmental industries out there?
“My mom did the best thing I believe every mother should do. She never, in front of me, said that she was fat or ugly or that she needed to go on a diet. To this day, she doesn't do those things. I think never having seen that — being a girl like me who wanted to be in, who wanted to be popular, who was constantly judging herself, constantly judging the women around me — to have a mother like her to ground me every time I'd come home saying, 'I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm too this, I'm too that...' she would just be like, 'Are you serious?' I really encourage mothers to not judge yourself. Don't talk badly about yourself in front of your kids, because your kids are a product of you. And, if you're constantly saying you're fat, ugly, or whatever, your kid is going to look at themselves and say, ‘My mom says that about herself, I must be the exact same way.’ Words have power. Why would you want to speak negativity into your body, why not speak LIFE into your body?”
How do you want women to feel when they go into the fitting room and they're trying on the clothes you've designed?
“I want them to know that every piece that I've made was designed for them, and that I've thought about them. I want her to feel empowered, and I want her to feel sexy in her own right. And I think that it's coming across. I have women write to me all the time and just say, ‘I would never have gotten naked in front of my husband if it weren't for you; we had the best sex of our lives.' Or 'I would never have worn a bikini on the beach, and my kids were so proud of me.' I'm not just doing it to smack my name on something and say ‘Hey, this is mine.’ I'm doing it to change the world, to change the fashion industry, wake people up and say, ‘Why aren't we dressing women that are above a size, 14 and making them just as fashionable as the rest of the world?’”

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