Hosted at The New School and live-streamed to colleges across the country, The New York Times’ “Get With The Times” yesterday featured supermodel, author, entrepreneur, and body activist, Ashley Graham. She joined The New York Times’ Fashion and Style Editor, Joanna Nikas, to discuss her journey being a “plus-size” (Graham doesn’t like the term, but respects those that do) model and how she made an empire out of it.
Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, Graham moved to the Big Apple at age 17 to pursue her dreams, but she made a promise to her parents. If she didn’t make it in the modeling industry within the year, she would have to move back and attend college. And that was not an option.
Credit: Sports Illustrated
Fifteen years later, not only has Graham become the first curvy model to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but she has also developed lingerie and swimsuit collections, released a memoir titled A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, hosts a podcast called “Pretty Big Deal,” and became the first curvy model brand ambassador for Revlon. Just to name a few achievements.
But none of it came easily. It took hard work and determination, or the “grind,” as Graham called it. And the turning point for Graham came in the package of ten small, but fear-inducing, words: “Put the Snickers down, Ashley. It’s time to get serious.” She tried every diet imaginable, but they seemed to be having the opposite effects. It wasn’t until she was cast in a nation-wide ad campaign for Lane Bryant lingerie, deemed too “risqué” for air, that she took complete advantage of her platform.
Credit: Lane Bryant
After going to her agency with the idea of creating her own lingerie line, she was turned down and told she was going to stay a model—maybe retire to be a yoga instructor. So, Graham took matters into her own hands.
On entrepreneurship, Graham tells the audience, “Don’t wait for somebody else to make a move for you, go out, make the move yourself. Tell people what you’re doing. Tell people what you want to do.”
The last twenty minutes of the interview were devoted to questions from the audience and from college students across the country. One student asked Graham how she defines beauty, to which she responded, “Beauty is personal. It’s diverse. It’s inclusive. It truly is from within… Fashion is finally, slowly, catching up, that we all come in different shapes, sizes, and colors.” This relates to a topic brought up by another student about the influence of women of color in the body positivity movement. Graham acknowledged her privilege as a white woman, and the upset at the lack of curvy, women of color being featured in the industry. She said, “We have to start making these opportunities for women of color to have the same opportunities.”
There was even a question from our very own Campus Correspondent, Zoe Hawryluk, who asked Graham on how to deal with stress and practice self-care! Graham spoke about the importance of meditation in her life (it doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual in any way) to keep her grounded. It’s important to remember to be grateful, for even the simplest things in life.
Credit: Sidewalk Hustle
Graham encapsulated the entire conversation on body diversity and entrepreneurship in her closing statements. As someone with a large following, she notes how important it is to use your platform wisely and represent at least one social issue. For Graham, that issue is body diversity, and the lack of it, which is why she always radiates messages of body positivity and makes sure the brands she works with represent every shape and size.
To join the discussion on body positivity, watch the full interview here, and make sure to follow along with Graham as she continues to build her own, body posi empire.