Ashley Graham: Role Model

Ashley Graham: Role Model

After a bit of role playing with photographer Steven Klein at the Standard for our January Issue, the America's Next Top Model judge and outspoken body activist talks to friend Chelsea Handler about the silly and the serious: combating labels, the key to being a role model, and their shared fondness of "boobies."

After a bit of role playing with photographer Steven Klein at the Standard for our January Issue, the America's Next Top Model judge and outspoken body activist talks to friend Chelsea Handler about the silly and the serious: combating labels, the key to being a role model, and their shared fondness of "boobies."

Photography: Steven Klein

Styling: Robbie Spencer

Text: Chelsea Handler

This story appears in V105, available here.

CHELSEA HANDLER Your life has been crazy the last few years, right?

ASHLEY GRAHAM Yeah, 100%. This year has been insane.

CH Have you had one of those moments when you had to remind yourself, Wow, settle down? Like, have you ever caught yourself behaving badly?

AG Are you asking whether I have had one of those typical diva moments?

CH Yes, but I would never use the word diva.

AG Well, thanks for making me use it! How about I was just a bitch and a diva, too. But to be honest, I think there is a negative connotation to the word diva—a diva is someone who works hard and gets what she wants and doesn’t take no for an answer.

CH What is it like now that all of these women are looking to you as a role model? And how does it feel when people ask you what it’s like to be a plus-size model, on a scale of 1-10?

AG Is 10 hating it the most?

CH Yes.

AG It’s an 11. I can’t stand that question anymore. I mean, I’ve been doing this now for 17 years and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve spoken up about the label “plus-size.” I don’t think women should be labeled at all. I think that it’s completely divisive. But, for whatever reason, I am the one that has been given the opportunity to be on so many covers and to have a voice. I don’t take that lightly and I think that being the voice and face for so many women that haven’t been represented— in fashion, or film, or TV—is encouraging, it’s amazing. Some days I forget that and then someone comes to me crying and says, “Because of you, I wore shorts today,” or I’ll get an email that says, “I had sex with my husband with the lights on.” At those moments, I’m like, Wow, you are changing people’s lives, and you’re doing it by just being yourself.

CH What do you think your strongest, your best quality is?

AG I think one of my best qualities is being able to have a vulnerable moment with anybody. I don’t think that there is anyone that I can’t speak to. I’ve lived in Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Nebraska, and I’ve learned to talk to all different types of people because, when you move, you have to make new friends in a new community. That experience didn’t just transform me into a talkative, happy person, it made me value and appreciate getting to know other people on a very personal level.

CH Let’s talk about your clothing line­s—you have three. What motivated you to start them? It takes a lot of guts to do something like that.

AG Well, the reason for starting them was kind of selfish. The first line was for my lingerie, and I did it because I couldn’t find lingerie that would fit my 36DDD boobies. Boobies, I can’t believe I just said boobies. Breasts!

CH I always say boobies.

AG Do you? Okay, we are boobie chicks. I always tell my husband, “When we have children, we are going to use the actual word for the private parts. We are going to say vagina, we are going to say penis, we are going to say breasts!”

CH Looking back, what do you think has been your bravest moment? What are you most proud of?

AG You know, some people think it’s brave to be in front of the camera in lingerie or a swimsuit. But that’s nothing. One of the bravest moments for me was leaving an agent that I had been with for 10 years. I was agentless for about eight months and it was a very scary time of my life—I had no idea what I was going to do. But I sucked it up and said, Hey, whatever happens, happens. And from out of that time, I gathered a community of women around me and we ended up founding ALDA, a collective of models that embraces this idea that beauty exists without regard to color, size, or any number of categories within our industry rooted in exclusion. In our shared pasts, we were always all told, “You’re just catalog girls. You are never going to be on the covers, you will never be able to be who you want.”

CH What are some of the things ALDA is doing right now?

AG Well, every summer we go to a weight-loss camp—it’s called a “weight-loss camp,” but really it’s for girls whose parents place them in this camp because they have issues with weight on various levels. We go there and we talk to them about being comfortable in your own skin, because clearly they are at this camp for a reason. ALDA is also having conversations with multiple designers about putting curves on the runway—Christian Siriano being one who is receptive to this. Ultimately, what we do is encourage women to be proactive about themselves because, now more than ever, it is time to build up and support the women around you and encourage each other to be who you want to be, to not take no for an answer, and to not let society’s stereotypes take you down.

CH Speaking of building a sisterhood, are you close with your sisters?

AG Oh, it is the quintessential sister relationship. We love each other, we hate each other. We call.. we are like, “Are you on your period? Because you are acting like a real bitch.” But we are also there for each other. We also know that, at the end of the day, we can call each other and mom doesn’t have to know everything.

CH What has been their reaction to your success in the last two years of your life?

AG Oh, they love it! They are getting recognition just as much as I am. Like my baby sister, who just got married in Colorado, had a photo from it go viral on the Internet and she said to me, “Holy cow! Whoopi Goldberg just said my name on The View!” So, they are loving it, they are just fine.

CH What do you hope your legacy will be?

AG I want to contribute to helping create a world where women can stand up for who they are and express who they want to be. I want to be seen as a woman who helped shape an environment that allows women to be unafraid to take risks, because those are the kinds of women that you remember, those are the women you talk about for generations.

View the full photo shoot in the slideshow below.

Credits: Makeup Yadim (Art Partner)  Hair Ward (the wall group)  Models Ashley Graham, Tyson Ballou (IMG), Louis Bubko (Fusion Models), Hunter Bach (MC2 Models)  Manicure Honey (Exposure NY)  Casting (Louis Bubko and Hunter Bach) Noah Shelly / AM Casting  Executive Producer Caroline Stridfeldt (LOLA Production)  Producer Greg Jaroszewski (LOLA Production)  Digital technician Tadaaki Shibuya  Post Production Jim Alexandrou  Tailor Donna Darnall (LARS NORD)  Photo assistants Alex Lockett, Mark Lucksavage, Tim Shin, Alexei Topounov  Stylist assistants Victor Cordero, Alison Marie Isbell, Kirsten McGovern  Makeup assistants Janessa Pare, Mami Iizuka and Aya Watanabe  Hair assistants Billy Schaedler and Kiri Yoshiki  Production assistants Hannah Huffman (LOLA Production),   Joel Grennon, Chaundra Revier  equipment root studios  Location The Standard, High Line

UP NEXT

Trump's Press Conference Ignited a Twitter Meltdown