Closer Look: Ashley Graham @ the Vogue Fashion Festival

Ashley Graham begins her conversation by explaining to the audience how she started modeling. She entered as a plus size model and truly made an impact on the standards of western beauty for saying yes to a key moment in her life. She confesses that it wasn’t a career or lifestyle she was seeking but rather that “it found her.” When Ashley was a young teenager she was discovered by a modeling agent as she perused the shopping mall with her father. She was approached with the question “Have you ever thought about modeling young lady?” Well she thought, “of course not.” But on second thought “why not?”

Exactly, why not? Why shouldn’t she have the opportunity and privilege to also be a model? As there were very few icons in the media who are, as she quotes, “plus -size,” a term that doesn’t mean much to her as she believes that she represents a large population of people so that cannot be “plus size” but rather “regular size or average size.” She didn’t see that there would be an admiration for a person of her stature. For her, in the long-run, this was a blessing in disguise.

As Ashley candidly reflects on her career, she uses humour and cliché jokes and comments to discuss the topic of beauty. She makes light of a conversation that was clearly difficult to live through. In the simple fact that the fashion industry was not inherently made for people of her size, Ashley crystallizes the understanding that modeling and fashion provides “many entry points that allow people into your world;” you just have to push the boundaries of the industry thus the minds of those in charge. This could not have been an easy task. Modeling as most are aware, is an industry that relies almost entirely on beauty. As this is not an industry that supports extraordinarily difficult for those outside of the “norm” but extremely trying.

Around age of 18 Ashley was ready to give up. She had moved to New York and made her first attempt at making it her full time career rather than just a side job. With the wise words from her mother, she pushed through,

“You’re body is going to change someone’s life”

Instead of contriving a mental space of self-doubt she did three things:

  1. Took her career as a way to educate the industry. She initiated a new territory — to dress a curvy woman, thus empowering herself before the industry empowered her. Her body type became important to understand as it gained traction in the media.

“Not just a trend it’s a movement.”

  1. Learned as much as she could from the industry by being open minded and positive.

“Don’t let people take your job, in your mind, the job should be yours.”

  1. She puts on a classic pretty American girl act that is very smart, sassy, and a bit ditzy–as she talks about a very serious topic she goes on tangents or makes comments that might  make it seem less serious. For example, randomly getting sidetracked by “something pretty” (her photo) or saying “I slept with half of New York. You can read about it in my book” — these are ways Ashley built up her image as a social and relatable young woman–this also being an allusion of her speaking to her self-confidence. I believe this to be a strategy she used throughout her career.

Ways to combat lack of self- confidence is to tell yourself “I love you,” says Ashley. She says “You might feel strange, and it might be the craziest shit you’ve done in your life–like it’s so bizarre, but it’s good for you! When you say those things enough they become your reality.”

This last piece had me thinking, how or why is it that people (or at least Ashley Graham thinks) telling yourself in the mirror that “I love you” is strange. If more people did that then the phenomenon of a bigger, shorter, or colored model wouldn’t be such a huge mental feat for us as a society to get over.

As I reflect on this part of the presentation I am awestruck to hear this, telling yourself “I love you” is bizzare? And the craziest shit in your life?” That has got to be one of the most important things a person can do in their life in my opinion. I think  that to love yourself needs to be normalized. Women of all ages are trying to fit into a description of beauty that is actual cruel and promotes self loathing. The powerful message of loving oneself is liberating and

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