When Ashley Graham's underwear commercial was deemed too sexy for 2010 Superbowl airtime even though a Victoria's Secret ad was given the go-ahead, the 27-year-old New Yorker took action. Was American TV scared of her female form? Talk shows and news reports ensued as she battled censorship and challenged traditional concepts of beauty.
Four years later and the IMG-signed model has just been shot by Cass Bird for US Vogue, is fronting Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, is launching her fourth lingerie collection, and aims to change the nation's perception of beauty with a group of her most stunning friends. We caught up with the Eva Mendes-a-like to discuss positive body image and diversity in fashion.
What is beauty?
Beauty cannot be defined because it is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Tell us about ALDA...
We are collective of models using our talents and resources in the fashion industry to empower young women and change the nation's perspective of beauty. ALDA means 'wave' in Icelandic and consists of myself, Danielle Redman, Inga Eiriksdottir, Julie Henderson, and Marquita Pring. It represents beauty without divisions, boundaries and - most importantly - beauty that doesn't conform to any body shape or size. Together ALDA will challenge conventional notions in the fashion industry and promote a holistic view of beauty through awareness campaigns, charitable events and messaging.
How do you think social media is affecting our perceptions of beauty?
I like having social media to let people see the real me - cellulite, stretch marks, un-retouched me. I want to constantly be relatable to women and not hide behind photoshop.
When do you feel most beautiful?
When I've been kissed by the sun and don't have much on, looking into my husband's eyes.
When does making yourself 'beautiful' go too far?
When you hurt yourself in the process. Beauty shouldn't hurt unless you are wearing 6-inch heels.
What do you think of the term 'plus size'?
I don't have a strong aversion towards the word plus size. I just don't like the negative assumption that comes along with it. If a client is looking for a specific size model, I understand using the term. But I do not like being referred to as a plus sized model. I am a model, and I don't need my job title to explain the dimensions of my body.
Do you think diversity in fashion is improving?
YES! You can tell by the fact that it's a constant conversation. We still have so far to go with complete diversity in the fashion industry, but it's encouraging to see it moving in the right direction.
And what are your hopes for the future of the modelling industry?
That labels will be dropped and you will see every kind of model on covers, ads, in commercials, etc.
You've become a role model to many women. What are the best and worst things about having that level of responsibility?
The best is that I'm doing exactly what I love! I get to encourage women to feel good in their skin, embrace what the media call flaws, and find their inner sexy! I honestly haven't experienced a bad part yet.
What advice do you have for people feeling down about their looks?
You are not alone! Everyone has his or her fat day/ugly day/'I wish I had never worn this' day. Don't let your looks consume your life. This is the only body we are given... treasure it.
What do you have planned for your forthcoming youtube series, The Ashley Graham Show?
I am going to first focus on the health portion of the show... Curvy Fit Club. I'll be showing you how to keep your curves tight, toned and sexy.
When you were over here for LFW, what differences did you notice between NY and London style?
I love the laid back nature of Brits vs New Yorkers. New Yorkers have definitely caught on, but the English have already perfected it!
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Frances Tulk-Hart