Ash­ley Gra­ham is a model on a mis­sion, and it in­cludes you hav­ing your best sex ever.

Ash­ley Gra­ham talks dyslexia, sex and, oh yeah, what it’s like to be chang­ing the face of mod­el­ling.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Sarah Laing

Mus­cle Beach in Los Angeles is no stranger to bravura dis­plays of phys­i­cal con­fi­dence—af­ter all, this slightly scruffy out­door gym on the Venice Beach board­walk is ba­si­cally the home of mod­ern body­build­ing. But to­day—de­spite there be­ing no short­age of men with six-packs, vein-webbed bi­ceps and sweaty tor­sos—there’s only one per­son work­ing out in the sand­pit that any­one is look­ing at, and that’s Ash­ley Gra­ham. The 28-year-old model is pre­car­i­ously balanced on par­al­lel beams wear­ing a black bustier, an over­sized coat...and not much else.

As the pho­tog­ra­pher snaps away, a group of young men stop their ex­ploits on the un­even bars to do what can only be de­scribed as text­book ogling. Groups of peo­ple walk­ing up from the beach nearby stop to look too, some pulling out their phones to doc­u­ment their Hol­ly­wood celeb sight­ing for the folks back home. On nearby bleach­ers, there is a pa­parazzo tak­ing pho­tos that will ap­pear a few days later in the Daily Mail un­der the head­line “Ash­ley Gra­ham flaunts her cur­va­ceous fig­ure.”

And un­like some of the sto­ries that ap­pear in the Daily Mail’s celebrity feed, this one is ac­tu­ally true: Gra­ham was flaunt­ing her body, in the proud­est, most con­fi­dent, most loving-all-the-at­ten­tion def­i­ni­tion of the word. In fact, a few days later, Gra­ham posted those same un­re­touched pap shots for her two mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers to see, part of the cap­tion read­ing: “Some­one once told me my thighs were ‘cel­lulite city.’ But now I re­al­ize these thighs tell a story of vic­tory and courage. #effy­ourbeau­ty­s­tan­dards.”

“She’s so in­spi­ra­tional,” says one ELLE Canada staffer to an­other, watch­ing nearby in the shade of the stand-up tent that Gra­ham is us­ing for her out­fit changes. The other nods, a lit­tle taken aback by how in­cred­i­bly mov­ing it is to see some­one like Gra­ham— beau­ti­ful, yes, but cer­tainly not in the way many women have been taught they should aspire to be— rev­el­ling in the spec­ta­cle she is caus­ing.

Of course, caus­ing a stir is sort of this Ne­braska na­tive’s MO. Although she has been mod­el­ling since she was scouted as a pre­teen at her lo­cal mall, Gra­ham first came to in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion as the star of plus-size re­tailer Lane Bryant’s “banned” com­mer­cial in 2010. (Some say it was be­cause, in the ad, Gra­ham leaves the house in noth­ing but a trench coat and lin­gerie; others, in­clud­ing the model, say it was size dis­crim­i­na­tion.) Ma­jor net­works al­legedly re­fused to air the spot, but it went on to re­ceive al­most five mil­lion views on YouTube.

In 2015, Gra­ham, who is a fre­quent user of the hash­tag #beau­ty­be­yond­size, gave a TEDx Talk in which she shared her dis­taste for the term “plus-size.” In her speech, which has been watched nearly one mil­lion h

times, she ar­gued for the term “my size,” which, to her, means a wo­man loving her “rolls, curves and cel­lulite.”

This past Fe­bru­ary, Gra­ham was the first plus-size wo­man to front Sports Il­lus­trated’s Swim­suit Is­sue. She called this a “game changer” for her, but amid the largely pos­i­tive re­ac­tion, there were dis­sent­ing voices, most no­tably for­mer S.I. cover girl Ch­eryl Tiegs, who said cel­e­brat­ing a full-fig­ured wo­man on the cover wasn’t “healthy in the long run.” (Tiegs later apol­o­gized for her com­ment.)

Her next no­table “first” hap­pened last fall when she walked the run­way for Ad­di­tion Elle. It was the Cana­dian lin­gerie la­bel’s de­but at New York Fash­ion Week, and it made head­lines. Most re­cently, she starred in a steamy mu­sic video for “Tooth­brush,” a sin­gle from Joe Jonas’ new band, DNCE. It in­stantly went vi­ral and sits at nearly 30 mil­lion views and count­ing. “I didn’t think the video would have the im­pact it did. I just thought it was go­ing to be cute,” says Gra­ham, while pack­ing her suit­case at the end of our shoot. “But the com­ments have been so pos­i­tive. These girls are like, ‘OMG, thanks for putting “real women” in a mu­sic video.’ I don’t be­lieve in that term, but, you know, bravo to DNCE for step­ping out of the box and re­ally tak­ing it there by hav­ing a girl who typ­i­cally isn’t rep­re­sented.”

Af­ter a day spent in corsets, fish­nets and sev­eral it­er­a­tions of the bra, all from her up­com­ing hol­i­day col­lec­tion with Ad­di­tion Elle, Gra­ham has changed into a black maxidress and is pad­ding around the ho­tel room bare­foot. Her en­ergy is dif­fer­ent now that she’s not in “model” mode. There’s still the over­whelm­ing charisma, but she’s friend­lier and chat­tier and she fre­quently bursts out laugh­ing— of­ten at her own jokes.

And then, in be­tween break­ing into song (a lit­tle Des­tiny’s Child “Sur­vivor,” any­one?) and shar­ing her se­cret to good breath and anti-bloat­ing (pep­per­mint oil!), and be­fore catch­ing her flight out of L.A., Gra­ham sat down and told us whether she minded that her body made us un­ex­pect­edly emo­tional.... “You know what’s so funny? I think women think I’m in­spi­ra­tional be­cause I’m un­apolo­getic. I have cel­lulite. I have back fat. I’ve got a thick stom­ach. But I work my body like I don’t be­cause I don’t know any other body. I don’t know how to feel thin. I just know how to feel like Ash­ley.” You also seem to re­ally love the at­ten­tion. “I def­i­nitely don’t mind it!” Have you al­ways been that con­fi­dent? “When I was grow­ing up, my mom al­ways told me that I was smart even though I was called dumb in school be­cause I have dyslexia. I was also a big girl who played sports and ate well, and she would tell me ‘You’re fit and healthy.’ I was su­per-in­se­cure at the time, but it helped to hear her words. Then I moved to New York [to model] and gained a ton of weight be­cause I wasn’t work­ing out or eat­ing right. I hated the wo­man I had be­come be­cause I didn’t feel right in my own skin. I was a size 18 and I was look­ing for af­fir­ma­tion and at­ten­tion in all the wrong ar­eas. I had agents telling me I had to lose weight, and I was like, ‘Why am I al­low­ing peo­ple to dic­tate my fu­ture?’” So how did you change that? “I started telling my­self all the things my mother had told me—‘You’re bold, you’re bril­liant, you’re beau­ti­ful’—and I gained my con­fi­dence back. I got rid of the neg­a­tive peo­ple in my life, I started go­ing to the gym and I met my hus­band, who I’ve now been mar­ried to for six years.” Your hus­band, Justin Ervin, was ac­tu­ally hang­ing out on-set with us to­day. You guys got mar­ried when you were 22, right? “I was a baby! But in Ne­braska, every­body is mar­ried by 22. By the time we met, I’d been trav­el­ling the world by my­self [for mod­el­ling] since I was 12. I had also dated half of New York City. In other words, I had seen and done, like, a lot. And then all of a sud­den I met this hot guy at church.” What at­tracted you to him? “He was dif­fer­ent. He was con­sis­tent. He was kind. He chal­lenged me. Also, his six-pack. We ac­tu­ally got mar­ried right af­ter my Lane Bryant com­mer­cial was banned. He knows the ins and the outs of how I’ve gone from that to this. He’s just like, ‘Go, baby, go!’ I know I’m with a man who loves and re­spects me, not ‘The Ash­ley Gra­ham.’” Are those two dif­fer­ent peo­ple? What hap­pens when we leave and you’re alone in this room? Who are you then? “I’m not that dif­fer­ent, but I do like my quiet time. Af­ter a day of hav­ing peo­ple talk to you, touch you and give you di­rec­tion, you reach a point when you say ‘Okay, time h

Ash­ley Gra­ham on her 11th col­lab with Ad­di­tion elle “Fash­ion al­ways gets the curvy, plus-size girl naked. Hey, on my In­sta­gram, the most liked pho­tos are the half-naked ones—go fig­ure! But a wo­man who is plus-size doesn’t al­ways want to show her body be­cause she has been told she’s fat for so long. Sexy is a state of mind. I want the women who buy this lin­gerie to feel con­fi­dent, so that’s why we have ted­dies if you don’t want to show every­thing. We have su­per-high-waisted styles if you don’t want to show your tummy. We have body­suits. The col­lec­tion is for ev­ery type of wo­man.”

to recharge.’ I try to have 15 min­utes of prayer be­fore I go out into the world.” Speak­ing of prayer, what do you be­lieve in? “I be­lieve that what goes around comes around. That kind­ness gets you fur­ther than any­thing else. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When I was grow­ing up, my par­ents al­ways told me ‘Don’t have sex un­til you’re mar­ried,’ so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m go­ing to go out and have a ton of sex.’ But then an ex-boyfriend made me re­al­ize that I need to re­spect my body and I need to have a man re­spect my body. It’s not for every­body, but, in or­der for that to hap­pen for me, I needed to not have sex [again] un­til I was mar­ried. My hus­band and I waited; call me crazy, but it worked. Our sex is amaz­ing! [Sig­na­ture Ash­ley Gra­ham laugh] It made me feel like I had the power back in my dat­ing life. He re­spected me more be­cause I wasn’t will­ing to just give it up. I tell my friends to wait three months. Just see if he can wait. If he can, he’s a good guy. And, again, it’s not for every­body, but for me it was great. It’s some­thing I’m ac­tu­ally re­ally proud of.” Do you be­lieve in des­tiny? “I be­lieve that we’re all here for a pur­pose and that one of my big­gest ones is to help peo­ple un­der­stand that they’re beau­ti­ful. I get emails ev­ery day from women who say ‘I would never have got­ten into a bikini without you’ and from hus­bands who say ‘I bought my wife your lin­gerie, and she’s never felt sex­ier and we had the best sex of our lives.’” What are your other pur­poses? “I re­ally want girls to know that they are worth more than they think they are. I think it’s a huge thing for them to un­der­stand that you don’t have to have sex with [just] any­body. I had to learn that the hard way; I was look­ing for af­fir­ma­tion from men be­cause I didn’t like who I was. And hope­fully they can learn from my mis­takes.” It seems like tak­ing agency and gain­ing con­trol is a bit of a theme for you. “For so long, I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. In my ca­reer, I felt like I wasn’t in con­trol. And now, ever since Ad­di­tion Elle saw some­thing in me and asked me what I wanted to do, I’ve been run­ning with it and it’s been work­ing. I think for so long women have been told ‘You can’t be in con­trol,’ but now we’re in a wo­man-em­pow­ered era. I re­ally want women to start en­cour­ag­ing one an­other. There’s still so much cat­ti­ness. But if women re­ally came to­gether, we could take over.” Do you think we’re at a turn­ing point? “Yeah! There’s such a di­ver­sity thing hap­pen­ing now be­tween age, body type, race and gen­der—it’s huge. I’m so ex­cited to be part of this story. We had the Cindy Era, the Kate Era and now this is the Body Era.” What more would you still like to do? “I’m ex­cited about how things are lit­er­ally chang­ing right in front of me, but there’s still a re­ally long way to go. I want to see women my size on the run­way. I want to see mul­ti­ple women my size in movies and on TV. I mean, maybe I’ll be­come a cin­e­matic, dra­matic, gor­geous lead!” Be­ing sexy is kind of your “thing.” Do you ever want to get away from that? “I feel like I ooze sex, so no. But if every­body was with me in my off time, they’d be like, ‘Oh, she isn’t re­ally that sexy all the time.’” How did you feel dur­ing the shoot to­day when all those dudes were staring at you? “Those were mus­cle guys, and those are the types of guys you don’t think like curvy women, but they love them. Girls my size are like, ‘Oh, I could never get a guy like that.’ Ac­tu­ally, you could, girl­friend! I’m liv­ing proof that you can have what­ever you want in spite of what peo­ple say is a ‘flaw.’ Whether it’s a race thing or not be­ing smart enough or pretty enough—there are so many things that are hang­ing over women’s heads, but you have to fight through it.” How big a role did your learn­ing dis­abil­ity play in mak­ing you the wo­man you are? “Be­ing told in the fourth grade that you’re dyslexic and you’re not go­ing to be able to read prop­erly takes a toll on you, and it re­ally makes you be­lieve you’re dumb. I would al­ways hear peo­ple say ‘Oh, thank God she’s pretty.’ I’ll say it as a joke now be­cause I haven’t let dyslexia take over who I am.” What are you most proud of? “I’m re­ally proud of a lot of things in my ca­reer, but, in my life, I’m most proud of my mar­riage. We have a solid foun­da­tion, we’re best friends and we have in­cred­i­ble chem­istry. I’m so happy to know I can build some­thing with some­body.” What are you still work­ing on? “My re­la­tion­ship with food. I’m a food re­warder, and I don’t want to be one. I think a lot of women have these con­ver­sa­tions with them­selves where they say ‘I’m go­ing to re­ward my­self with a cup­cake or a dough­nut.’ I can’t just have a lit­tle; I have to have a lot. I want to get to a place where I’m not think­ing about food and I’m not like ‘Why did I overeat? How is this go­ing to make me feel?’ So be­fore I eat, I ask my­self ‘Do you want it? Do you need it?’ It’s a con­ver­sa­tion. But it’s not some­thing I want to con­trol my life ei­ther.” You’re well known for pro­mot­ing the idea of “healthy at any size.” Why do you think women wait to live their lives to the fullest un­til they have the “per­fect body”? “I’ve been a size 12, and I thought I was so hot. But now I’m a 14 to 16, and I hon­estly couldn’t be hap­pier—I’m just con­tent. Of course, I look at my body and think ‘Oh, I want to tighten up my arms a bit, or I wish my ass was lifted higher.’ But no­body has the per­fect body. There’s no such thing.” n

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