Ashley’s best healthy habits
She partners up “My best friend, Rachel, and I encourage each other at the gym,” says Ashley. “When we want to stop, but can’t yet, we just start screaming ‘Beyoncé!’ at each other. We’re like, ‘Beyoncé! Roar!’”
She stays focused “If I work out my thighs and butt, I feel accomplished. I do one-leg bridges and jump squats. I love my thighs – they’re so strong, I could kill you with them!”
She keeps her workouts fresh “I have to change it up; I get obsessed, and then I’m done. Right now, I’m into boxing,” she says. “Mixed martial artist, Ronda Rousey, has really inspired me.”
She eats well “I can’t diet. I can only be like, ‘This food doesn’t work for me; don’t overeat it.’ I also try not to reward myself with food. To treat myself, I get a massage or a handbag.”
‘I’m afraid you’re going to be as fat as my mom.’” The remark, she says, “was the start of how I began to look at my body and relate it to men. Like, I’m not pretty or skinny enough for men.”
At her lowest point, she called her mom in tears, planning to quit modelling and move home. “She said, ‘No. You’re there for a purpose. You are bold, brilliant and beautiful. You have to work through this.’” Only after hitting emotional rock bottom did she begin to build herself back up. “I remember looking in the mirror, crying and just saying, ‘I love you.’”
From then on, she made a conscious effort to speak to herself positively. “We’ve been taught to say negative things to ourselves, to say ‘Sorry’ if someone bumps into us. I decided to break that cycle. It wasn’t overnight.”
While her motivation to love herself at any size was pure, it also became pragmatic: she started seeing selfapproval as key to success. “If I didn’t appreciate my body as my moneymaker, I wasn’t going to make any money.”
At 21, determined to change her relationships, she chose abstinence. “I was looking for love in the wrong places. I wanted to make sure I dated in a logical, not lustful, way.” She also saw that health was part of reclaiming her body: “I know working out releases endorphins and makes me feel good.”
Ashley has been working up a sweat ever since, exercising three times a week and boxing. Her commitment, “helps to shatter notions that thin is the only way you can be athletic.” Still, she doesn’t torture herself if she misses a workout. As for food, she loves salads and green juice – just as much as she likes macaroni and cheese.
One source of fitspo is her husband, cinematographer Justin Ervin, who often hits the gym with her. They met in the lift at church and despite instant chemistry, she kept her pledge. “I said, ‘I’m not having sex until I’m married.’ He replied, ‘Great! Let’s not.’” Seven years later, “We have this amazing marriage,” she says. “He’s allowed me to thrive. We’re invested in each other’s growth. Every business decision I’ve made, he’s made with me.”
And the business of being Ashley Graham is booming. She’s launched a lingerie collection, done stints on Good Morning America, The Talk and E!’s Oscars red carpet, stars in workout videos and plans to write a book about fitness and beauty.
Of course, every empire has its dissenters. With shocking regularity, she gets slammed online for being too heavy – a “promoter of obesity” who should “stop making fat cool; you’re going to kill somebody,” as some comments go. Or she gets trolled for being too thin: “You want to conform to Hollywood.” But she has had plenty of practice holding her head high.
“I’ve always had to prove myself more than the girl next to me because I’ve always been bigger, bustier and louder. My laugh is outrageous. I learnt to think, ‘Your confidence has to walk into the room before you do.’”
Ashley’s message to the world is this: “I’m trying to change how women think about themselves. Some people just don’t get it. I’ve been denied jobs because I was too big; I’ve also been denied jobs because I was too small. At the end of the day, I’m never going to conform to what anybody wants. This is my body; I’m happy in it,” Ashley smiles. “And nobody – nobody – has control over my body but me.”
1Forget what you think you know – the old rules don’t exist. If you’re above a size 16, you’ve most likely been advised to cover your arms, avoid horizontal stripes, blend in by wearing black – the list of nauseating commands goes on and on. Because of those conventions, plus-size labels often play it safe, but we’re over that. Instead, embrace ‘rule-breaking’ pieces, like sleeveless jumpsuits, floral rompers and sequinned skirts. Risk taking pays off!
2Proportion is everything. Want longer-looking legs? Grab a high-waisted skirt. Trying to appear taller? Reach for an elongating duster vest. Into defining your waist? A cropped jacket works. And wide-legged trousers help balance out wider hips. So now you know!
3Good fit is all in the details. There are tricks that make clothes easier to wear if you’re a size 16 or above, so look for these details wherever you shop: waistbands with hidden elastic to accommodate different waist shapes, button-down shirt fronts that are sewn together to avoid gaping on larger chests, and ‘pencil’ skirts that actually have a slight A-line for extra mobility when you walk.
4Most importantly, women’s opinions matter. Thanks to social media, brands are better in tune with what their customers want to see on shelves. Why not tell them what you love and hate? Use your voice; smart designers will listen.