a beautiful life

The Supermodel Who’s Changing Lives

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

In a 2017 interview with the Cut, Ashley Graham pointed out the lack of plus-size models in beauty advertising. That wouldn’t be the case for long: In 2018, she made beauty history by becoming a face of Revlon. While celebrating the news, she admitted that there were times when she’d wanted to give up on modeling entirely. But her mom encouraged her to persevere by saying, “Ashley, your body is supposed to change someone’s life.”

In 2021, Graham continues to change people’s lives, pressing for shape diversity in every area of fashion. She’s appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Vogue. She’s been a judge on America’s Next Top Model. She routinely exercises control over her images, asking photographers not to Photoshop out her cellulite. Graham is also the new global ambassador for tanning brand, St.Tropez. The Cut talked to her about her thoughts on beauty, new motherhood, and the time she took a mud bath in a volcano.

Has the pandemic changed the way you think about beauty? How?

I became a mother during the pandemic. If it doesn’t have a multi-task purpose, I can’t use it. I only have a certain amount of time allocated for my beauty regimen. That’s why I’m so excited about my kit with St. Tropez. It has rose hip oil, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid. I need things that keep my body hydrated. I don’t want to have to lotion my body 24/7. So if I can stay hydrated and get a tan, that is key for me.

Some people think of tanning as a means to look thinner. As a body positivity role model, how would you respond to that perception?

Well, I haven’t lost any weight since I put my spray tan on, and I can definitely still see all my cellulite! Regardless, that’s not why I use it. I don’t think I look any thinner, nor I am trying to. For me, it’s not about erasing anything, it’s about enhancing a natural glow. I use St. Tropez because it gives me beautiful, glowing skin and that makes me feel amazing.

What’s the wildest luxury beauty experience you’ve ever had?

One time, I was with friends and we were in the middle of nowhere. We climbed to the top of this hill. There’s a wooden railing, which you hold on for dear life. And on top, there is a hot tub of mud. There’s a guy waiting there for you. You get in and are floating in mud. You can just kinda chill in it, on top of this volcano. I’m saying it’s a volcano, but it’s really like a hill with a hole in the top.

After you’re done, he gives you a quick massage rubdown with the mud and it gets all over your face, feet, and hair. You go back down the hill; you slide because it’s a little scary. And then when you walk down the equivalent of two blocks, there are women in a river waiting for you with buckets. They rinse you off. And as you do that, you’re all supple, gorgeous, and glowy. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do it again. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

What’s a fan experience you’ve had that has stood out to you?

I’ve had so many incredible fan experiences. Just this week, I became a professional TikToker. I had no idea what to expect, but a girl on there made a beautiful one after I commented on one of her videos. She showed me that I was on her vision board, so I did a duet with her. It was a really cool moment. Who knows if we ever would have met or been on set together, but we were able to meet on social media. She lives in Hawaii and I live in New York, so what’s the likelihood, really?

Where do you wish the fashion industry would go from here?

Diversity and inclusion needs to be at the forefront of every conversation and not in a tokenization type of way. I think it’s headed that direction. I have been advocating for size diversity in every area of fashion, including beauty, for years. Beauty is truly for everyone. It shouldn’t be about erasing, it’s about embracing.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

I want people to understand that confidence can come from anyone. It doesn’t come easy, though. I don’t show off my body on social media because I want to, or because I’m trying to get likes. I’m doing it for a younger generation that didn’t get to see someone who had lumps, bumps, and an imperfect body which looked like theirs. I’m doing it for the younger Ashley that has no one to look up to.

What was the biggest “no” you heard in your career and what did you learn from it?

I really wanted to start a lingerie company. I saw a huge hole for sexy, supportive lingerie for curvy women. I’m talking like a 36 band and DDD as the smallest, going up into the Js and 50 band. At the time, my agent was like, “You’re a model. You’re not going into that.” I kept hearing “no” from him. It was really hard to hear “no” because I knew that there was so much more to build. I took that “no” and kind of went behind his back and talked to people on my own. That’s how I got into the business side of modeling.

It’s also easy to say “don’t take the no.” But I really had to convince people that I was the right person to create a lingerie line. It wasn’t just about being a pretty face at the time. My mouth and brain had to work together in really selling myself. So I ask people all the time, “What’s your elevator pitch?” Can you tell me who you are in a couple of sentences? That’s what will get you through the door.

Do you think of beauty as self-care?

Completely. It’s not just about how you look, but how you feel. With a tan, I feel beautiful, and extra taken care of, like I got off a plane and had a beautiful vacation. Self-care and beauty care go hand in hand.

What, in your opinion, is the best affordable beauty product or products? Why?

Aquaphor, hands down! I use it on everything. My lips, hands, and elbow most often. One time I even squeezed out an entire tube and used it as lotion on my legs before a red carpet. It’s a true lifesaver!

Fill in the blank: Unfortunately, _____ is worth it.

I see Mzia Shiman on the Upper East Side. She does extractions, and has like this little gun that shoots hydration into your skin and vitamin C. She does my eyebrows too, bonus. We do an LED light. I had no idea LED light was legit. My reaction at first was like, A red light, whatever, woohoo. But no, no, no. After the extractions, your face has been torn apart, so you need the LED light to take the redness out.

When I’m done, I walk out looking like a glowy queen. Shiman and I have been working together for six years now. I can’t remember how we met, but I was frantically saying to everyone that I need an amazing facialist and don’t know where to go. I didn’t want a cookie-cutter, look-at-the-menu approach. I wanted something personal, tailored to my skin and to be really relaxed in the settings. So for me, unfortunately, facials do work. Like everyone else, of course, I’ve been experimenting with the at-home LED masks. I got the Dr. Dennis Gross face thing. I was doing it. But there is a thing about getting out of the house and going. The moment we could leave, I went and got a facial.

Is eye cream “worth it”?

My mom is 56, just started using it, and told me it’s worth it. I don’t have eye bags, but I am 33, I have a child, and I am starting to get crow’s feet. It’s destiny, whatever. I think eye cream is hydration, and you need it all over. She started using a new product, don’t ask me what it is. I think it’s some kind of Ayurvedic product. But she said, “I think I really see a difference.” She is not a skin queen. She doesn’t even wear sunscreen, so this is news to me. So I think it might be.

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The Supermodel Who’s Changing Lives