Ashley Graham: Being ‘thin’ is not ‘the only way you can be athletic’


I rather enjoy the fact that Ashley Graham has been getting magazine covers all year. This really has been a breakthrough year for her, and quite honestly, I’d rather hear what she has to say as opposed to what half of the other “celebrities” have to say. Ashley covers the new issue of Self Magazine, which traditionally gives its covers to slender women who then talk about how they maintain their size-2 bodies. It’s fascinating to see a plus-sized model (although she hates the term “plus-sized”) on a magazine devoted to exercise, fitness and health. Which is the point that Ashley has always made about the people concern-trolling her for being “unhealthy”: you can be a size 16 and be in great health. You can be a size 2 and in poor health. Skinny does not equal good health, just as curvy/bigger does not equal poor health. Ashley talks about all of that and more with Self – you can read the full piece here, and here are some highlights:

Self-love: “I love my hourglass figure. You can be sexy and feel good in your skin, no matter what size you are.”

She prefers “curvasexalicious” to “plus-size”: “We don’t say, ‘My skinny friend.’ Why do big girls have a label?”

Toxic romances: “I dated all the wrong men. I thought I could feel appreciated in my body through guys.” Graham speaks openly about being in an abusive relationship during this period. “He never hit me, but he did throw me up against a wall. I didn’t know to get out then because I was so insecure.” When a different boyfriend dumped her, “He said, ‘I’m afraid you’re going to be as fat as my mom.’ ” The now oft-quoted remark, Graham says, “was the start of how I began to look at my body and relate it to men. Like, Oh, I’m not pretty or skinny enough for men.”

Building herself back up after hitting a low point:
“I remember one moment, like, boom. I was looking in the mirror, crying, and I started just saying, ‘I love you.’ We’ve been taught to say negative things to ourselves—to pinch our fat and be like, ‘One day it’ll leave.’ To say ‘Sorry’ when someone bumps into us. So I decided to break that cycle. But it didn’t happen overnight. I had to realize that if I didn’t really love who I was and if I couldn’t appreciate this—my body—as my moneymaker, then I wasn’t going to make any money.”

Getting back into fitness at 21: “So it was like, okay, I’m an athlete. I need to move. I know that working out releases endorphins and makes me feel my best.” Graham has been working up a serious sweat ever since. Today, she exercises three mornings a week and recently took up boxing. “I’m really excited because I feel like my body’s just going to be, like, de-fi-ni-tion!” Her commitment, she says, “helps to shatter these preconceived notions that thin is the only way you can be athletic.”

Not having sex until her honeymoon: “I was like, ‘Look, I’m not having sex ’til I’m married.’ And he was like, ‘Great! Let’s not.’ ” Difficult as it was to honor this commitment (“He is so fine,” Graham enthuses), “We stuck to it.” Then, on their Jamaican honeymoon, “We had sex all the time for, like, 10 days.”

Her high-profile critics, like Cheryl Tiegs: “It was great—it brought up another talking point for girls like me to be like: How can you look at somebody and decide if they’re healthy? You can’t! I happen to be really healthy, but are you a doctor? No. And even if you are, Instagram is not the place. I’ve always had to prove myself more than the girl next to me because I’ve always been bigger. I’ve always had a bustier chest. I’ve always been louder. My laugh is outrageous. I learned to think, Your confidence has to walk into the room before you do.”

Her message: “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. And nobody—nobody—has control over my body but me.”

[From Self]

She talked about waiting to have sex with her husband in her recent Elle Canada interview too. While her language about sex was a little bit all over the place, if you read the full interviews (in Self and Elle), there’s a larger context. She decided to become celibate after she abused her body with bad food, self-hate and bad boyfriends. She was mistreated by men and she almost left modeling. I honestly don’t think she’s recommending that all women should follow in her path and wait for marriage, she’s just saying that this was her path.



Photos courtesy of Self.

Related stories

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

29 Responses to “Ashley Graham: Being ‘thin’ is not ‘the only way you can be athletic’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. SilverUnicorn says:

    This woman is absolutely gorgeous and I agree with her.
    Why do we have to follow labels all the time.
    An obese/anorexic person is unhealthy but that’s something only doctors should decide.

  2. Nicole says:

    Wow. They didn’t air brush her stretch marks out on the cover. Wow! I don’t know why but I have feelings that her humanness is on display on a magazine cover. That someone less than svelte is on the cover of a major magazine. That there is beauty beyond a sample size.

    • jen says:

      I noticed that, too. And if that is her doing, she insisted that they not airbrush/photoshop, then I applaud her. I would be even more impressed if one of the photos was of her ass with all of its cellulite.
      I always thought she looked like a cross b/n Eva Mendes and someone else. I find her pretty but not gorgeous or special.

    • Brittney B. says:

      … that is AWESOME. I want to buy this issue now.

  3. Cool Character says:

    I can see her appeal but I don’t share it.

    She’s pretty but there’s something about her that I don’t connect with.

    It’s great for people of all sizes to be represented.

  4. QQ says:

    F*cking Love Her!, Push Through with These Looks and Normalizing different type of body for these mags

  5. Sayrah says:

    I find her very likeable. And quite beautiful too!

  6. als says:

    She looks like Eva Mendes in that close up.

  7. Bridget says:

    Watching the Olympics, you can see that there is no one body type for an athlete. What makes someone an athlete is the discipline and hard work, not the way they’re shaped or how they look. It’s admirable the way Graham has taken control of her own body and her own beauty, but I guess I don’t understand how she’s athletic or an athelete – not trying to shade, I just don’t define someone who hits the gym 3 days a week as an “athlete” (though fit and healthy). I hope I don’t get killed for this.

    • Babooshka says:

      I mean this well and with kindness and understanding and empathy. While I agree you can be a size 2 and not healthy, I don’t think you can be a size 16 and be in great health. I think the misunderstanding lies in young women and men being overweight/obese and being in good health but it’s usually youth/young age that does that for you. Being a size 16 and in your late 30′s and 40′s puts extra pressure on your heart and other organs just from the sheer extra weight on your frame.

      I’m not saying that means a size 2 smoker who eats junk food is healthier but not everything needs a relative measure. The size 2 with poor diet and lifestyle habits is unhealthy. The size 16 who is overweight and most likely obese is also unhealthy. Neither has to serve as a function of the other one.

      • synnae says:

        I’m 6’2″ Because of my height I look like a size 12 but am a 16. Even people in fashion – who should know- underestimate my clothing size because of my height.

        So – miss “I mean this well”- not all size 16s are necessarily overweight or unfit. Just check mybodygallery to get an idea of what a size 16 looks like on a taller woman.

    • joannie says:

      I agree with you. I also feel she’s overweight. She will never be a slim woman and that’s ok. A person doesn’t have to be stick thin to be attractive. This just feels like a campaign for people to feel ok about being overweight. Slam if you want but I’m just giving my honest opinion.

    • Brittney B. says:

      I think she meant it more as a personality type. Maybe it’s just projection, because the exercise thing hit home for me too (endorphines are my #1 reason to work out). But she was talking about her realization that she thrives when she’s physically active, that she has to keep moving to stay psychologically well. When she calls herself an athlete, it’s part of that understanding: that she needs physical activity to be herself.

    • JenniferJustice says:

      I agree with that you can’t be a size 16 or 18 and be fit. No body shaming – she is a lovely person and has a gorgeous face and body, but I wouldn’t categorize her body as fit. I’m glad she’s breaking the mold re body acceptance, especially on magazine covers, but I can’t equate body acceptance with being fit. It’s no different than Amy Schumer posting that pic of her in the water with the caption about being strong and fit. Extra weight does not make you strong. Rather it makes you weaker.

      • Dally says:

        Did you not watch the Olympics? And see those women who are literally the best athletes in the world who are easily a size 16 or more? (See shot putters, weight lifters, hammer throwers). If you think those women can get to that level of competition without seriously paying attention to their overall health, you’re crazy. They could all literally throw you across a room without breaking a sweat.

      • tigerlily says:

        Well Jennifer Justice, I question your credentials to pass judgement on a size 16 person (sight unseen) as being “unhealthy” and unfit. WTF? I know some size 16 women who work out regularly and are extremely fit but choose not to starve themselves into a size 2.

    • Babooshka says:

      @dally the average size 16 is not an Olympian and doesn’t exert themselves nearly as much nor do they watch their nutrition as olympians in training are known to do.

      • littleballsofsunshine says:

        Nor is the average size 2 an Olympian. They also certainly don’t train like Olympian athletes. The vast majority of us don’t because we don’t have 6-8 hours a day to do nothing but train.

        How about we all just chill out about a conversation that is between a woman (because apparently only women are included in this kind of body shaming convo) and her doctor.

    • Bridget says:

      Jeez folks. I am NOT about to judge whether or not a person can be a size 12 or 16 and still in good health. That is her own damn business. I simply don’t agree that a few days days a week at the gym makes someone an athelete (and I’d think that no matter the size of the person. Imagine if Kendall Jenner said it?)

    • Annie says:

      No, I agree with you. Like you said, the Olympics were filled with athletes of all sizes and body types. I hope she’s not referring to herself as athletic though, because she IS overweight. And thin or not, athletes don’t have high body fat percentage, they are not overweight, nor skinny-fat. They have muscle definition and they are high performers. Hitting the gym a few times a week doesn’t make you an athlete. Let’s not all try to wear that participation medal. We can’t do what they do.

      I really don’t like this trend of patronizing heavy women. “This is not plus size. Thin women are unhealthy. Big is good. You are healty and athletic.” You know they will only keep getting heavier and heavier until a doctor steps in. At one point you have to lose weight to lead a quality life and those people giving you bad advice won’t be there to help you. It sucks that heavy women are being fed all these lies. Health should come first. Being overweight complicates a lot of things.

  8. Maude says:

    I think it is like this – I have never been thin. Through my teenage years and growing up, I have never been less than a size 14. During that time:

    I played high school softball, basketball, soccer, golf and volleyball
    I played college basketball (3 year starter with all conference honors, so, I actually played)
    After college, I continued to work out between 4-7 days a week
    I currently work out about 5 days a week in the gym, and go on long walks and hikes on weekends.

    I have been called fat to my face repeatedly. I have had people yell at me to “workout fatty”. It is highly likely I spend far more time in a gym than those people.

    I think that is what she means.

    • Brittney B. says:

      Maude, it makes me sick to imagine people saying those things to you. I’m really sorry… but really impressed by your perspective and your commitment to exercise. It sounds like you really enjoy being active, and your critics could learn a thing or two about having non-superficial motivations in life. You’re probably right about their habits, and you’ll probably still be healthy and strong when their bodies are aching and sagging and getting sick.

      Side note: I also played a lot of sports throughout childhood, from competitive figure skating to swimming, and my peers came in so many different shapes and sizes. But school was a different, horrible world for all of us. At school, my bigger friends (who were involved in sports EVERY day after school) were bullied for their weight and laziness, and I was bullied for being a “dork” who was “bad at sports” (thanks gym teachers). The shining stars were great at soccer or cheerleading and naturally very thin, but they weren’t half as serious about their health as the ones they bullied for being un-athletic losers. Totally relate to your experience with cruel, clueless peers who think they’re hitting your weak spot, but are actually proving themselves completely oblivious to who you really are.

      • Maude says:

        It isn’t fine, but it just “is”. If that makes sense.

        I have a full awareness that I am above what is considered an ideal weight, and it does bother me that I put in a lot of effort, and just don’t seem to get the results other people get. I’d be lying if I said it had no effect on my self esteem, and I appreciate that there are women like Ashley Graham who are out there trying to make the world a bit easier for someone like me to navigate.

        Your side note is absolutely spot on. I think kids (and adults), look for weaknesses in people, and try to expose those to their benefit. I think by destigmatizing certain things, we’re able to take away their ammunition.

        I had a woman who had 4 young girls walk directly past a long and well organized line at a merchandise table prior to a show to the front of the line and try to cut to the front. Several people were upset and told her where to find the back of the line. She whipped around, looked and me and said, “shut up fata**!” and stormed off. I wasn’t even one of the people who was directing her to the back of the line. This is the kind of thing that happens.

    • Arlene says:

      The people that yell at you are absolute ignorant assholes.

    • Lalu says:

      Yes… I think she means that being active is important to her and makes her feel good.
      I don’t know that this is a campaign to make people ok with being overweight. I think someone that grows up heavy and always being ridiculed for their weight is very much aware of what they look like. But I think at some point you have to decide to love who you are including imperfections.
      There are so many different body types and some people have so much more trouble keeping weight off than others. I just think people have to be honest with themselves… Are you really healthy and at your best, or are you in denial?
      I am a size 0 and have always been tiny but I am not toned right now because I haven’t been getting the exercise I need. I know I am not at my best, regardless of what others see. I think that’s the big thing. Being honest with yourself. Frankly, it’s no one else’s business.

      • Maude says:

        Definitely agree with this statement. I just think people are quick to judge with essentially no backup knowledge. I have tiny friends who laugh at the prospect of entering a gym, and I never miss a day at the gym and can’t lose a pound.

        I’m a proponent of working out because I feel better, both mentally and physically, when I exercise. I know when I’m doing a good job of it, and when I am not.

      • Annie says:

        Yup, I agree. You have to be honest with yourself and know what you’re doing to be healthy because you won’t be young forever and the decisions you make now will affect you when you’re old. I think lately we see this new patronizing campaign for all women “You are beautiful, you are perfect, never change, we are allll beautiful!” And phrases like those cover up lots of sins and makes turn a blind eye to things we need to address. Do love yourself, like the way you are, but nobody is perfect, and it’s not about beauty standards all the time, or about beauty at all. It’s about taking care of yourself, being kind to yourself, being responsible for your health. I will not believe somebody feels beautiful and loves herself, if she abuses her body in any way.

        I wish women weren’t so hypnotized by the concept of beauty and looked at things more objectively. Your health is the most important thing.