Ashley Graham: ‘I have never looked at tokenism as a bad thing’

2018 Tribeca Film Festival - Jonathan - Premiere

Usually, when a magazine puts a woman larger than a size 2 on their cover, the magazine will just use a headshot, or something from the waist up (and even that’s rare). The idea is “look at us, we’re so inclusive for putting a bigger girl on our cover, but also we don’t want to hurt your eyes by actually showing her body.” So in that sense, I love that Allure actually showed us Ashley Graham’s body on the July cover. It’s unique and great. That being said, I don’t like the composition of the cover shot, but we can’t have everything, right? Anyway, I used to find Ashley a tad bit extra, but she really has grown on me a lot. She knows she doesn’t do and say everything the right way, but she’s trying, she’s learning and she’s committed to being a good ally across the board. You can read her Allure interview here. Some highlights:

Seeing how Tyra Banks worked: “Being [a judge] on America’s Next Top Model, I got to see firsthand how Tyra [Banks] produced and hosted the show all at the same time,” Graham says. “There wasn’t even a teleprompter — she had everything memorized. She would deliver it three different ways, and then she would tell everybody on set: ‘I want this angle; I want that light on me here.’ And she did it all without apologizing.”

So that’s how she decided to run American Beauty Star. “I wasn’t apologetic. I was very matter-of-fact, but I did it with a smile on my face. That’s how people run businesses.”

Starting her size-inclusive lingerie line when she was 23: “Everybody asks me if I have any regrets in my career. The only regret I have is not starting that business sooner.”

Using her podcast to discuss the intersectionality, tokenism & sexism: “I see what my husband has to go through every day. We had gone to Italy, and a man spat on him. It’s heartbreaking. It can make you really angry. But it’s like, how are you going to change that anger into a teachable moment?”

How to work on those big problems: “Read books; have conversations. Educate yourself. The more you have conversations with people around you that are different than you, [the more] you’re going to learn and you’re going to grow. No one who isn’t black is going to understand a black person’s life, but they don’t have to be ignorant toward [what it’s like]. I want to know as much as I can as a white woman who is going to be raising black children. We’re going to have to have that conversation of ‘Mommy’s white, Daddy’s black,’ and I want to be prepared.”

Beauty & inclusion: “The biggest thing that we have to conquer is diversity and inclusion. You can’t just check the box and be like, ‘Oh, we did it.’ I have never looked at tokenism as a bad thing, as long as the brand, the client — whoever has the mission — continues to branch out and say, ‘This was our first time; next time we’re going to add more of the race, the gender, the sexuality, the religion, the disability,’ whatever it is,” Graham says. And a group isn’t truly represented, she continues, if it’s only outward-facing. True representation is when a type of diversity is considered “not just through the advertisement, but internally,” among the company’s employees and executives. “Stop talking about hiring [diverse candidates] and just do it.”

On how her body is treated: “My body has always been treated as a thing and not mine. You’re the sexy girl. You’re the naked girl. Men are going to idolize your hourglass figure. It was always about what others thought about my body, until I gained a voice. Now I get to tell people what I think of my body.”

[From Allure]

“No one who isn’t black is going to understand a black person’s life, but they don’t have to be ignorant toward [what it’s like].” That’s one of the better statements about privilege and race I’ve heard from someone who looks like Ashley. I also like how impatient she is and disgusted that beauty companies and fashion companies aren’t making more changes faster. She was the first plus-sized model to land a major beauty contract (with Revlon) and so far… she’s been the only one. She must feel less like she broke down that barrier and more like people see her as “the exception” they’re willing to make. I also love what she says about not being purely against tokenism, and I feel the same way – someone has to be first, someone has to break ground and hopefully things will move from there. The problem is that things really haven’t moved much.

Photo and cover courtesy of Allure.

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7 Responses to “Ashley Graham: ‘I have never looked at tokenism as a bad thing’”

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  1. Valiantly Varnished says:

    What she said about race was okay but girlfriend has a LOT to learn herself about race. This is the woman who told her black husband to treat his being spit on by a white stranger as a “teaching moment.” This is the woman who tried to get Jason Momoa to do a tribal dance on live TV for her and had to have Lisa Bonet put her in her place. What white women and men need to learn is that being with a black person or POC doesn’t mean you get a pass and doesn’t mean you don’t still have a lot to learn.

    • elimaeby says:

      The one big thing I’ve learned as a white woman in an interracial relationship, and something I really wish we would hear more, is how important it is to just shut up sometimes. Like, just shut up and listen. If your SO tells you what they’re experiencing, it’s not about you. It’s not about how it makes you feel. It’s not your “teachable moment”. And if you say/do something stupid, again, shut up and listen.

      • Charlie says:

        We’ve forgotten how to listen. Really listen.

        “The more you have conversations with people around you that are different than you, [the more] you’re going to learn and you’re going to grow,”

        Everyone has something to teach you, and if you’re listening to can learn something new every day. You should learn something new every day. It’s a message I have tried to instill in my daughter since she was very young, and one I try to honor for myself as well.

  2. Kealeen says:

    I really wish more magazines would follow Allure’s lead; they’ve been exceptionally inclusive for years, on multiple levels. They did a great piece on Lizzo before she was “mainstream.”

  3. lana86 says:

    Her face is very modelly- thin and conventionaly beautiful. And to be fair, they didn’t really display her body on the cover: her upper body totally covered, and legs are bare, but conveniently melt into the background ( of the same color). And her butt/leg didn’t even fully fit into the shot. So, her shape is not really displayed…
    Ok I donnow what I’m trying to say, just random remarks

  4. DS9 says:

    Uhm, what does she think Tokenism is?

    Also, they need to stop asking her this stuff. Sleeping with a black man doesn’t make her knowledgeable.

  5. so says:

    She’s the Zendaya of plus size people : technically she is, but barely.