Ashley Graham: ‘I wish that there was a Barbie that looked like me when I was younger’

Did you know that HGTV is doing a series to tie in with the release of Barbie? I did, because my mother has been sounding the alarm, sending me weekly reminders of its imminent arrival followed by more frequent ones this weekend in the lead-up to Sunday’s premiere. Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge is a Mattel-Warner Bros-HGTV brainchild that will conveniently fill in for the lack of actor promotion in the wake of the SAG-AFTRA strike. It’s your typical reality competition show, and though the rules are a bit overwrought, here is the basic gist: two-member design teams are each given 1-2 rooms to redecorate to turn a Southern Californian home into Barbie’s Dreamhouse, and each team will be assigned a specific decade of Barbie fashion to imbue their room(s) with.

Hosting the series is supermodel Ashley Graham, who’s been immortalized as a Barbie doll herself and proved her hosting chops earlier this year when attempting an interview with Hugh Grant at the Oscars. Ahead of the show’s Sunday premiere, Ashley spoke with Yahoo about the show (for the record, hosts fall under the entertainment/broadcast journalists SAG-AFTRA category and are NOT on strike right now, that’s only members with a TV/Theatrical contract) and she shared her thoughts on Barbie’s ability to champion body positivity:

On her relationship with Barbie growing up: “It was a fun doll to play with, and I think like many women my age, I grew up thinking, ‘Why aren’t my thighs touching? What are her breasts so perky? Why does she look so perfect?’” she shares. “It was a conversation that I had a lot growing up with my mom.” In 2015, Mattel focused on making Barbie more diverse in every way. It manufactured dolls with different skin tones, hair textures and four different body types (original, curvy, petite and tall).

What it meant to have Mattel make a Barbie of her: “I screeched,” she recalls. “I wish that there was a Barbie that looked like me when I was younger and so that was such an honor.” Graham says she felt “no pressure at all” over the fact there was going to be a Barbie in her likeness. Instead she was relieved there would “finally” be a doll out there “that young girls who are curvy can relate to. I was like so many other young girls. I just wanted to see my body type portrayed, but you don’t know how to express it. You’re just a moody little girl, and you look in the mirror, and you’re upset because there’s nobody talking about back fat. There’s no one talking about cellulite,” she explains.

Just wait for America Ferrera’s monologue in the movie: The social media star says she absolutely thinks the movie showcases body positivity and reflects various beauty standards. “I’m not giving away anything, but America Ferrera has this whole monologue that I have told all of my friends [about],” Graham teases. “When she is done with that monologue, all you say is ‘Hell yeah!’ It’s like you’re in church and you just start screaming because she just preached for all of us. It was that part I really felt [seen].”

On hosting the HGTV show: Graham is partnering with the iconic brand once again for Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge. The show features eight teams of HGTV stars and one Food Network chef as they transform a Southern California home into a life-size Barbie mansion. “Every room is dedicated to a different era of Barbie. There’s ‘90s, ‘80s, past, present, future… Graham says Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge will leave viewers feeling equally uplifted. “I want people to feel like they had a bit of nostalgia, that they had fun, and also just feel the Barbie magic again because there are so many of those magical moments that they put throughout the show. And I know as I was filming it, I had such a great time. So, I really hope the people that watch it feel the same,” she reveals, adding: “Barbie is all of us.”

[From Yahoo! Entertainment]

First off, I love Ashley saying “I’m not giving anything away, but I’ve told all my friends about this monologue from the unreleased movie.” Cracks me up. Moving on to (slightly) more serious matters, having watched the first episode I can say that the issue of representation is front and center, but not in a preachy way! Obviously the producers are prompting the discussion, but it felt natural when the designers would talk about what the debut of a certain kind of Barbie meant to them. And from what Ashley teases, it sounds like the movie also drives home the themes of representation and body positivity. I don’t see how, in 2023, you could approach Barbie any other way.

As for the actual design part of the show, that’s where Barbie sells herself. It is SO GOOD! The first episode had 2 teams vying off (again, I cannot explain all the rules to you, all I know is the house will be fully done by the end) and their assigned decades were ‘60s and ‘90s, respectively, and the details those designers crammed in everywhere… I don’t do drugs but this is what makes me high. I may spontaneously combust when the movie finally comes out.

Photos via Instagram

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17 Responses to “Ashley Graham: ‘I wish that there was a Barbie that looked like me when I was younger’”

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  1. Rach says:

    We get it, you’re fat AND beautiful.

    So bored of this conversation

    • Rach, what do you mean? I don’t quite understand.

    • VoominVava says:

      I do understand this sentiment a little .. Although I am not bored of Ashley, I think she’s gorgeous and fun and it’s nice to see someone with curves be thought of as sexy. BUT she is so naturally gorgeous that it still feels depressing when you try to relate as a plus sized girl / woman. It’s sort of like, Hey Ashley imagine if you were fat and not naturally supermodel beautiful. You would just be fat.

  2. Kirsten says:

    She had SO MANY conversations with her mom about body type and representation, but also she didn’t know how to express her thoughts about it? OK.

  3. Skyblue says:

    Am I the only woman alive who never, ever wondered why she didn’t look like Barbie? Honestly, I knew Barbie was a doll. A really fun doll to dress up in great gowns or tin foil. I especially loved to make tinfoil dresses for my Barbie. I also loved my Jane West doll and her plastic vest/skirt ensemble.

    • Eurydice says:

      I’m another one. Barbie was always a toy, not a role model.

    • Coco says:

      I’m another

      @ Eurydice

      Same Barbie was just a toy for me as a kid.

    • SpankyB says:

      I’m another one also.

      I was more upset that there wasn’t a Barbie, or any doll for that matter, with my name. There was a doll with my cousin’s name, thought there should be one for me too.

    • VoominVava says:

      Ditto. She was a toy for me. I loved my Barbies and didn’t stop playing with them until well past 13. In fact, I graduated back to doll collecting in my 40’s but they are Robert Tonner 16″ dolls. They are higher quality with some amazing fashion.

  4. Menlisa says:

    Now imagine being a black girl growing up with only White barbies available.
    She had representation.

    • ElsaBug says:

      I’m curious about this comment. Mattel has made Black dolls for 60 years – “Christie” came out just a few years after Barbie as a friend of Barbie and the first Black Barbie came out in 1980. Were they not available when you were growing up? Not sarcasm, just curious.

      • pk says:

        I grew up in the 80/90’s in Canada. I never saw a Black Barbie in any store, ever. It was all White Barbies. That’s just my experience though.

      • kd says:

        Some of us Celebitchies are old. No Black Barbie when I was a child and Christie, tho cute, was not Barbie. Back then the absence of a Black (or brown) Barbie (for my friends and I) reinforced the idea that we were not welcome at the Dream House. All good tho – there were other dolls and we didn’t miss a beat. I’m excited to see the film.

    • Skyblue says:

      I apologize for the narrow vision regarding representation in my comment. I was only thinking of thigh gap and Barbie measurements.

  5. shanaynay says:

    I’m sure this sounds like a very ignorant comment, but how can and/or is Barbie considered a role model? No shade! I just don’t understand.

  6. Dolkite says:

    Can Ashley Graham talk about anything but her weight? Every post of hers is a bikini selfie and she’s just dying for someone to say “Fat chicks shouldn’t wear bikinis” so she can “clap back” and get sympathy and attention. When that gets old, she talks about how “unfair” it is and how she got called fat when she was a kid so she can get more sympathy and attention, while she acts like bringing it up is some kind of service to overweight or insecure young women today.