“You create the world that you want to live in. It’s very important that you put the effort into manifesting what it is you want,” Ashley Graham says to me, mid way through filming the latest episode of GLAMOUR UNFILTERED. As we talk over Zoom from her LA home, the words strike a chord because if anyone has created the world she wanted to live in, it’s the 33-year-old model, who is the face of the Pandora Brilliance collection.
WATCH: Ashley Graham on ‘frustrating’ conversations she still faces about body image
Working in an industry that kept telling her ‘no,’ Ashley just didn’t just fight for her seat at the table she built a brand new table. After almost turning her back on modelling Ashley went on to press for shape diversity through groundbreaking covers of Vogue and Sports Illustrated’s infamous ‘Swimsuit Issue,’ appearing as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, becoming the face of brand such as Revlon and Saint Tropez and launching her own empowering podcast Pretty Big Deal which has seen her interview the likes of Demi Lavato and Kim Kardashian West.
And now after giving birth to her son, Issac last year with her cinematographer husband Justin Ervin – who she met at church – Ashley has become the face of Pandora’s first sustainably lab created diamonds collection. The Pandora Brilliance collection is part of the brand’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2025 and it also aims to democrotice diamonds by starting at £250 – so get ready to put a ring on it!
Here in the latest episode of GLAMOUR UNFILTERED Ashley opens up about what still frustrates her about the body image conversation, how becoming a mother has changed her relationship with sustainability and the moment that tested her resilience the most…
Pandora are launching their very first sustainably lab-created diamonds collection, which you are the face of. How has your relationship with sustainability changed and evolved?
I feel like everything changes when you have a child. I’m always thinking of creative ways to be better for my son and sustainabilityhas been so important in this industry. Now, working with Pandora for their first ever sustainably lab-created diamonds, it’s been an amazing experience to understand about the certified carbon neutrals, and everything that goes within that – making smart choices is very important. When you become a mother, everything changes for you and you think differently about the future for your child. When you’re speaking about the fashion industry, when you’re talking about sustainability it’s all about everybody doing their part, putting one foot in front of the other, and making sure that we’re creating a huge impact to create change.
Personal resilience and strength are big themes in the campaign – when have you dug the deepest to find your resilience?
The list goes on and on and on! A good place I started when I wanted to find resilience in myself – and where I did find it – was when I first moved to New York and I wanted to quit. I had been bombarded with an industry that kept telling me, “You’re not good enough. You’re not skinny enough. You’re not big enough.” I wanted to give up and I wanted to go home. I told my mom, “That’s it, I’m coming back to Nebraska.” And she told me, “No, Ashley. Your body is going to change someone’s life.” I didn’t understand what that meant then, but I understand what it means now because my body has changed an industry and it’s changed so much. It’s also taught me that I can do whatever I want to do, as long as I’m doing the things that make me feel good and that are creating change.
You’ve powerfully spoken out about Photoshopping, how damaging do you think the impact of filters and Photoshopping can be personally to a person’s self-esteem?
When it comes to Photoshop and filters, Facetune and the high-end Photoshop I think that it is so hurtful and that it’s creating a bigger problem than we’re even aware of right now. Give it a few more years, even 10 years more, and we’re going to be seeing the real effects of it, because people think that they are not pretty enough and they’re not good enough. They’re not dating. They’re not going on the jobs that they’re more than qualified for. There’s a big confidence issue that’s happening now, that’s a worldwide issue. A lot of it has to do with morphing yourself into something that you’re definitely not and I hate it.
I hate it so much, because I think back to the younger me who, if there was social media around when I was 15 years old, I would have been crying. I would have been so upset that I had so much cellulite and my favorite celebrity didn’t, or that I had this back fat roll when I looked in the mirror, but my favourite celebrity did not. It’s so important that if you have a platform, that you need to be talking and you’re open, because not everybody’s open. But if you’re open, talk about those struggles that you had and that you still have, because there’s somebody who’s going through that, that you’re going to change their life by just telling your story.
After over a year with the world in lockdown, people will come out of the pandemic and have to face their body again and for some that may prove to be difficult. What advice do you have for those struggling?
The most important thing to remember, walking into our new normal, walking out of a pandemic, and maybe you’re stepping into a new body, is to remember that you’re not alone, that your body is strong, that your body is your body. You should, if you don’t have body positivity within yourself, maybe think about it from body acceptance. Remember that this is your one body that you’ve been given. Treat it well, speak to it kindly and remember that the younger people that are around you are watching. I think for parents, it’s really important for you to remember that your children are watching how you treat and talk to your body and that’s exactly how they’re going to treat and talk to their bodies.
We still live in a world obsessed with the labelling of others, how has your relationship with the concept of labelling changed?
Everybody wants to talk about labels and it sucks because we live in a generation where there’s a label smacked on literally anything and anyone. We need to get over it. I don’t want to be personally labeled because of a number inside of my pant. I don’t think that men are labeled based off of a number inside of their pants. We need to get rid of the labels and treat people in the way that they want to be treated. It sounds so simple, but yet it is just so hard for some people to understand!
What still frustrates you about the conversations we’re still having to have around the topic of body image?
What’s still so frustrating about the conversations that we’re having today is that I was still having 20 years ago when I started like, how do you feel confident in your body, and how do you dress for your body? It’s all about how I look and how I feel. Just because I am a size US 16, just because I’m over 200 pounds, just because I am in lingerie a lot, doesn’t mean that I need to have this constant conversation about what it takes to feel so confident within myself. Just because I’m a big girl, doesn’t mean that I need to have this constant confidence conversation. To me, it’s so mind-blowing. Why are we not asking thinner women, what does it take for you to be confident as well? Because it’s not just about the exterior. Sometimes it’s about the interior, and what’s going on in here and in your heart. That’s definitely something we need to work on.
Is there a negative time in your life you wish you could go back to, and give yourself a piece of advice?
I think I would go back and give my younger self in my late teens, early twenties advice and say not everything is supposed to be yours right now. You still need life experience. You still need to understand the work that comes with getting whatever it is that my goal was at the time. I think that if I knew that in 10 years I would have had more patience with myself.
Ashley Graham is the ambassador for the new Pandora Brilliance collection, launching exclusively in the UK on Thursday 6th May.
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