Ashley Graham was discovered at age 12 in a mall in Kansas near her hometown. Towering over her classmates at 5'9" and being a size 12 in middle school made her a target for bullies, but she would soon learn the bullying from stylists and agents in the world of professional modeling was much, much worse.
Following a string of local photo shoots, she took the plunge and moved to New York when she was 17, hoping to make modeling her full-time career. Graham faced some challenges, as most young models do. But she also heard a lot of comments about her being plus-sized. Graham had dealt with degrading comments throughout her childhood, including being called “the big friend with cottage cheese thighs.” But none of that prepared her for the bullying she would endure from agents, who often pressured her to lose weight, making comments about her size, shape, and body type.
Graham told People Magazine:
I had people on set, like photographers, stylists and even my own agents telling me that I was getting too big or they’d make snide comments like ‘time to put the Snickers down.’ And that is really what stuck with me and was super hurtful.
People pointed out that bullying doesn't necessarily end after high school:
Graham still believes the world is changing for the better.
Women just really want to see themselves represented. They want to see age, they want to see size, they want to see race, they to see the diversity of who they are, because we aren’t all these picture-perfect idealized images of beauty that the media and fashion have told us that we are.
Fans defended the plus-size model, calling her perfect and a great role model:
Graham gained 25 to 30 lbs when she first began modeling, and started to question her decision. Convinced her career was over before it had even started, she wanted to give up and didn't know how to move on.
And that's when her mother stepped in. Graham told People:
The only person that helped me get out of that rut was my mom. She told me that I was good enough. She told me that I had to stay, that I had to figure it out. And I’m really glad she did, because a little bit of tough love is what got me through.
Believing in herself worked. She signed with IMG Models and has become the face of multiple big-name advertising campaigns for companies like Revlon and Lane Bryant. She has also appeared on the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and more.
We're glad Graham found her self-confidence and continued to pursue modeling. She is total perfection!