Ashley Graham developed a positive body image at a young age, but constantly deals with criticism over her size from a society that hasn’t caught up — including her ex-boyfriends.
The supermodel says she can relate when girls tell her about the body shaming they’ve experienced, because she’s seen it all herself.
“Nothing’s actually surprised me. I’ve lived exactly what they’re living. I’ve lived the torment of the names. I’ve lived the torment of boyfriends breaking up with me because they were afraid I was going to be too fat later in life,” Ashley, 29, said at the Urban Arts Partnership 25th anniversary benefit. “It’s the same cycle, it doesn’t matter what generation we are in. Every kid is going to go through the same thing.”
Ashley though, like most women, still does have her days of body doubts, but she knows how to get away from them quickly.
“I wake up sometimes and I think ‘I’m the fattest woman alive’. But it’s really about how you handle it when you wake up,” she says. “I look in the mirror and I have my affirmations. And mine are simple. [I say] ‘You are bold. You are brilliant and you are beautiful.’ And then if my lower pooch* is really puffing out that day, I say ‘Lower pooch you are cute’. And we have a moment. And if the hips are really popping I say ‘I love you too hips.’”
And Ashley says the increase in curvy role models in the industry will help young girls — like the ones she works with through Urban Arts — gain that strong body confidence.
“Having more role models, more women who are like ‘Yea, I have cellulite. Yea, it’s even on my arms, not just my legs. My butt is a really bizarre shape but you know what, whatever, I’m just going to go rock it.’ I think if we had more role models like that that, that were really just speaking their truth about their body and the skin that they’re in then maybe young America would be different,” she says.
She adds that her own soaring fame shows that people do want to see curvier models.
“I think that my career has been a huge testament to how the industry is changing right before our eyes. I don’t think that a girl my size, as a model, would ever have been on the cover of Vogue and I’m still so shocked at that,” Ashley tells PEOPLE. But there are still areas where the fashion industry needs to catch up, she says.
“Where we’re lacking is in the designer and buyer relationship. Buyers are not buying the size 22, size 24 clothes that the designers are making and then sometimes it makes the designers not want to make that size because the buyers are not buying it,” she explains. “So there still is so much like that that needs to happen behind the scenes.