Ashley Graham: Every Body Deserves a Barbie
What a doll without a thigh gap can do for little girls’ self-confidence.
It was surreal holding a copy of my Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit cover in February and seeing my face and my body looking back at me. When I was growing up, the easiest place for me to find a woman with a body like mine was in the mirror. I wasn’t seeing curvy women striding confidently down runways. I never saw them smiling up at me from my favorite magazine covers. The dolls sold in stores didn’t share my body type. And even a few years ago, I was still being side-eyed by people who thought I had no place in the fashion industry.
During the early years of my career, I lived and worked in a society that tried to convince me that there was no room for my thick thighs and big hips. Curves were not high fashion, but I resisted every urge to shrink down to fit in. I was not too big or too much. I looked in the mirror and told my body — every part — that it was beautiful. I remained my whole self because I knew there was space, not just for me, but for every woman who was told her body was too much. That was the truth that I repeated to myself every day. I repeated it and I lived it out in every photoshoot and every runway show. And over the past few years, an industry that used to say we could not fit was making room for beauty in every size.
2016 has been a pivotal year for size diversity and my career. In addition to earning a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and on the covers of multiple magazines like Cosmopolitan and SELF, Glamour has just named me one of their Women of the Year. Today, I look at my name listed among women like Simone Biles and Miuccia Prada, and I am blown away. I have not won an Olympic gold medal, and I do not own a worldwide fashion house, but what I have done is change the way society defines beauty and the way women view themselves. This year I displayed my lingerie collection with Addition Elle during New York Fashion Week for the second year in a row. Fifteen curvy models walked confidently and unapologetically down the runway in the lingerie I designed for women who deserve the same sexy styles as their “straight-size” friends. We’re beginning to accept stomachs that roll, thighs that touch and bits that jiggle for exactly what they are — beautiful. Together we are breaking down barriers for all women who were once devalued because of their size.
During the Glamour Woman of the Year Summit, Mattel presented me with my very own Barbie made in my exact likeness, complete with thighs touching and round arms. I believe that self-love and body positivity can and should start in every little girl’s bedroom and playroom. Thinking back to my childhood when no doll looked like me, it is an honor to know that my doll will inspire young girls to believe they can play out their dreams.
I never imagined that loving myself out loud and without apology would be so revolutionary. I did not expect that my behind-the-scenes photos and mirror selfies would be the catalyst for so many women throwing away the lies we’ve been told about our bodies. But I’m grateful that they were. My goal is for every woman and every girl to stand in her mirror and have a conversation with her body like I do with mine. To tell herself that she is beautiful, exactly as she is. I am happy to be that curvy woman on the runway, the woman on the magazine cover and now the doll that represents diversity until it’s no longer out of the ordinary for all bodies to be in any of those places.