Get to know Remix's Autumn Issue cover star: Ashley Graham

Considering her career rewrote the definition of a supermodel forever, it’s fitting that cover star Ashley Graham fronts the Revolution Edition of Remix. Editor-in-chief Amber got up close and personal with the superstar in an intimate interview that revealed her ambitions to continue changing the world as a model, activist and mother.

When you think of Ashley Graham, you instantly think of her as the figurehead for the evolution of the plus-size modelling industry. Highly regarded as the world’s first curve supermodel, her career has irrefutably had a huge impact on women’s confidence the world over. Chelsea Handler put it frankly in her recent Daily Show interview with the star, “You’re real, you’re not full of shit, like these other models,” she said, and I can’t help but agree. The term body positivity likely comes to mind, but there is contention these days around the topic of body positivity and having to love everything you have, which can have a toxic effect - we don’t love ourselves at all times. It’s simply not realistic. This 24/7 ‘love yourself’ attitude is a Utopian ideal that for the majority of people is unattainable. What Ashley considers more appropriate is ‘body neutrality’. This is the movement that acknowledges that we may not love our bodies every single minute of every day, and there's nothing wrong with that. Instead, proponents of body neutrality encourage us to accept our bodies as they are, and to not punish ourselves even if we aren't what society deems as “perfect”. Ashley is the first person to correct perceptions of perfection, recently interviewing friend, Demi Lovato, on her podcast Pretty Big Deal, where she expressed the same feelings, “I just want to wake up and know that my body is working… I’m not gonna lie and say, thick thighs, I love you”. Ashley admitted, the last few years have been a journey. Overnight her whole life changed when she became a mother of three under three. In 2022, her first son Isaac, was joined by twin siblings Roman and Malachi. Ashley was applauded by women the world over, for her efforts to normalise breastfeeding on Instagram - posting photos and videos of feeding, pumping, the endless paraphernalia, stretch marks, sagging skin, hair loss and the ever-changing effects that comes with being a new mother. 

“When I got pregnant, had a miscarriage and then got pregnant again within the next month with the twins, I thought, ‘Wow, here we go.’ To have my body expand and then go back all those times within just under two years made me have conversations with myself, like what is it going to take to 'get it back?'. My friend Tommy just looked at me so deeply and sincerely and said, ‘There's no such thing as going back. You're only going to go forward.’ It seems so simple to hear that now, I'm not going to have the things that I had before because now my life is just completely different. It's not a bad thing. My stomach is deflated and I've got saggy skin. I've got stretch marks galore. I've got so much weight still on me from all the pregnancies combined. And I was like, who cares? I'm at a point where what matters is my health, my family, and making sure everybody's happy. But it's a roller coaster, it's a roller coaster that a lot of people have. Your body is not going to look like it did when you were in your 20s. It's just different.”

At some point in her postpartum journey it just clicked. “I grew three amazing humans, I pushed them out, I fed them, and I can still deadlift 100-something pounds and carry all three kids in my arms at the same time.” Born in 1987, the supermodel, author and podcaster inherited her practical attitude and strength from her childhood in Nebraska. She credits her mother, Linda, for her resilience and powerful viewpoint on her body’s purpose. When I asked her what she loves most about herself, she said, “Something my mother instilled in us was that she never really looked at us and said, ‘you're so gorgeous, you’re so beautiful’. She’d say ‘you are strong, your height is something that's going to carry you through, you can do things with those strong thighs and big feet.’ My mom always emphasised our strengths, and that's something that has really carried me into being a mom today.” 

This will remain an important belief system for Ashley as her three boys grow up, who she admits have brought her so much happiness, “I’ve really enjoyed watching the world through my kid's eyes. Reliving those moments like being on all fours experiencing the world from down there or discovering a new sound or playing with a toy. It also brings so much compassion that I have now for the world because it just goes to show how different we all are. Isaac has always been a snuggler, but most recently, he’ll come up and grab both sides of your face and make you look at him and he'll say, ‘Mommy, I love you’ and then you just want to eat him! And then the twins and the way they interact is so funny.” Within the first five minutes, it became obvious her connection to her children was a massive daily driver and has been from their birth. She chose to have a home birth with her twins that took a scary turn, which has made her not only appreciate them more, but also the loving support unit she had around her at the time. “I haemorrhaged at home during the birth, that was pretty wild. From the outside looking in, it was really scary, but if you were in the room you would understand, I had so much help. I had trained RNs that were my midwives - I was in such good hands. Haemorrhaging is no little thing at all. It's a big deal. But I'm here to tell the story that it's okay as long as you have the right team around you.”

Throughout our chat, she was most animated when talking about her boys, in fact, a large chunk of our time was spent swapping stories of our toddlers. Her intimate revelations and honest tales of home really showcased the humbleness of this incredible woman who, at the least, changed the blueprint of the modelling industry. Down- to-earth would be the best way to describe her manner, followed closely by hilarious. I can’t even recall the amount of times she had me laughing out loud - an unexpected occurrence during celebrity interviews. Her larger than life laugh and chatty energy was infectious. She talks like a New Yorker, which makes sense given Ashley has spent most of her life living in New York. Only moving recently with her cinematographer husband Justin Ervin and children to New Jersey for the freedom it provides. “I can't imagine living in Brooklyn with three little kids. I'm just so happy that we have the space, we have two and a half acres. My almost three-year-old Isaac can go outside by himself. I really want to get some chickens and a peacock,” she says, laughing. “There's just so much that comes with that fresh air and the freedom for your kids”.. While she pops in and out of New York for work and special occasions, I wondered whether she missed the big city? “Just like the convenience of living in a city, right? You know, being able to just, like, pop on the train and get to the other side and 15 minutes and go and either see a friend or get a facial.” As she detailed her home life I can understand why the desires of the big apple are no longer such a priority. Happily married for 12 years, she met her husband at 21, and married him at 22. “We were both cut from the same cloth, we wanted the same things.” 

While motherhood and family life is currently her biggest adventure, fashion continues to run through her veins. When I asked her favourite designer she’s ever walked for she smiled brightly, saying, “Walking for Balmain was a big deal for me, and also wearing new designers like I just wore Patrick McDowell for the British Fashion Awards and he's just very good at what he does. There are also the OG's like Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano who have also become my friends, I will always adore and love working with them.” True to her character, she followed that with her truthful thoughts on the industry. “I think what's exciting right now is watching who is saying they're inclusive and then actually proving it.” In her experience, a lot of designers, including some she’s worked with, will effectively tick a box by casting a curve girl on their runway but then not follow through with those collections being available in bigger sizes in store. Similar to New Zealand (where the average Kiwi women’s clothing size is 12) the United States average size is 14 & 16. Ashley and her team are on a motivated mission to make a difference. “I mean it’s a constant struggle,” she says, “I actually have three stylists that I work with and with each one of them, I see going through the phone calls with design teams, begging and bartering for change. How do we get to a place where this is just a baseline situation and understanding that all sizes should be inclusive when it comes to schooling and education before they actually become designers?” The demand is there to back her up in the form of statistics, too. “The plus-size fashion industry is a $24 billion industry,” she says, “In America, 67% of women are considered plus size, or at least over a size 14 US. Like, don't you want to make a difference? Don’t you want to dress us?” This is a question she promises me she’ll continue to ask and push for in her endeavours as a model and entrepreneur. 

While modelling was her ticket to fame, Ashley’s become much more than a supermodel. As well as a published author and popular podcaster, she’s an activist in her community. While she has moved mountains within the industry, she wants to see change elsewhere. “Before social media, everything was a lot easier. I would like to see more young people truly have a sense of self-worth and not find it through social media. To have a better understanding that those things don't make you who you are. I just feel like that's a kind of plague across the world right now, that young people are finding their worth through those things and they're losing their confidence because of it. That's what I would like to see change.” Rather than body positivity, this idea of neutral self-confidence is perhaps the most integral part of Ashley’s DNA and something that she will continue to fight for, for the generations to come. This became even clearer, when I asked what she wanted to be remembered for and she stated, “I really want people to remember that I instil some kind of awakening of confidence within themselves. I think it's a really hard task to just wake up confident and have that consistency throughout your whole life, but if there are enough tools, stories and people that you can look up to? That confidence can change your life.” And so begins the self-confidence revolution.

Interview and words by Amber Baker