There’s no denying it: Ashley Graham is famous. She’s transcended Instagram fame (with 12.2m followers) into another stratosphere: she’s the poster girl for body positivity and uses her podcast Pretty Big Deal to chat to famous friends like Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams.
You can also tell she’s a big deal (pun totally intended) because of how difficult it is to get an interview with her – she seems to be surrounded by an army of publicists, making for one nerve-wracking Zoom call. I needn’t have been worried, though, because Graham is exactly what she’s like on social media: bubbly, charismatic, and, for lack of a better word, nice. When asked how she is, Graham literally sings “I’m doing good”, before laughing that she’s “had loads of McDonald’s coffee so I am like” – following up with finger guns, suggesting she’s coming in with all cylinders firing.
I’m talking to the 33-year-old about tanning: she’s following in Kate Moss’s iconic footsteps as the new face of St.Tropez. When asked if she’s a tanning aficionado, Graham says with an explosive laugh: “Aficiana-noooo – I wish I didn’t do as much sun time and the actual bed as much as I did growing up. I didn’t get into self-tanners until I started traveling for work as a model, because I would show up on an island in a swimsuit, and I wouldn’t have a tan. And then there would be make-up everywhere. So, it became a staple as part of my prep as a model.”
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As is to be expected from Graham, she’s not just interested in how a tan makes you look. “It’s how it makes me feel on the inside,” she explains. “To me, it’s the ultimate accessory: I’ve got my earrings, I’ve got my mascara, and I’ve got my tan. If I’ve got my tan, I’m going to feel amazing – and if I don’t, life will still go on. It’s just that extra accessory that makes you feel great.”
After years in the industry, Graham knows her stuff when it comes to beauty – but it feels a long way from her childhood in Nebraska. “Beauty was really about my mom asking me how hard a worker I was going to be. ‘How dirty are you going to get in the yard?’ She was a farmer growing up,” says Graham. “So those things were really important to her.”
Graham has picked up plenty of tips and tricks from make-up artists over the years, but now her relationship to beauty has seen another big shift – after becoming a mother to Isaac with husband Justin Ervin in January 2020. “It basically went from having the luxury of everything, because I can be selfish, and now I don’t,” she says, matter-of-factly. “So, my mornings have really narrowed down to five minutes, and my nights after Isaac goes to sleep are when I can do my serums and my massages and things like that.”
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Now pregnant with her second child, she has her regime down to an art: “I have everything out on my vanity, so it’s easy to do – one, two, three, done – and I can make a little cocktail in my hand.” For Graham, this nighttime routine is crucial, because it “makes my body say OK, it’s time to relax… my body understands we’re going into shutdown mode, and I think that’s important for your body and your mind”.
My body understands we’re going into shutdown mode, and I think that’s important for your body and your mind”.
Graham might have streamlined her daily routine, but she still misses the luxury of four-hour sessions getting ready for a red-carpet event. “I love the process of the glam team sending me mood boards and inspirations,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “I love working with designers and creating the dress or the gown – depending on what we’re doing – and being able to, in a fantasy world, put together the idea of who I want to be for the evening.
“I can be a no make-up, hair in a ponytail, wear sweatpants all day, kind of mom. But at the end of the day, sometimes it’s fun to get glammed up.”
Graham’s approach to the industry and life in general is overwhelmingly positive, but it’s taken a lot of work to get there. Although her mother taught her innate confidence growing up, when she became a model, “people started picking apart and manipulating my body, and telling me who I was supposed to be”, she says.
After years of having her confidence “shut down by so many people in the industry,” Graham has reclaimed it with affirmations. “Words have so much power,” she says. “Affirmations really got me out of this negative time in my life, when I wanted to give up and I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to keep going as a model and fight this systemic issue of what we’re supposed to be, and how perfect we’re supposed to be in society and media.”
“So, I have really championed affirmations – especially getting out of a rut, whatever rut you’re in.”