When Ashley Graham moved to New York to model in 2005, she didn’t have the best spending habits. She spent the majority of what she was making without putting much, if any, money away. She always took cabs instead of the subway and enjoyed the nightlife without much thought to her wallet. A major turning point when she realized she ought to make a change, she notes, was when she had to pay her taxes each year. Too real, Ashley. Too real.
On stage Saturday at Cosmopolitan‘s Fun Fearless Money conference, held in partnership with finance company SoFi, Graham and model-turned-mogul Tyra Banks discussed female mentorship, motivation, and career goals. And Graham explained that, with guidance from friends like Tyra and trusted advisers, she now recognizes the benefits of saving in order to fuel what pretty much everyone hopes will be a lengthy career. “It’s so important to be on a budget constantly,” she told the audience. “It doesn’t mean you’re broke, it doesn’t mean you can’t have things that you want, you just budget differently.” Cosmopolitan.com caught up with Graham right before she took the stage to talk brands, beauty, and the models she thinks should be making headlines.
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You’ve built this amazing brand of body activism, and it’s all about positivity. What does it feel like when people come after you on social media whenever they see a photo of a certain angle and accuse you of losing weight?
At the end of the day, I’m tired of addressing it on social media, because I already wrote about it on Lenny Letter … Look, people, if you can’t get on the bandwagon, sayonara. But body-shaming on every spectrum has to stop.
Tim Gunn wrote in the Washington Post that he felt like the fashion industry didn’t have plus-size women’s back, and that some designers were of the mind that they wouldn’t like the way their clothes would look on those women. How does it make you feel hearing those remarks?
I think for so long, fashion hasn’t coincided with curvy women of the world, but now they [designers] are. And I think in the last two years, you’ve been able to see it more than ever. You’ve seen curvy women on the covers of magazines and commercials and movies. And I was never even able to say the names of five curvy women I could look up to, and now I can. More than ever, designers are putting women my size on the runway, putting us in their campaigns. Is it where we want it? No. But we’re on the way, so, I feel like fashion is finally jumping on the bandwagon and saying, “You know what? Diversity of age, race, and size is necessary, and we’re bringing it to you now.”
A lot of curvier women have expressed disappointment with how hard it is to get designers to dress them for red carpet events. Have you ever run into that problem where it’s been hard to get people to dress you?
Everything has to be custom, because I’m not a sample size. So that’s where you run into the problem. It’s not about designers not wanting to, it’s more about, “Do we have time to make you something?” And when it’s fashion month, it’s a little bit harder, but when you have a week or two, it’s a lot easier. Naeem Khan made me a dress, Bao Tranchi, Christian Siriano, Jonathan Simkhai made me custom gowns. And they want to. It’s out there. And I also have these amazing stylists who have these connections, so it’s really teamwork makes the dream work.
Your career has just skyrocketed this past year. What are some of the surprising downsides of this kind of fame and recognition?
The paparazzi taking a photo of you as you’re eating! [Laughs.] You just have to work a little harder. When you’re not in the limelight, it’s a little less work, but when you’re in the limelight, you have to work hard to stay there. I love what I do and I love where I’m going. I love how the world is changing right before my eyes. I like to say that my cellulite is changing someone’s life out there.
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Who are some other curvy models you know that you want the rest of the world to know about?
Marquita Pring, Precious Lee, Eva Kay, Georgia Pratt, Sabina [Karlsson], Tara Lynn. Any girl that was in my lingerie runway show, they have to know about. I put my friends in, but I also put some new girls in there as well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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