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Ashley Graham's a Barbie girl, actually living in a Barbie world as the host of HGTV's Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge — and it's a full circle moment for the 35-year-old model. While promoting the upcoming competition show, Graham gets candid to Yahoo Entertainment about her relationship with Barbie growing up, and how much it means to be part of the brand's evolution over the years.
"It was a fun doll to play with, and I think like many women my age, I grew up thinking, 'Why aren't my thighs touching? Why are her breasts so perky? Why does she look so perfect?'" she shares. "It was a conversation that I had a lot growing up with my mom."
In 2015, Mattel focused on making Barbie more diverse in every way. It manufactured dolls with different skin tones, hair textures and four different body types (original, curvy, petite and tall). Around the same time, the company approached the author about doing an Ashley Graham Barbie.
"I screeched," she recalls. "I wish that there was a Barbie that looked like me when I was younger and so that was such an honor."
Graham says she felt "no pressure at all" over the fact there was going to be a Barbie in her likeness. Instead she was relieved there would "finally" be a doll out there "that young girls who are curvy can relate to."
"I was like so many other young girls. I just wanted to see my body type portrayed, but you don't know how to express it. You're just a moody little girl, and you look in the mirror, and you're upset because there's nobody talking about back fat. There's no one talking about cellulite," she explains. "Now we live in this generation of, OK, there are social media accounts that talk a lot about [body positivity] and they embrace it — and then there are a lot of social media accounts that retouch it and erase it. So you have to figure out who you are with yourself and not through social media. But that's why it's so great that Barbie has really withstood the test of time for that."
Graham is partnering with the iconic brand once again for Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge. The show features eight teams of HGTV stars and one Food Network chef as they transform a Southern California home into a life-size Barbie mansion.
"Every room is dedicated to a different era of Barbie. There's '90s, '80s, past, present, future... It made me realize how boring my backyard is," Graham laughs. "I need a spiral slide that goes straight into the pool! I need to have fake rocks that are painted neon colors!"
The Barbie movie hits theaters in one week and Graham has already seen the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling-led film. The social media star says she absolutely thinks the movie showcases body positivity and reflects various beauty standards.
"I'm not giving away anything, but America Ferrera has this whole monologue that I have told all of my friends [about]," Graham teases. "When she is done with that monologue, all you say is 'Hell yeah!' It's like you're in church and you just start screaming because she just preached for all of us. It was that part I really felt [seen.]"
Graham says Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge will leave viewers feeling equally uplifted.
"I want people to feel like they had a bit of nostalgia, that they had fun, and also just feel the Barbie magic again because there are so many those magical moments that they put throughout the show. And I know as I was filming it, I had such a great time. So, I really hope the people that watch it feel the same," she reveals, adding: "Barbie is all of us."
Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge premieres on Sunday, July 16 at 8 p.m. on HGTV.