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Ashley Graham on stage at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. Photo: Getty Images
Call Ashley Graham what you will: plus-size, curvy, full, real, smoking hot. It’s all true. But while the model is proud to demonstrate that “curvy means sexy,” she is pretty sure that it’s time we all “move beyond labels.”
“Right now is the time to do it,” Graham tells me at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, where the body activist spoke out about how she uses her extraordinary social platform to empower women. “We’re in that generation that wants to cut down labels. We’re making sure that women and men are being called exactly what they should be called, and that’s ‘people.’”
And yet she is no less outraged that Instagram banned “#curvy” earlier this year. “They didn’t ban #sexy,” she points out. “They didn’t ban ‘thin.’ And why? Because there’s a few extra rolls on some girls? Because there’s some cellulite? I embrace who I am. I own up to it and I own it.”
Graham pops her shoulders back and strikes a pose: “Boom.”
I am rendered momentarily speechless; Graham pipes up: “And I can flex my boobs, too,” she adds. “I’ll show you that later.”
When Kelly Osbourne interrupts our conversation at this choice moment to introduce herself to Graham, she says what we all want to say in the presence of this warm-hearted beauty: “I just couldn’t help myself.”
She and Graham have never met, and Osbourne makes no secret of her awe. “Seriously,” she says. “I had to come over. I’m like, ‘She’s standing right there!’”
Graham returns the admiration, telling Osbourne that she loves her latest collection for HSN. When Graham deems it “awesome” and “so cute,” Osbourne is ecstatic.
“Really?!” Osbourne cries, exhibiting levels of fandom previously seen only at Taylor Swift concerts. “Oh my god, we’ve got to do a picture.” An assistant captures the moment. Graham Snapchats. I have never been so happy to be interrupted. For two women who have decided to celebrate themselves and the fullest spectrum of shapes and sizes in public, this is a homecoming.
“You just get it,” Osbourne enthuses.
“I love this,” Graham announces. “It was really, really nice to meet you.” She glances over her shoulder, catching my eye. “You were part of this magic,” she tells me. And because she is just that radiant, I believe her.
Later, she tells me how special it is that Osbourne has produced a collection for women of all sizes and how few brands make clothes she wants to wear. She smiles when she talks about those she likes best: “Donna Karan, Narciso Rodriguez—obsession. I’m such a minimalist, sometimes. I just want to do Helmut [Lang] and Vince and stay cool.”
“There’s still a lot of room to go. Actually, there’s a ton of room to go,” Graham continues. “I still get dressed for events, and it’s hard to find clothes that fit me properly. I carry my weight in the lower part of my stomach and my butt and my thighs. Sometimes I don’t want to show my arms, because it’s that fat day. It’s really hard to find clothes that are really great, high-end quality that also take care of my body the way that they should with the right fabrics and this and that. Maybe I’ll just have to make my own line.”
Osbourne has already scooted off to the airport to catch a plane, but there are plenty of Graham devotees still in Philadelphia.
“Yaaass,” someone insists, walking by.
“I want young girls to know: I’m here for you. I didn’t have anyone growing up. I had my mom and she is amazing, but I didn’t have a celebrity or a role model in the fashion industry to look up to,” she concludes. “So, I want to say I’m here for you. I’m doing the best I can. Join me. Let’s hashtag it away. Let’s Instagram it. Let’s talk about our body issues together. Because if we’re not doing it as a community, it’s not going to change.”
I have to wonder (out loud, of course) whether Graham, who has already teamed up with Canadian retailer Addition Elle to launch Ashley Graham Lingerie, has a particular plan on the horizon.
“I’ve got some exciting things that I’m announcing very soon, and I cannot wait to share them,” she says. “Trust, if anybody is going to be a part of the change it’s going to be me.”