“I grew up everywhere—Texas, Atlanta, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Nebraska. I was at the mall one day when somebody came up to me and asked if I modeled. It was that typical organic story you hear all the time—well, before social media anyway. Being in front of a camera can either be intimidating or freeing, and for me, it was definitely freeing. When I graduated high school in 2005, I moved to New York to pursue modeling here. I had no idea what to expect. Back in the day, you needed to have your kit: you would have black boots, brown boots, a pair of black heels, a pair of brown heels, a few belts, and your padding. The padding is very bizarre. I never bought it—in fact, I wasn’t getting some jobs because I was too large. I’m thankful that I’ve had agents who, for the most part, have been very positive and supportive of me and led me in the right direction. I do think I’ve made financial mistakes along the way, and I got to learn the hard way. But when I could pay my own taxes, fly home when I wanted, and buy the Betsey Johnson dress I desired at the time, I felt like a real career woman.
Every year I've had a mild career success, but getting the cover of Sports Illustrated completely changed my life. IMG had asked me if I wanted to be in the magazine, and I kind of reacted and got upset. I felt like they were giving me dreams that weren’t attainable. But they submitted a bunch of us to Sports Illustrated anyway, and when I didn’t get it I had a feeling of ‘I told you so.’ But, I had been in an ad for Swimsuits For All that year, and that did run in Sports Illustrated. I think they were testing to see if their readers wanted to see girls this size, and sure enough, they did. I had to keep pinching myself on set. At the unveiling, when the curtain fell and there I was alongside Ronda [Rousey] and Hailey [Clauson], I felt these extreme jolts of over-the-moon joy. I had no idea that this could even be an opportunity for me—no idea.
More recently I hosted American Beauty Star—that was so much fun. TV is something I’ve always been interested in. I always wanted to have The Ashley Graham Show—whatever that would be. That’s actually why I started my podcast, Pretty Big Deal. I wanted to have important conversations with people who were important to me, and I wanted a way for people to see me as something beyond a model, or beyond just a curvy model. My husband came up with the name. He said, ‘You’ve always been called pretty for a big girl, so why don’t you call it Pretty Big Deal? You’re my pretty big deal.’ [Laughs] There’s still so much more I want to accomplish. The next thing is my own American Vogue cover. It feels close, but it also feels very far away.
I was not into fashion growing up. The options for clothes were Abercrombie and Fitch, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Aeropostale… things like that. I didn’t really have a favorite place to shop because nothing fit. Growing up in the ‘burbs, that’s all you really get—mall stores. Forget about online shopping. Forget about a community that looked like you. I’d always buy big, baggy T-shirts and cut them into crop tops, or one-shoulder tops, because nothing I could buy matched who I thought I was: sexy, cool, and comfortable. I could never find clothes like that back then. Now, I like to shop at places where I can look at different brands—I don’t have that one brand that is always speaking to me. This dress is from La Ligne, and Norma Kamali always fits perfectly. And, if you go into any curvy girl’s closet, you will see these things: shoes, bags, jewelry. I’ve always had way too many shoes and purses, and I wear a lot of jewelry—these bottom three necklaces are from George the Jeweler, and I wear a lot of Maria Tash earrings. It always fits! It doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing with makeup—I’ve always been into beauty.
Nothing I could buy matched who I thought I was: sexy, cool, and comfortable.
My mom and I had a lot of conversations about who I was as a woman, and how I needed to be nice to people, how I needed to be generous, and how I needed to be thankful. But I also needed to take care of myself—I was 13, I had B.O., I needed to wear a bra, I needed to brush my hair. And if I wanted to wear makeup, great, she'd teach me how to put it on. My mom was really great about that stuff.
Acuvue One A Days are a part of my beauty routine because I have to see. If I have a tan, and I’ve tinted my eyebrows and permed my lashes, that's usually it—I’m not wearing makeup. I go to Jas Imani in Soho, and I’ve definitely caught myself snoring while she’s perming.
When I do wear makeup, I love Revlon’s Candid concealer and foundation because it’s light enough for me to still see my freckles. I mix 270 and 260. Then, I like to use the concealer in Banana under my eyes, around my nose, on my chin, and anywhere I have a blemish. It’s very brightening. From there, I’ll go into a cheek. I like this one because it’s a stick. I’ll spray the Heritage Store Rosewater with Glycerin on it, and then kind of maneuver it around on the apples of my cheeks, blending up. Then I highlight with the the Colorstay Endless Glow Highlighter in Citrine, which is really nice and fun. It’s a bit chunky, and you have to use it right away because it dries quickly, but it’s very illuminating. I put that into my eyebrow a bit, and then on my brow bone. Then I finish with mascara. The Revlon So Fierce is the best. It’s not waterproof, but who cares? I don’t want waterproof anyway.
If I’m wearing a heavy lipstick, I use KNC lip masks. They’re really moisturizing, and I love collagen anything. My everyday go-to lip is Bare Affair. It's such a nice color, and you can't even tell when I’ve put it on real messily. Aquaphor is another go-to for me. This limited edition Glow lip oil is a really nice gloss, and then this is my lip kit. It's two lipsticks and a liner—I’ve always loved lip liner because I think it makes your lips look super juicy. I put the darker color on with my finger, and then the pink just in the center. It has a little sparkle in it to keep your lips looking healthy.
At night, if I have a full face of makeup on, I’ll use Bioderma first, which we all know and love. From there, I wash my face with Skinmedica. My dermatologist Dr. Idriss recommended it to me, and it’s just a nice jelly cleanser—nothing too abrasive. Then I’ll wipe with these La Suite Skin Tone Enhancement Pads from Union Square Dermatology, which are brightening but don’t have hydroquinone. I have so many freckles, and I don’t want them to start connecting.
Next I’ll use C E Ferulic, and then DefenAge Skincare 8-in-1 serum. Those also help minimize my freckles. Tracee Ellis Ross and I have a makeup artist we both use, and once I asked him what she uses. It’s this product, Retrouvé. The Intensive night moisturizer is very rich, but light enough that I’m not going to also break out. You only need a little bit of it. I also like the eye cream. I’m in my early 30s so I’m just doing it preventatively. I feel like eye creams are a little bit BS, but with this one I can feel a difference.
My day routine is a lot simpler. I wash my face every morning with the same cleanser as nighttime, and then moisturizer. If it’s summer I’m doing the Light Nourishment, if it’s winter I’m doing Skin Food. That shit is like crack. I tend to be drier, but I do have combination skin, and I’ve never broken out from either of those. Dermophisiologique Skin Photo Block is my absolute favorite sunscreen. It’s made in Italy, it keeps you illuminated, and it doesn’t come off white at all. My husband wears it too. And when I’m traveling, I’m 100-percent obsessed with the masks from 111Skin. They’re heaven.
For facials I go to Mzia Shiman. It’s this beautiful place—ugh, I love her. I probably do that once a month because I don’t want to OD. I see Dr. Idriss twice a year. I’ve had Fraxel done with her, and I don’t know if I loved it. I did it because all my freckles started taking over, but freckles will be freckles. My skin tends towards hyperpigmentation, and I realized Fraxel could make the hyperpigmentation come out more.
I hate doing my hair. I didn’t do this. Don’t look at it. I’m a wash and go girl—any shampoo that’s sulfate-free is good. Then, while my hair is still wet, I soak it with John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls and flip it back and forth for the next few hours as it dries. It keeps it perfectly wavy like I’ve been at the beach all day, but still frizz-free. I’ve been doing this since I was in middle school, same brand—I’ve tried other products, and nothing else works as well. Day two, my hair is bomb dot com. Day three, it’s even better. I don’t wash it unless I go to the gym—but I do love going to the gym. This kind of hair tie, Teleties, is great because it doesn't give you a crease. Sometimes I’ll just blowdry my sweaty hair and use some dry shampoo. Stranded dry shampoo is the best because it’s a dark, ashy brown. And it’s not a spray, so it’s not wet. David Lopez, my hairstylist, sent me Kenra Dry Volume Burst one day to try, and now I’m obsessed. It’s like a volumizer hair spray. When my ends are dry, I use Recine for Rodin oil. But when I’m traveling, Oribe and Elnett are my go-tos.
I hate doing my hair. I didn’t do this. Don’t look at it.
I have to take probiotics so I go to the bathroom like a regular person. The great thing about the Olly probiotics is that they don’t need to be refrigerated—if I’m traveling I don’t have to worry about them [Editor's note: If you're pregnant, talk to your doctor first before taking any supplements]. I wake up and I take two of the B12, and at night I take melatonin. I have a hard time falling asleep but not staying asleep.
In the shower, I use Alaffia Black Soap. It’s just natural, and helps prevent breakouts. It’s really good before a spray tan, too. Sometimes I use the Coconut Milk Body Scrub from Pure Body Naturals—it’s a really fine scrub, and I mix it with a little water. My favorite body lotion is Kiehl’s. You just stay hydrated all day. When I am going out and I want flawless looking legs, I take Body Blur and mix it with a little Supermodel Body from Charlotte Tilbury. You let it dry for a second, and then it doesn’t get on anything. That’s a big deal. If I’m wearing heels, we’ve got to talk about Lord Jones. The CBD on the bottom of the foot is very necessary—it’s a model secret, because you have to be ready hours in advance of a show and you’re just standing around. My favorite toothpaste in the world is Cocobright by Intelliwhite. My dentist Jennifer Jablow makes this stuff, and she sells it on QVC. I like it because it’s natural, and it tastes good, and it really freshens your breath. I’ve also completely switched over to natural deodorant. I’ve tried so many, and Type:A is my favorite. It’s a cream, but you put it on like a regular deodorant.
Momo does my nails. These are homegrown—I like them long, but fashion doesn’t. When I’m doing a high end fashion shoot, I usually have to cut them. I always have a cuticle trimmer with me—I’m obsessed with no skin. I love hand and foot masks for that reason, too. If I’m on an airplane and know I’m going to have to get off and go straight to work, or I’m getting my hair and makeup done for an event, I’ll put those on. I don’t do it the night before—it has to be an immediate thing.”
—as told to ITG
Ashley Graham photographed by Alexandra Genova in New York on August 2, 2019.