Ashley Graham is showing off her curves in a major way. The 29-year-old supermodel (she doesn’t like the term “plus size”) recently bared all for V magazine, and she bared her soul to interviewer Tracee Ellis Ross.
In the interview, Graham talked about how she learned to be comfortable in her own skin after a slew of discouraging feedback about her size in the modeling world.
“Being told, ‘You’re fat,’ ‘You’re ugly’ or ‘You’re just not good enough,’ and trying to live in these model standards, that was my normal,” Ashley revealed.
“I think I hit bottom around 18. I was disgusted with myself and told my mom I was coming home. And she told me, ‘No, you’re not, because you told me that this was what you wanted and I know you’re supposed to do this. It doesn’t matter what you think about your body, because your body is supposed to change somebody’s life.’ To this day that sticks with me because I’m here today and I feel that it’s okay to have cellulite.”
Graham revealed that she spotted the first signs of cellulite on her legs when she was in middle school. By high school, she was doing the “Jell-O and earthquake test” to see if her butt jiggled when she stomped her foot on the floor.
“I remember telling my mom, ‘Isn’t it disgusting? It’s so ugly,'” Graham said of her cellulite.
“She pulled her pants down and said, ‘Look, I have it, too.’ And I was like, ‘Gasp!’ She looked at me, then at it, and just rolled her eyes. She didn’t tell me that it’s beautiful or ugly. She just made it a nonissue.”
Even with such positive parental support, Graham says even now she sometimes wakes up feeling “like the fattest person alive,” but she never lets it affect her day. In addition, Ashley recalled her religious upbringing and how it still helps her today.
“I grew up in a very Christian home, so words have power,” Ashley told Ross. “I took that with me into every area of my life. If you say, ‘I’m fat,’ that’s how you’re going to feel. If you say, ‘I’m stupid,’ that’s how you’re going to start your day.”
Ashley Graham has never had a problem flaunting her un-airbrushed bod. Graham is known for posting pics of her real life curves to Instagram. Last summer, Ashley posted a pic of herself on a bicycle with her unfiltered legs in full view. Ashley captioned the photo, “A little cellulite never hurt nobody. Stop judging yourself, embrace the things that society has called ‘ugly.'”
In another photo, Ashley posted a close-up of her legs while sitting on the beach. The unashamed supermodel wrote an empowering message for fans.
“I work out,” Ashley captioned the pic. “I do my best to eat well. I love the skin I’m in. And I’m not ashamed of a few lumps, bumps or cellulite…and you shouldn’t be either.”
Ashley Graham previously received some backlash in the modeling world when ’70s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs criticized her cover spot on Sports Illustrated’s popular swimsuit issue. Tiegs seemingly criticized Graham’s Sports Illustrated cover for “glamorizing full-figured women,” and added, “I don’t think it’s healthy. Her face is beautiful, beautiful. But I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.”
Tiegs later issued an open letter to the Huffington Post saying her comments were misinterpreted and that when she was asked if she loved the fact that the modeling industry is finally stepping outside of its comfort zone and using full figured women as models, she considered it to be a generic question and not one directly about Ashley Graham.
“This was a generic question, and I said that I did not love it,” Tiegs explained. “My answer was based on health concerns because of our nation’s increasing problems with weight linked to diabetes, heart issues, and cancer. At no time was I thinking of a specific person.”
Tiegs also expressed her apologies to Graham, saying she commends her on “the positive influence you have on helping women to love themselves.”
Graham still has a lot of work to do regarding the stigma surrounding her size. Ashley has gone on record as saying she doesn’t like being described as a “plus-sized” model.
“The things that I don’t necessarily like about it is all the negative stigmatisms that go with the word plus size – you’re fat, you’re lazy, you have no drive, no determination, you’re constantly eating,” Ashley told Entertainment Tonight.
“Honey, I work out. I work out three days a week. I lift. I do barre. I do it all. It’s the stereotypes. That’s what I really don’t like. I am me. Take it or leave it.”
Ashley Graham’s new book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like will be released May 9.
[Featured Image by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME]