“Confidence is key,” as the saying goes, but in Ashley Graham’s case, it’s a little more than that: Confidence is her brand.
Graham has been breaking down barriers in the modeling industry as a force for body positivity since she started. She’s also made lanes for herself as an entrepreneur with her successful line of size-inclusive lingerie, and in media with her podcast, Pretty Big Deal. It all stems from how she’s been able to tap into her belief in herself as a source of creative inspiration. However, as Graham explains on the latest episode of Fast Company’s Creative Conversation podcast, it took her completely losing her confidence to build it back up to where it is now.
“There were a lot of things, just in my confidence, that I wouldn’t have had to deal with so soon if it weren’t for modeling,” says Graham, who began her career at age 12. “Like, I’m too fat to get a job. Or I’m not pretty enough to book that cover. Or you’re just not an interesting enough person, period. So as much confidence as the industry and the business has given me, it started off with a lack of it that I wasn’t prepared for. And a label shoved into a box of just being called plus-size, nothing more, nothing less.”
But in that early period of her modeling career, Graham had a realization: “I wasn’t just a pretty face. I was a business,” she says. “When my father and my agent at the time explained to me that this is a business, you are the business, things started clicking a little bit. Still very young, still very uneducated—I didn’t go to college. I barely graduated high school. I’m dyslexic, ADD—the whole shebang. But I knew that I was street smart. And I knew that I could get to the top because I just needed someone to hear me.”
In this episode, Graham shares how she learned to advocate for herself, how she’s figuring out what she wants to say now that she’s found her voice, and “the biggest, game-changing moment” of her career.