Ashley Graham credits more than her talent and drive for her success as a supermodel. The 30-year-old knows that her white privilege has a lot to do for her opportunities and platform, and she’s using her voice to give credit to the curvy women of color who have been body-positivity activists for centuries.
On the first episode of her podcast, Pretty Big Deal, with guest Kim Kardashian, Graham opened up about how a conversation with her husband, Justin Ervin, who is Black, taught her about her privilege and why she has a platform over other curvy women.
“Being a curvy woman hasn’t been a new thing. It’s been a generation of woman of color who have had our body type for centuries,” Graham said. “And here I am, a white woman in this day and age, getting praised for having a curvy, voluptuous body, and now I’ve been given a platform to talk about it. But if you talk about any curvy models of color, there aren’t any that have been given a platform like mine.”
Graham, who first talked about the revelation in her 2017 book, A New Model, explained that her conversation with her husband was the first time she acknowledged that her experience as a curvy white woman was different from the experiences of curvy women of color.
“It was a revelation for me when my husband were talking about it,” Graham said. “Because it didn’t hit me because I’ve always had this body and I’ve always been told, ‘Oh, your body is so great. It’s so this.’ But I never realized the impact that women of color could have just by hearing my story of ‘Love who you are!’ A lot of them were like, ‘I already love who I am.’
In September, Orange Is the New Black actors Dascha Polanco and Danielle Brooks spoke out against how the fashion industry often prioritizes curvy white women when deciding who to dress. “You know what else I noticed? That you have to be a white woman, first, in order to be dressed by a brand, whether you’re a sample size or plus-size,” Polanco told InStyle. “That’s another issue I have. OK, yeah, you have plus-size women, but it has to be a white woman first.
In 2017, Brooks urged the fashion industry to look beyond Graham in representing curvy models. “I don’t know if fashion has made a wholehearted effort,” Brooks told Vogue. “It’s more like, ‘Oh this is a trend, let’s get on it.’ Then they bring in Ashley Graham, who is amazing, but isn’t the only plus-size model ever to exist. What about Marquita [Pring], Denise [Bidot], Philomena [Kwao], Tess Holliday? When I look at the ads I don’t see faces like mine, I see skinny white women.”
There’s no doubt that Graham works hard for her career. But we’re also glad that she’s acknowledging her white privilege as a big factor in her success.