Ashley Graham is a self-described body activist. This isn’t news to her millions of followers on social media, and the even greater number that read about the model across the internet. But, when asked to describe herself in W‘s latest ASMR video, it was one of the first things that came to mind.
This was Graham’s first experience with ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and is a physical sensation one gets when listening to soft noises. The internet phenomenon, and is primarily popular on YouTube and Reddit, has been described as “head orgasms,” but some viewers just like ASMR videos because they help them fall asleep.
That’s something Graham could relate to. Although she’d never heard of ASMR before this shoot, she listens to white noise at night and could understand the appeal. So, in addition to whispering about her stance on cellulite (pro) and the first thing she does when she gets home (takes off bra), Graham made a few sounds that are considered soothing – the unwrapping of starburst, the spraying of whipped cream, the unscrewing of a candle lid.
Here, she talks about the experience of recording the video, what it’s like to be a body activist in the social media age, and more.
Have you ever done ASMR before?
No, I think thats why it turned out so well, because I had no idea what was going on. It was so weird. I actually have to turn on white noise at night to sleep, and I didn’t know that people actually wanted to hear other people speak in order to fall asleep. Personally, it would just give me anxiety. When I was doing the candle and the York Peppermint Pattie I was like, “If I heard this over and over again, would this put me to sleep?” And yeah, I think it would. The cracking sound of the peppermint patty and the whipped cream is the kind of white noise that I have to use to fall asleep. Also, ASMR definitely made the interview more interesting. I watched Eva Longoria’s and Cara Delevingne’s right before and it actually made me want to listen to the interview. People really start to get to know you through these interviews and this is like a whole other way for people to see a different side of me.
In the ASMR video, you describe yourself as a body activist, who talks about ‘taboo’ topics like cellulite. Where did this come from?
You know, if I were to listen to all the regulations, like, “you cant have this, or you to have that before you wear this,” I think that I would just have to wake around naked my whole life. The moment you stop putting regulations on your life, and accept what you actually have for your body, then that’s when it all changes.
You project such confidence on social media, have you always felt that way?
Honestly, it’s taken time. It’s not something that just happened. After being ridiculed and being labeled as the ‘fat model’ throughout high school, then moving to New York and being praised by photographers and other models, your confidence starts to boost. You’ll hit a couple lows when you like, “I don’t love myself” and you start looking for validation from other people and then you realize that’s not where you need to get it – you need to get it from your inner self. I always had really strong mother who just engrained that in me, and not everybody has that. I was really lucky because I didn’t have any curvy role models growing up because there were no plus size models in the limelight then. Yes, there were the Kate Dillon’s and the Emme’s of the world, but it wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. I had no social media either, just to go to a hashtag and see other women that looked like me. So, I always leaned on my mom’s confidence and it took time for mine to grow. There still some moments when I feel like the fattest woman on earth – seriously! just like any other woman! – and I think that it’s ok. It’s just about how you handle those situation for yourself now and what you decide to do. Are you going to let it ruin your week or are you going to say that it’s just mind of matter and knowing that you’re good enough?
What’s the strangest message you ever received from a follower?
Good question! I think that it’s crazy that people on social media think that they’re experts and think they can tell you about your BMI, how to lose weight and be healthy. One guy wrote me and said, “Stop making fat cool. You’re going to kill somebody.” That stuck with me because it feels like, “What does this idiot think is actually going on in the world?” So, it just opened up my eyes to show me that there’s always going to be those kind of people and you just have to know how to handle it. But with everyone one person who’s negative on social media there are another 30 people who are super positive and supportive. My husband calls it my beehive – like Beyonce – and says that my fans will come after you should someone try me and it’s so true. They’ve always defended me and understood my message. I’ve included so many of my fans in my everyday life because I would not be here today if it were not for them. Social media has truly helped my career because it has given models a voice. And a voice is something that we want to see a change in the industry.
Do you have any rules for what you post on social media?
I just always try to make it kind of fun and inviting – this is my world, welcome. I don’t ever want to hold back too much, but I’m also not going to always say exactly what’s on my mind. I’ll give you about seventy to eighty percent of what I’m thinking. I’ve always been a girl’s girl, and I’ve always enjoyed my girl friends’ relationships, so I want the girls who follow me to feel like we’re besties. That’s just how I feel like I am being the oldest of three girls, I have mainly only girl friends – and a gaggle of gays – and that’s just how it is.
When your fans see you out, what are some of the things that they say to you?
People will run up to me with tears in there eyes and say, “You’re Ashley Graham?” and I match their enthusiasm and respond, “Yes, I am!” and all they say is, “Thank you so much.” They’ll begin to cry and I’ll start tearing up because we’ve both been through the same issues, we’ve both felt ugly, we’ve both felt fat and not fit into jeans and we’ve both had a hard time in dressing rooms of any department store with women looking at us and saying, “We don’t carry your size.” To share those moments with someone that you’ve never met before is personal, and that’s why it brings up the tears and emotions. It also reminds me that I’m doing something with my life and that I’m not just a model. I’m a model with a voice and a mission.
What is something that you’re tired of people asking you?
“What do you think of the word plus sized?” At the end of the day I’m tired of hearing that question and having to defend my body. I think that no woman has to defend her body and she should just live her truth. It should never be about the number size of her pants and it should be about what your doing in the world. What does her brain look like and not her hip size.
Ashley Graham’s Fashion Evolution: Dresses, Crop Tops, and More
Graham pairs a ponytail with a leathery black halter dress by Mestiza for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2017 launch event in New York. February 2017.
Graham ditches winter for sleeveless and swimsuit-friendly at the VIBES by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2017 festival in Houston, Texas. February 2017.
Graham judiciously reprises a low-cut, sheer gown for the New York premiere of America’s Next Top Model, which saw her on the judge panel. December 2016.
Graham covers up in long-sleeved, velvet Agent Provocateur at the 2016 VH1 Divas Holiday: Unsilent Night in Brooklyn. December 2016.
Graham steps into a beaded jumpsuit by Gala Lahav for the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Awards in Los Angeles. November 2016.
Ashley Graham debuts her lingerie line for Addition Elle in Chicago in a conveniently sheer top. September 2016.
Graham goes for one of her highest slits yet at the 2016 GQ Men of The Year Awards at the Tate Modern in London. September 2016.
Graham pairs heels with a sporty grey crop top at a Charlotte Tilbury x Samsung event in New York. September 2016.
Graham leads the naked dress charge at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden in New York, along with plenty of rhinestones by Naeem Khan. August 2016.
Graham goes bright orange—save a patch of midriff—in a dress by Dion Lee at the Apollo Theater for One Night for Life with John Legend. August 2016.
Graham stays silky in a patriotic royal blue at the 2016 Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas. June 2016.
Graham steps away from solids in not one, but two prints at the Empowering Women Summit at the United Nations in New York. May 2016.
Ashley Graham dresses for the occasion of a Garden Brunch before the 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in a rare, rosy dose of color in Washington, D.C. April 2016.
Graham keeps it fancy at a BBQ event for the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in Miami Beach. February 2016.
Graham brought some bondage to the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, hosted in Beverly Hills by Graydon Carter, in a gown by Bao Tranchi. February 2016.
Fresh from starring on the cover, Graham poses at a VIP event in New York for the Sports Illustrated 2016 Swimsuit Issue, a world away from Turks & Caicos in a sleeveless dress and lipstick. February 2016.
Graham dresses down in jeans at the campaign launch for NYDJ 2016 Fit To Be in New York/ January 2016.
Graham ties back her hair but piles on the tassels at the 2015 CurvyCon in New York. June 2015.
Graham opts for a crop top for the launch of the Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign in New York. April 2015.
Graham opts for olive green at a FULLBEAUTY brand launch in New York. April 2015.
Ashley Graham’s red carpet look features a one-shouldered gown with a daring slit, at the 2015 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in February 2015.
Graham keeps it simple in another one-shoulder gown with a cut-out stomach at the Endometriosis Foundation of America’s 6th Annual Blossom Ball in New York. March 2014.