Ashley Graham has been having a banner year, appearing in Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue in an ad for Swimsuitsforall, making her one of the first plus sized models to grace the issue’s hallowed pages. She appeared in Lane Bryant’s groundbreaking #ImNoAngel lingerie campaign for Cacique, a spot which definitely caused a stir and gave the beauty of plus bodies more visibility. But Graham is not done spreading her message of loving your body.
The model appeared in front of an audience 450 strong in Valencia, Spain to speak for the TEDxBerkleeValencia series. In the talk, Graham discussed her early struggles as a young model with her body and how she came to accept her figure for what it is. She recalls a period in time when she hit rock bottom. “Between the parties, the men, the alcohol – I was looking for self-love, affirmation from somebody when in reality, I didn’t love who I was and I couldn’t seem to get a handle on regulating my own weight.” She says the change in her outlook of self-worth and validation came when she thought of her mother, who always told Graham she was beautiful. “In my lowest moment of insecurity, this is when I realized I had to reclaim my body and its image as my own.” Graham is not a fan of the term “plus size,” and encourages women to call “ourselves what we want to be called: Women with shapes that are our own.”
Graham said that once she began to fully accept and embrace her body shape, she realized that she must bring the message of self-love to inspire other women. She also encouraged men to help in the charge in pushing body positivity forward. “I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in,” she said. “I was never going to be perfect enough for an industry that defines perfection from the outside in.”
Graham notes that the plus size fashion is an $18 billion dollar industry, which is why it’s so important for us to turn the tide and to start thinking of what we call “plus” bodies as normal. After all, the average dress size for women in America is a size 14. It does not get more normal than that. “The fashion industry may persist to label me as plus size,” Graham says, “but I like to think of it as my size.”
Watch Graham’s speech in the video above.
[via Ted Talks YouTube]