Just last month, Grammy-nominated pop star Bebe Rexha slammed fashion designers who refused to dress her for music’s premier award ceremony. According to Rexha, her team reached out to several designers who turned her away because, “Literally, I’m too big.” Rexha, a US size 6-8, responded in a video: “All the people who said I’m thick and I can’t wear your dresses, [expletive] you. I don’t want to wear your [expletive] dresses.”
Model and body positivity activist Ashley Graham told Gulf News tabloid! on Wednesday that Rexha’s experience isn’t unique, but “a hundred per cent” prevalent in the industry.
“Bebe’s only a size 8 and I’m a size 14-16, so I feel her pain and I have felt her pain for quite some time. It’s always really sad to hear it, because it’s happening all the time, but then when you hear it on social media, it’s really smacked right into your face,” Graham said.
“I also know the anger that kind of comes out of it, like, ‘Well, screw all of you, if you don’t want to dress me, then fine, I’ll go find someone else.’ And to all those designers out there that are dressing women who are curvy, bravo! There’s so many that have been doing that for quite some time … There’s only been a few designers that have been catching up, but finally, it’s happening.”
For almost two decades, Graham has been pushing for such inclusion in the modelling industry. But in 2016, she truly broke out: she was a formidable cover girl, a runway presence and one of four judges on the reboot of ‘America’s Next Top Model’.
The momentum hasn’t stopped, either. Graham, who boasts 8 million followers on Instagram, launched her third denim capsule collection with Italian luxury store Marina Rinaldi — Max Mara Fashion Group’s brand for ‘curvy women’ — in The Dubai Mall.
On her last day in the city, the radiant 31-year-old model sat down for a candid one-on-one to talk negative misconceptions, self-love and her dream of getting Michelle Obama on her podcast.
I’ve got a couple of TV shows coming out, I’m launching some exciting beauty things and just more world domination. But, I’m really excited to have more conversations on [season two of] ‘Pretty Big Deal’, because this truly is something that’s huge on my heart, to just be able to talk about different social issues in America and the world.
Q: What can you tell us about your latest capsule collection with Marina Rinaldi?
A: We decided to do [it] a lot more light and airy for summertime, so there’s beautiful white denim. I’m a sucker for fit and Marina Rinaldi is all about fit, and I made sure that these jeans won’t have to be tailored whatsoever, because I hate getting clothes tailored. We also did a little bit [of], like, rock ‘n roll cowgirl vibes with studs and different jackets and dresses. There’s a little bit of flair that we added, too, with a bright silver jacket. If you really want to stunt on ‘em, honey, that jacket is what you need.
Q: How do you feel the body positivity has evolved since you became actively involved in it?
A: I’ve been modelling for almost 20 years, and I have every year seen one girl, one editorial kind of evolve. But now, in the last four years, everything has shifted. Everything has changed. Finally, people are having the conversation, but beyond just having the conversation, they’re doing something about it. They’re putting curvy girls on the runway, in campaigns, on TV [and] in films. That’s exciting because now, we’re not just being put in a category, which usually was just, like, in a catalogue in the back of a department store, next to the food court, where nobody could really see us. Now, we’re out and we’re proud, and we’re talking about our curves.
Q: Where would you like to see the movement go?
A: There’s still a lot of room to grow … Success can happen overnight, but then it doesn’t last for a very long time. And this is what we want: we want the slow and steady pace that can really last for a lifetime, because that’s what I’m here for. I want to make sure that the next generation after me doesn’t have to fight as hard as I have.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions that you’ve come up against in advocating for body positivity?
A: There’s so many things that people have bestowed upon us that are negative. That we don’t work out, that we’re unhealthy just because we’re curvy, or [that] because we go to the gym, we want to lose weight. It’s not the case. A lot of us are just healthy and happy with our curves and want to live in the body that we were given. We don’t want to have to alter them just because society has always told us that we need to alter our bodies. I also feel like, in the modelling world, people haven’t really taken curvy models that seriously. So, when I show up on set, I’m coming prepared and I’m going to model fiercely and I’m going to show them that just because of my curves and my weight, my height and how loud and proud I am, doesn’t mean I can’t do my job and do it exceptionally.
Q: What would you tell young girls who are self-conscious about the way they look?
A: Not everybody is going to be perfect enough for somebody else’s standards, and you have to remember that. You have to remember: you’re not alone. If you’re striving for this idea of perfection, you’re never going to get it, because perfection doesn’t exist. So, something that I did was I created affirmations for myself. Mine are: I am bold, I am brilliant and I am beautiful. Everybody’s are different. Something else that’s really important, that young girls should be saying to themselves, is: I love you. And they should be saying, ‘I love you, without a filter.’
Q: The most recent guest on your podcast, ‘Pretty Big Deal’, was Serena Williams. [Williams’ episode was the season one finale]. What was that like?
A: The queen. Hands down, one of the greatest athletes that we’ve ever had — and I got to interview her for 30 minutes! It was crazy. She’s awesome. She was a gem. She really opened up, and I was able to talk to her about a few things that were heavy on my heart, as far as, you know, the bodysuit that she wore and what happened with the referee… There’s not enough women that are in media right now that are really, truly standing up for themselves the way that she did.
Q: Who would be your dream guest?
A: Hands down, ‘Pretty Big Deal’, season two — I need Michelle Obama.
Q: What would you ask her?
A: Everything. Well, you know, I read the book [the 2018 memoir, ‘Becoming’]. Actually, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t read the book. I listened to it on Audible. And I just think it’s so interesting to really understand where she came from and how she was raised. That really, truly made the woman that she is today, and the wife that she is today. And I really know that she could have run the country right after Barrack. [Laughs] Maybe she’ll run — maybe one day.
Q: Did you have any fashion regrets growing up?
A: When I was in middle school, I used to dress like Scary Spice and Ginger Spice combined. But I wouldn’t call that a regret — I would call that liberation.