On Wednesday, Ashley Graham was announced as the new face of Revlon, making her one of just a small number of curvy women to front a beauty campaign. Here she reflects on why we need women of all sizes represented in the beauty landscape—and how far the industry still has to go.
If you ask any big girl what’s her favorite thing in her closet, she’ll give you one of two answers: accessories or makeup. It is how it is because, traditionally, we’ve never had clothes that were cool enough or accessible enough for us. The beauty of makeup, though, is that it isn’t about size—it fits into every person’s makeup bag and should work for every single face. And yet, when I was growing up, the women I saw in beauty campaigns were always unattainable. They were either an A-list movie star or a superthin model I’d never seen before.
Back then, I didn’t understand the effect that would have. I wasn’t really looking at those women to identify with them; I just wanted to know if a foundation was going to look beautiful on my skin. But the more you don’t see women who look like you in images that reinforce what’s “beautiful,” the more that affects your perception.
When I first started gaining weight in my teens, I remember my mom walked in on me while I was rubbing my hip. I told her, with tears in my eyes, “It just bulges out right here.” She was like, “Ashley, that’s just a part of your hip and your butt. If you didn’t have that, you wouldn’t fit into this family.” Then it kind of hit me. It was OK. That side butt—that’s what my husband calls it now—is just something the women in my family have.
I was lucky then—and still now—to have a positive role model. But where are the role models for the rest of us? There’s no size requirement to fit a lipstick. So why have there been so few curvy models in national and worldwide beauty campaigns up until this point?
Here’s the crazy part, I don’t have an answer for you. I’m 30 years old, and I’ve been modeling for 18 years. And every single year I’m like, “Why has no one been knocking on my door? Why are there no beauty brands that are like, “Hey, we want Ashley Graham”? I really think it’s because so many brands are comfortable with the status quo. For years, mainstream society created narrow definitions of what beauty means.
In the past I’ve been been told things like, “Well, you’re only plus-size from your neck down; your face isn’t plus-size.” What does that even mean? If my face isn’t “plus-size,” then by that logic, why wouldn’t you put me in a cosmetics campaign? That’s always confused me. It’s like I’ve been boxed into a category where I can only be used in fashion campaigns where other women look like me. Which is why when you hear voices standing up for inclusivity, or see you body-positive hashtags, it’s important. It shows there’s a demand for better representation. There are so many different types of models now with unique perspectives on beauty, brands should actually use them.
What I’ve been hearing from women is that if we don’t see ourselves in a campaign, then we’re not going to want to buy your product. We know a lipstick isn’t going to change us into looking like the model wearing it. But if you bring in models who are representative of the everyday woman—which, by the way, the average-sized American woman is a size 14—we are going to want it so much more because it feels accessible. It’s very basic if you think about it: The more you see someone who looks like you in the campaign, the better you’re going to feel about yourself, because you’re not striving to be someone you’re not. We’re not trying to be an idea of what the beauty industry is telling us we should look like. We’re making our own beauty.