The Transformation Of Ashley Graham From Childhood To 34 Years Old

The fashion industry has long thrived on promoting idealized images of women. While an hourglass figure was favored in the post-war era, for many decades catwalk models were extremely thin at the behest of high-fashion designers. Notably, the late Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld was notoriously fatphobic. However, a pushback against fatphobia within the fashion industry and a drive toward inclusive body representation meant that doors began to open for models of different sizes.

One of the first mainstream so-called "plus-size" models — though she dislikes the term — was Ashley Graham. When she emerged in the early 2010s, Graham was a pioneer of curvy representation, harking back to the hourglass days of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Thereafter, she made history on numerous occasions, becoming the first plus-size model to grace the Michael Kors runway, and the first to appear on the cover of Vogue (remarkably, she achieved these feats as recently as 2017). And now, Graham is continuing with her pioneer streak, seeking to destigmatize breastfeeding and proudly showcasing her post-pregnancy stretch marks on the red carpet.

It's always been Graham's mission to spread self-love. As she told Stylist, "The mantra I say to myself is this: 'I am bold, I am brilliant, I am beautiful, I am worthy of all, I love you.'" And while she dishes out the body-positive inspo, she's also been transforming her look, serving everything from self-tan chic to first lady-inspired lewks. This is the transformation of Ashley Graham from childhood to 34 years old.

Ashley Graham had a troubled childhood

Ashley Graham was raised in Nebraska by devout Christian parents — a homemaker mother and database marketer father, per The Cut. Growing up in the late '80s and early '90s, Graham exhibited her aptitude for style with a snazzy roll neck sweater and matching hair bow combo, which, as Grandpa Simpson would say, was the style at the time.

Although Graham could always count on her mom when she was growing up, she nonetheless had a difficult childhood blighted by bullying and abuse. At school, she was frequently teased by her peers due to her weight. "They'd be like, 'Wide load coming through. Beep, beep!' I hated school," she told Harper's Bazaar. As a child, she was diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia, for which she initially received little support, conceding that her parents scarcely understood the diagnoses, per Glamour. The model spoke of her commitment to changing the education system, arguing that there should be more funding for neurodivergent children to have their educational needs met.

Graham was also exposed to sexual predators. When she was just 10, she was molested by a family friend, and she found herself routinely sexualized by grown men at age 14, she shared in her memoir (via The Hollywood Reporter). Her dad was absent throughout her childhood, so she started acting up, something she attributes to her lack of a father figure. "I never got the love and attention I needed from my dad," she admitted.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She began modeling at 12

As a pre-teen, Ashley Graham was near unrecognizable with a gamine hairdo (looking a tad like Hilary Swank) and sporting baggy, colorful garb. When she was 12, Graham was shopping in a mall when a modeling scout discovered her, per The Cut. She enrolled in a Kansas City modeling course with the hope of doing catalogue work. Then, she won in the plus-size division at a modeling expo, and was signed to an agency soon after.

She experienced firsthand the body negativity of the industry. Per People, she was frequently body shamed by agents, an experience that she deemed more hurtful than the bullying she was subjected to at school. "I had people on set, like photographers, stylists and even my own agents telling me that I was getting too big," Graham said. Unfortunately, these issues also began to manifest in her personal life.

In her late teens, she began struggling with drug misuse, per People. Speaking with Harper's Bazaar, Graham also revealed that she was once in an abusive relationship with a man who made her fear for her life. The model acknowledged that years of being fat-shamed led her to believe she was unworthy of love. "I was too insecure [to leave him]," she reflected. "As a child I had been told I was dumb...  I thought that he was the only man I could have."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Finding love with Justin Ervin

Ashley Graham first met her husband, Justin Ervin, at church in 2009, per Glamour. Asked how she knew Ervin was the one, Graham explained that he was unlike all the men she had met before. "He was consistent. He's safe and a little nerdy. But there's nothing basic about him," she told Glamour in an earlier interview. 

Due to insecurities with her body when she was growing up, Graham tended to date men who were plus-size, per The Cut. Subsequently, she said she had never been with a man who weighed less than her prior to meeting Ervin. "My husband weighs less than me, but he feels bigger than me," she mused. Despite being deeply in love, the twosome avoided bedroom antics until they were husband and wife. The couple wed in 2010. At her first public event that year, Graham showcased her impossibly glossy chestnut locks, wearing a classic, figure-hugging LBD and gold jewelry. 

Being in an interracial marriage, Graham has discussed the racism that her husband frequently faces. Speaking with Allure, the model divulged that, while on vacation in Italy, a man spat at Ervin for being Black. Moreover, she faced prejudice from her own family. In her memoir (via Glamour), she admitted that her mom hadn't met a Black person until she was 18. Her grandparents in particular were bigoted toward Ervin and wouldn't even acknowledge him when he came to visit. In time, however, her family came to love and accept her husband.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Making her mark on the fashion world

Ashley Graham moved to New York in pursuit of modeling work, but she quickly wanted to quit due to the negativity she experienced. "I had been bombarded with an industry that kept telling me, 'You're not good enough. You're not skinny enough. You're not big enough,'" she told Glamour. "I wanted to give up and I wanted to go home." But her mother insisted that she stay, perhaps knowing that Graham could make all the difference as a curvy model in an industry renowned for its body negativity. Soon enough, Graham did find work and was signed to the elite Ford Models as a teenager.

In 2010, when she was 22, Graham was cast in a controversial Lane Bryant ad, which saw her wear a plunging red bra. As the New York Post reported, the ad was deemed too risqué for television and ABC swiftly banned it. Graham suggested that her curves caused the contention, believing that the commercial wouldn't have been banned if a thin model were cast. "[ABC] can't handle bigger on TV," she argued.

During this period, she began gaining significant traction, as she worked for brands such as Levi's and Liz Claiborne. At a fashion event, she looked every bit the catwalk model, akin to the classic looks of Cindy Crawford. Wearing an elegant gray dress, her hair styled in a tight bun and opting for natural, sunkissed makeup, it was evident the budding model was destined for great things.

She released her own lingerie line

Per The Cut, Ashley Graham's original dream was to start a lingerie company for curvy figures, noting that there was a gap in the market for bras that catered to large-breasted women. However, Graham's dream was immediately shot down by her agent, who advised her that her job was solely to model. "At the time, my agent was like, 'You're a model. You're not going into that,'" she recalled. "I kept hearing 'no' from him. It was really hard to hear 'no' because I knew that there was so much more to build."

In spite of her agent's protestations, Graham was determined to make her dream a reality. In the early 2010s, there were very few curvy mainstream models. Accordingly, Graham explained that her name had slowly become synonymous with plus-size fashion, which propelled her to take advantage of her unique position within the industry. "If people think about plus-size lingerie, they're going to think of me. How can I capitalize on that?" she said in an earlier interview with The Cut.

Subsequently, in 2013, she teamed up with Canadian brand Additional Elle to launch her own lingerie line, per Montreal Gazette. Reps for Additional Elle said that Graham's star power and immense popularity among her fans were huge selling points. In an ad for her collection, Graham looked smoldering and sophisticated as she sported tousled curls and showcased her hourglass physique, akin to classic Hollywood pin-ups such as Jane Russell and Rita Hayworth.

Ashley Graham modeled for Sports Illustrated

In 2015, Ashley Graham became the first plus-size woman to model for Sports Illustrated, wearing a plunging bikini as part of the publication's SwimsuitsForAll campaign, per The Huffington Post. "Not only was it such an important moment in pop culture, but it also allowed advertisers and magazines to see that a curvy model on a cover was not only a great press opportunity but sold copies!" Graham's manager told Vogue.

Thanks to the campaign, Graham found herself steadily on the rise to stardom. That year, she began appearing at glitzy galas and mingling with A-listers. At one such event, Graham looked glowing in a simple back dress, wearing her long brunette locks in a side-sweep and donning the subtlest smattering of highlighter-heavy makeup. Indeed, the model has always had a penchant for natural beauty, usually opting for simple, dewy makeup looks as opposed to a full face of product. "I can have my hair done, my jewelry on and my Ultimate Glow Kit and I feel like I can leave the house a complete person," she told Stylist. "I'm also an eyebrow gel girl: I brush it up into my eyebrows and I feel like if my eyebrows are up the rest of my face is done."

Modeling for Sports Illustrated propelled Graham into the spotlight. Accordingly, she sought to use her newfound fame for good, telling Vogue that she wanted to be a role model for those "who've thought they were fat and ugly their whole lives."

Becoming a body-positive icon

By 2016, Ashley Graham officially became a supermodel, per Vogue. In fact, Graham had reached such career heights that a Barbie was made in her likeness, cementing her status as a cultural icon. Moreover, she was named one of Glamour's Women of the Year. Appearing at the titular event, there was a marked change in Graham's aura, symptomatic of her newfound celeb status. Exuding regal vibes, she wore a jeweled pantsuit and matching diamond earrings, her famous chestnut locks slicked back as she slayed the pouty power pose.

Discussing her eminence as a supermodel, Graham told The Cut that she doesn't care for the term "plus-size model," believing that it's nonsensical and reductive. Instead, she prefers to use "curvy." She also acknowledged that she gained momentum as a curvy supermodel due to white privilege, noting that there are many curvaceous models of color who haven't had the same recognition and fame.

With her rise to the top, Graham became a body-positive icon, something she fought to maintain through an impassioned rejection of retouched images. Speaking with Glamour, she warned against the normalization of retouched photos on social media, emphasizing that the increasingly ubiquitous nature of photoshop and filters will have devastating effects on body image. "I think that it is so hurtful... Give it a few more years, even 10 years more, and we're going to be seeing the real effects of it because people think that they are not pretty enough and they're not good enough," she said.

Ashley Graham is also an author

In 2017, Ashley Graham made her mark at the Met Gala. The supermodel wowed in a white corset and red skirt ensemble complete with a ruffled sash, in turn resembling the most glamorous IRL mermaid to ever ascend the Met Gala staircase.

That year, she published her book, "A New Model," which she explained was equal parts memoir and body posi manifesto. As a role model for so many young girls and women, Graham said that she had an abundance of advice to give those who were struggling with body insecurities, but couldn't articulate her pearls of wisdom succinctly enough. "The number one question I get asked is: 'How do you get confidence? Where did your confidence come from?'" she told Fashionista. "It's not an antidote, it's not a pill... it's my whole story. I can't just sit down with everybody and tell my whole story, so I wrote a book."

A large portion of Graham's book is focused on sex. When Glamour asked the model why she decided to devote so many pages to the topic, Graham explained that for many years she was reduced to the sum of her parts and used sex as a coping mechanism, particularly when she was with her abusive boyfriend. Subsequently, she did a 180 when she began a loving relationship with Justin Ervin, abstaining from sex entirely. "That was an eye-opening experience for me. So with my next relationship, I didn't want it to be based on sex," she explained.

Ashley Graham the TV host

Appearing at red carpet events toward the end of the decade, Ashley Graham's look shifted to a more sophisticated aesthetic. On one occasion, she was nearly unrecognizable as she channeled then-first lady Melania Trump with a chic updo and cat-eye makeup look, donning a black sweater and bright, flowery skirt ensemble. The late 2010s would prove fruitful for the model. In 2018, she and her mom teamed up for Sports Illustrated's Swimsuits for All campaign, with Graham hailing her mother as her ultimate body-positive idol. "She promoted body positivity in our household before it was a movement," Graham said in a statement, per Fashionista.

A super busy Graham also became a guest judge on "America's Next Top Model" for cycle 23, returning to the series in 2018 for cycle 24, per Us magazine. The following year, she was made host of Season 2 of "American Beauty Star," in which contestants compete against each other as they perform increasingly difficult beauty and hair challenges, per Cosmopolitan.

In an interview with Allure, Graham said that she learned a lot from watching Tyra Banks host "America's Next Top Model," noting that Banks would request specific angles and lighting from the camera crew without ever apologizing. Accordingly, she sought to emulate Banks' pragmatic approach to hosting when she took on the "American Beauty Star" gig. "I wasn't apologetic. I was very matter-of-fact, but I did it with a smile on my face. That's how people run businesses," she said.

Ashley Graham has amassed a stunning net worth

By 2019, Ashley Graham was modeling on the runway for increasingly high-profile brands. Appearing on the catwalk for Christian Siriano, she showcased her famous high cheekbones as she perfected the sullen supermodel pout. These noteworthy modeling gigs have contributed to Graham's impressive estimated net worth – a stunning $10 million. But it was a struggle for her to get to this enviable position.

At Ford Models, she was making heaps of cash before the age of 20. However, as she reveals in her memoir (via The Hollywood Reporter), she soon began losing all her money. Although she was earning a whopping $100,000 in her teens, she began overspending and found herself in debt. Soon enough, she discovered that she couldn't afford to pay her taxes. Thankfully, her modeling agency was able to get her out of the jam due to a "reserve fund."

But now, Graham is more business-savvy than ever, having created an entire brand around her niche. In 2017, Forbes declared her one of the highest-earning models, as she was raking in $5.5 million. As noted by Allure, Graham has always been a businesswoman first and foremost, and is constantly seeking to expand her brand. "I feel like a boss when I walk in — it's me and my girls. I imagine the beginning of "Entourage": We're walking in slow motion; everyone's hair is blowing. It's like, 'We're here to own this s***,'" she quipped.

The model gave birth to twins

In 2019, Ashley Graham told Allure that she had no plans to have children any time soon. "It's just too far down the road for me to even think about," she conceded. But just one year later, she and Justin Ervin welcomed their first child, Isaac, per People. Then, in 2022, Graham gave birth to twin sons, Malachi and Roman. However, the second pregnancy was highly distressing, and she revealed that she almost died giving birth.

In an essay for Glamour, Graham chronicled her birthing trauma. The model revealed that she thought she needed the bathroom in the early hours of the morning, only to give birth to Malachi on the toilet. Her son Roman was born in the bathtub two hours later, but she blacked out soon after and began hemorrhaging. The road to recovery was long and arduous. "Thank goodness the twins were fine, while I lay on that bed for four straight days," she wrote. "I couldn't walk for a week. And I didn't leave my house for nearly two months."

After recovering from the ordeal, the now mom-of-three appeared fresh-faced and glowing in a bright crimson dress when she returned to the red carpet. Notably, she wore significantly less fake tan than usual (Graham has been vocal about her love of tanning), instead opting for bronzer. Throughout the years, Graham has remodeled herself time and time again, but all the while she has remained a body-positive role model who embraces her natural beauty — inside and out.