‘Be Honest About The Barriers’ and 3 Other Career Lessons We Can Learn From Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham at SI Swim City 2016 with Arthur Kade, Wikimedia Commons. CC Some Rights Reserved. This photo has been cropped.

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Gabriella DiDio26
April 16, 2024 at 10:55AM UTC
Ashley Graham is a successful model. But more than that, she has helped pioneer change in unrealistic beauty standards. To be considered beautiful to me is an internal matter, but it takes someone with thick skin to take on the mammoth of the fashion industry and talk about something so personal as your weight. Ashley Graham is a bombshell, a strong business-mind, and an all-around amazing woman. Here’s what you can learn from her career:

1. Find a mission that's close to your heart.

A moment that has stuck with Ashley Graham — and that she references in some of her speeches and interviews —  happened when she was just 17 or 18.  She was working on a big campaign with a group of models. One model, who was a size two, said to her: “Did you actually get paid for this?” Knowing how it feels to be criticized for being yourself, Graham has pursued modeling to show other women and girls about the true importance of learning to love the body you’re in. She has also transformed into a body positivity spokesperson, author, and podcast host. Her content is relatable because she's been there. She gets the struggle. 
When you identify with a cause, your work is going to be more impactful. This is because you are in the trenches with the people you're lifting up, and can understand the different challenges that exist for them. That’s why Ashley Graham is such an effective (and passionate) advocate for body positivity, and a moving speaker. 

2. Glass Ceilings CAN be shattered.

In 2016, Ashley Graham was the first plus-size model to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  When she found out she got the cover she admittedly said she “cried a little," because it was so unlikely she would land such a coveted spot. A year later, Mattel approached Ashley to do a Barbie, and she agreed as long as that the Barbie would not have her traditional (and anatomically impossible) thigh gap. They said yes. 
Ashley changed these long-held cultural keystones to be more inclusive, proving you can change even the most unlikely systems with some determination and a lot of courage. 

3. Be honest about the barriers.

Things in Ashley Graham's life may seem perfect on the outside. As we all know, sometimes the troubles of our personal lives are undetectable by our acquaintances, colleagues, and friends. While Ashley Graham has one of the most beautiful smiles, she has seen some tough times that have only made her stronger. And she's honest about these tough times. During her early years as a model rising up the ladder in her career, she was making good money, but she also experimented with alcohol and drugs. Ashley is a positive person, and has used these experiences to connect with other people who have had similar struggles. 
Her honesty and success despite her barriers serves as an inspiration to those who have it tough, makes her a more relatable businesswoman, and projects that she is a strong, self-confident leader. 

4. Make bold statements, and stand by them.

Like I mentioned before, it takes guts to speak in opposition — especially to an entire industry that pays your salary. Could you see yourself doing that at work? Ashley Graham has called out the fashion industry several times on their unrealistic standards, and it has worked in her favor. Being honest and straightforward has allowed her to attract work that aligns with her values so she can dedicate her whole self. And  intelligent points of view that are different than the usual standard have the power to attract others to work with you. That's likely a contributing factor to Ashley's massive success on magazine covers, online campaigns, and more. 

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Gabriella DiDio is tired of the struggles of getting ahead in her career so, instead of revolting, she created Taupe Shoes — an empowering website for women that can help you become stronger through your work dilemmas. You can follow Gabriella on Twitter

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