Ashley Graham Says Her Mother Saved Her Modeling Career

by Alexandra Svokos
Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

On Saturday, Nov. 11, model Ashley Graham opened up about the inspiration she got from her mother, especially when she was growing up and attempting to break into the modeling industry. In a conversation with Girlboss CEO and founder Sophia Amoruso at the Girlboss Rally in New York City, Graham explains how her mother motivated her both as a child and when she was at one of her lowest points early on in her career. With her mom's help, Graham went on to become one of this decade's most prolific models, pushing the fashion industry's boundaries and promoting body positivity for women — and men — across the world.

The inspiration Graham got from her mother, Linda, started when she was a child. She explains that her mom was raised on a farm, where a person's body wasn't valued for its appearance, but if it's "able to make you money in the sense of, can you irrigate the corn, can you move the tractors, can you milk the cow." Because of that background, her mother raised her daughter to think about her body in a similar utilitarian way.

"I was raised in a home where your body wasn’t looked at for your worth," Graham says. "Your body was looked at for your strength and what your ability was."

Growing up in Nebraska, Graham and her siblings were very active, playing sports and doing household activities like mowing the lawn, as Graham did throughout middle and high school. "That’s how we were looked at. So I think I was raised in a family that wasn’t hard on us for our bodies," Graham says.

But all of that body-positive thinking was struck down after Graham moved to New York to start modeling — and was told she was a plus-size model. When she was as young as 16, Graham had people in the industry pick apart her body and tell her all the ways it should look different.

"People have this idea of beauty, and then they put it onto you," Graham said about her experience. By the time she was 18 years old, Graham said, she had gained weight, gone through a series of bad boyfriends, and was taking a lot of drugs. She was still modeling, but thought her body was "disgusting." Still, she couldn't lose weight.

With all of these pressures on her, Graham broke down. She called her mother and told her she had given up and was moving back to Nebraska. And that would've been the end of the story — but for some hard talk from Linda.

"[My mother] said, 'No, Ashley. You have to finish what you started, because that’s how you were raised, and your body is going to change someone’s life,'" Graham says. But even then, she didn't fully grasp what her mother was telling her. "All I heard her say was, 'Hell no, you’re not moving back to Nebraska 'cause I don’t want you here.'"

But ultimately, her mother's tough love motivation led Graham to realize she has "nothing except for what I have in front of me." So in that moment, Graham changed how she spoke to herself and developed the affirmations she still uses when she's not feeling her best — "I am bold, I am brilliant, I am beautiful, I am worthy of anything I want."

Graham's mother has been one of her biggest cheerleaders in her career — and was even in the audience at the Girlboss Rally screaming in support of her words. Without Linda Graham's hard, motherly push, we wouldn't have Ashley around to motivate and inspire all of us with her confidence and openness. So really, we have Linda Graham to thank for all of that... and I should go call my own mom now.