For a crash course in self-confidence, look no further than model and podcast host Ashley Graham. She’s always been outspoken about claiming her space in fashion and beauty: Whether she’s modeling in unretouched photos or sharing her daily affirmations, she doesn’t hold back on embracing her identity.
Graham shared her keys to finding strength in her differences on a panel at the 2018 Glamour Women of the Year Summit that she moderated featuring Younger‘s Nico Tortorella, Pose‘s Indya Moore, author and comedian Phoebe Robinson, and Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat. The big takeaway: There’s more power in being an outlier than you may think.
The group kicked off by talking about the so-called “boxes” that their identities often fill in a creative field, like being a person of color, not conforming to the gender binary, or in Graham’s case, being a size 16. “For so long, we have been demanded to fit into boxes and we have been told we have to conform,” Graham said. “I’ve been told I have to be the perfect shape or the perfect size for sample sizes.” But, she said, speaking up for, and celebrating, her differences unlocked a new level to her career. “When I had to make my own terms, that’s when I finally became successful.”
Moore, who identifies as a gender-variant-femme, said that her gender identity was not accepted while she was growing up. “I had to navigate my existence as being misbehavior my whole life,” she said. But she says that fearlessly celebrating her identity today is the only way to live the life she wants, and to elevate other gender non-conforming folks. It’s a point reiterated by Robinson, who often found herself as the only black woman in a comedy room.”Your life is yours, and you have to go about it your own way,” she said.
Reaching that level of confidence comes from what Graham calls a “defining moment.” For her, that looked like leaning in to her size and accepting jobs where she was the only curve model. “I’ve been the token curve girl and sometimes I think if I say no will they give it to someone else or is that spot completely gone now,” Graham said. Being the first one in the room, even when it’s isolating or checking that “box,” makes room for more women later. “In my eyes, it’s necessary but it shouldn’t be forever,” she said.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, the panelists said: You’re worthy of your place in the world. “You are bold, you are brilliant, you are beautiful, and you are loved,” Graham reminded the audience.
Graham first explained in her July 2017 Glamour cover story that it’s the very things that set her apart—and, at one time, that weren’t celebrated in mainstream culture—that make her happiest to be herself. It’s a message that she reiterated on the panel today. “I felt like a token in the beginning [of my career],” she said in her cover story. “But now there are so many curve models—and more opportunities. I feel like a queen [on those jobs] because I’m the only one like me. I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m the curve ruler!'”
Find out more about Glamour‘s 2018 Women of the Year here.