Every up-and-coming model has to start somewhere. And for Ashley Graham, the road to the runway has been quite the journey.
In her new book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty & Power Really Look Like ($19; amazon.com), the supermodel looks back at all of the jobs—and people—that’ve helped her become one of the most recognizable faces in the fashion industry today.
After getting discovered at 13 at a mall in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, Graham says she was eager to land those first few gigs, even if they weren’t very glamorous. “In the beginning, I did every catalog that you can imagine,” she told InStyle at the book’s launch party yesterday in N.Y.C. “Brands like Playtex, Just My Size, Dillard’s. I even wore a sweater with dancing cats on it for the department store, Bon-Ton. Anything to get experience.”
Then, when she was fifteen, she took a trip to N.Y.C. to meet with Wilhelmina Models, who helped her ink her first major deal with none other than Jennifer Lopez’s clothing company, JLO.
“It’s crazy to think I was actually the first plus-size girl to model for Jennifer’s line,” says Graham, who shares an image from the shoot (above) in her collection of essays. “It was a huge deal for me because it was the early 2000s and I pretty much only listened to J.Lo music back then. My parents only allowed my sisters and I listen to Christian or country music, so I had to hide it from them! But it was my thing.”
Besides the obvious cool factor, another major perk from the JLO job was the clothes. Yes, Graham says she got to keep the piles of velour jumpsuits, sexy bodysuits, and hoop earrings that were Lopez signatures back in the day (Andy Hilfiger, who helped launch the brand, even sent her a box to wear when she went back to Nebraska). And unlike the other teen brands at the time, like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle, Graham says these clothes actually fit her. Not surprising from Lopez, who knows a thing or two about dressing curves.
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Though Graham sadly didn’t get to work directly with Lopez for the shoot, the job helped her get the exposure in N.Y.C that every young model dreams of. And she’s sure she’ll cross paths with her one day. “We were actually both at the Met Gala last week and I didn’t even get to see her!” says Graham. “But Kim Kardashian West picked spinach out of my teeth and asked Serena Williams to take a picture of us together, so I still had a pretty good night.”
For more from Graham, pick up her book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty & Power Really Look Like, available now at amazon.com.