Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, & More Plus-Size Models Speak On the Beauty, Power, & Worthiness of Bigger Bodies

Did you know that the term “body positivity” emerged in the 1960s when people in marginalized bodies — fat, queer, non-white, and disabled — began a fat acceptance movement? Decades later, around 2012 when influencers became noteworthy public figures, the phrase took serious cultural hold as it started circulating as an empowering hashtag and general theme of discussion in online communities.

Today, body positivity is much more than just a subject of digital chatter — it’s an empowering mindset that encourages all people to love, cherish, and respect their bodies regardless of how they fit in the (tired) social standard of thinness and straight sizes. It’s not uncommon for famous figures to speak about their own efforts to be body positive and promote the idea of self-love to their audiences, and this is especially true of plus-size models.

Ashley Graham is one of the most prominent celebrity advocates for body positivity. Her status as a body-positive icon launched with a 2009 Glamour feature titled “These Bodies are Beautiful at Every Size.” In 2016, she became the first size 16 model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and since, she’s written a book, started a podcast, and given a TED Talk on body positivity and its importance.

Graham isn’t the only plus-size model to use her platform to encourage body positivity and uplift others in bigger bodies, though — read on for musings on being body positive from several of the most prominent plus-size models in the industry.

  • Emme

    Emme — the very first plus-size supermodel — spoke of the body positivity movement with Shape during a 2018 interview, explaining, ​​​​”It’s not just a size issue; it’s a women’s issue and about owning who you are, no matter your age or size.”

    She added, “The more we see diversified body shapes, skin colors, age ranges, the more we see of ourselves as a culture in media and on the runway, the more comfortable we’ll be as a society with widening our definition of beauty.”

  • Paloma Elsesser

    Image Credit: Taylor Hill/WireImage.

    “My body is my body and it is reflective of the experience and alienation many people feel today,” Paloma Elsesser said during a 2018 interview with i-D. She continued, “My body is not radical, it is honest. My body won’t disrupt your fashion story, it will give it dimension, because time and time again we learn that all types of people love clothes and want to see themselves in them.”

  • Precious Lee

    Image Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

    In a personal essay published on Time in 2014, Precious Lee wrote, “If you feel like beauty is only a woman of one shape, size or color, start following someone in the industry who isn’t thin and see how beautiful they are.”

    She continued, “If you think every woman who’s a size 14 is just sitting at home and hating herself, then you are mistaken. If you take the time to look, you might be surprised at just how beautiful a size 14 really is.”

  • Tess Holliday

    Image Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic.

    During a 2019 interview with Elle, Tess Holliday said, “I don’t know why it’s controversial to talk about the fact that plus-size women should be able to take up space — literally — wear clothes, be fashionable and feel good in their bodies.”

  • Iskra Lawrence

    Image Credit: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Atlantis The Royal.

    Iskra Lawrence frequently uses her social media platforms to spread messages of body positivity, and one of our favorite posts is this Instagram photo captioned, “Feeling REAL 😏 because that celluLIT, those rolls are cute, that jiggle is sexy and everyBODY deserves to feel confident in the skin they’re in ❤️.” Lawrence added, “Who we are is what makes us beautiful not just a beauty ideal.”

  • Ashley Graham

    Image Credit: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images.

    In 2019, Ashley Graham explained to Vogue, “As I grew up in the plus-size industry, it was like everybody was trying to do away with that label — get rid of it! — and now we are in a generation where women are embracing plus-size again, they’re embracing the word fat, they’re embracing curvy and big girl, because women are not one-dimensional,” she said. “Why use just one word to describe such a wide variety of women?”

    Graham continued, “I’ve never been thin, so I don’t even know what that feels like. But I’ve had people tell me I needed to lose weight. I’ve tried every diet known to man, but they don’t work, because I’m a curvy woman — a big-boned, healthy, corn-fed Nebraska girl. It is who I am,” she stated. “And once I accepted that, the more confident I became, and that’s when my career really started to take off.”

  • Hunter McGrady

    Image Credit: John Parra/Getty Images.

    During a 2019 interview with Hello Giggles, Hunter McGrady explained, “I’m all about being unapologetically myself in my skin, whether it’s me having stretch marks, cellulite, acne scars, rolls or whatever it is.” She continued, “I think owning that — being comfortable, feeling beautiful as I am, going out there, and being fully me is the fearless lifestyle to aspire to.”

    McGrady added, “I think women, and men even, have to realize that we’re all born with a different frame. We all hold weight differently, we scar differently. Everything is different on us, and we have to accept that and know that beauty is not a size,” she said. “Beauty comes in so many different ways. That time was a huge pinpoint for me as far as transitioning the way I look at myself.”

  • Kate Wasley

    Image Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic.

    In a 2020 Instagram post, Kate Wasley wrote, “If we all ate the same meals and did the same workouts, we would still all have different bodies. There would still be people with cellulite, some more than others.”

    She continued, “There would still be stretch marks from simply growing, gaining or losing weight & child birth, there would still be people who struggle to gain weight or get muscle definition, pigmentation, loose skin, wrinkles, pouches, love handles, hip dips and back rolls there would still be all the little things that make us human and make us unique.”

  • Nadia Aboulhosn

    Image Credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for New York Magazine.

    “I think that society and media every day need to look at women of all shapes and colors and races and [show] that there is a huge diversity, it’s just not this or that,” Nadia Aboulhosn told Elle Australia in 2014.

    “I think we’re so used to seeing really skinny women in high fashion that when there is someone that doesn’t look like Gisele [Bündchen] wearing something, then it’s automatically slut-shaming or fat-shaming,” she continued, adding, “There is beauty in all shapes and sizes. I want to bring awareness to people who aren’t happy with themselves to be more confident and stronger with their bodies because society can be so cruel at times.”

  • Hayley Hasselhoff

    Image Credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Gelesis, the maker of Plenity®.

    Hayley Hasselhoff encouraged others to love themselves where they’re at today, telling Untitled Magazine in 2021, “You are able to celebrate your body for what it is today and understand that it is going to be an ever-evolving relationship with your body.”

    She continued, “You need to love who you are today to get to where you are tomorrow. And I really do hope that that’s what gets taken away from this; just a sense of being able to celebrate yourself but also for women to be able to say ‘I have the right to take ownership of my body and celebrate it the way that I want to, and I don’t need somebody else’s approval or direction to tell me how I can celebrate me.’”

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