We chatted with the model and body positivity icon about ignoring haters, cutting out the tags in your clothes, and why women need to stop tearing each other down.
Credit: Addition Elle

Model, designer, and self-proclaimed body activist Ashley Graham is a force to be reckoned with. Not only has she been featured in Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Glamour, but this year she was also recognized by Forbes' 30 under 30 list and ABC's The Year.

Graham has become a beacon of body-positivity and self-love for women everywhere. She’s advocated re-thinking why we even need the “plus-sized” label, led a TEDTalk titled "Plus Size? More Like My Size”, and hosted Good Morning America’s weeklong “Body Proud” series. She’s constantly encouraging fans to love and embrace their bodies.

Her latest project? A lingerie collection with Addition Elle (available at AdditionElle.com and Nordstrom.com beginning in February) called La Scala, which is designed to send (what else?) a body-positive and powerful message: every woman deserves to feel sexy. In the line's campaign video Graham proudly claims: “I am size sexy.”

To get some tips on how to feel sexy at any and every size, we spoke with the model herself. Here are Graham's tricks for feeling great.

Keep moving

Whether you’re a size 4 or 14, Graham believes it’s absolutely crucial to stay active. “I believe you can be healthy at any size as long as you’re getting off the couch and moving your body,” she says. “I have been a size 10 and I have been a size 18, and regardless of the size, I’ve been active.” Plus, all those feel-good hormones released during exercise will give you a nice boost of confidence: “Those endorphins are making you feel better regardless.”

Say “I love you”

This literally means, look at yourself in the mirror daily and say “I love you” to every body part if you have to, even if you very strongly feel otherwise. “It feels corny at first, and even fake,” she says. “But you fake it ‘til you make it!” After all, this is the only body you’ve got, so you might as well appreciate it. And don’t feel discouraged if you don’t immediately feel more confident. Graham points out: “It doesn’t come overnight, but if you keep working at it eventually you’ll believe it.”

Lose the labels

It may seem cliché, but the phrase “size is just a number” couldn’t be more true when it comes to feeling sexy in your own skin. “I always say, if a size 12 jean isn’t fitting, buy a 14,” advises Graham. “Who cares about the number that’s inside your jeans? If clothes are making you feel bad about your body, go ahead and buy a bigger size.” And if it still bugs you: just cut the label out, Graham says. “It really does help your confidence because you don’t even have to think about it. You just think: ‘Wow these jeans look really good on me!’”

Ignore the haters

Let’s face it: whether it’s due to insecurity or flat-out spite, women are often extremely critical of other women. It's easier said than done, but learning to deal with mean-spirited or judgmental comments from those around you is key (whether they happen online in the comments or to your face). How does Graham deal with criticism? She simply asks herself if she’s happy. “If the answer is yes, then who cares what these people are saying?” Graham explains. “At the end of the day, if you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

Help other women feel beautiful

“Women are the hardest on each other! It’s crazy, I don’t understand why,” says Graham. “We’ve asked for equal rights on everything, but when it comes to other women we’re mean.” Rather than contribute to this cycle of criticism, try to spread positivity instead. If you're friends start gossiping about another woman's body, put a stop to it. You will end up feeling better about yourself in the process.

“What I think needs to happen is we all need to push competition aside and start complimenting each other. If you look beyond yourself and start complimenting the women around you, it’s only going to help everyone,” says Graham. “My mother always told me kill ‘em with kindness, and I really think women need to that with other women.”