Ashley Graham on Hosting Backstage for Miss USA: 'The Fact That They've Asked Me to Come ... Means There Is More Diversity of Beauty'
Ashley Graham says her latest gig is “very, very important.”
The model, entrepreneur and activist will be a backstage host at the 2016 Miss USA competition on Sunday, and Graham tells PEOPLE that her presence at the event speaks volumes about evolving beauty standards.
“The fact that they’ve asked me to come and speak backstage means that there is more feeling of diversity of beauty,” Graham says.
“I’m really excited about the fact that they’re so open to the inclusion of so many different types of beauty, because for so long [America] has been going one way – America has finally caught on.”
Fresh off of her groundbreaking Sports Illustrated cover, Graham says she is ready to see many different looks showcased, not only on the Miss USA stage, but “across the board.”
“I would like to see diversity of body shape, sizes, ethnicities and ages in every realm,” the model says. “I think by having me host backstage it’s opened up this door and this question of ‘well, why haven’t we had anybody? What is stopping us from having a very curvaceous woman come in and win Miss USA or even be a contestant?’ ”
She adds: “I really do hope that the people at Miss USA are considering it and talking about it, but I think clearly they are by having me host.”
All about “women’s empowerment,” Graham says she is excited to meet and interact with the 52 contestants, who she says are all “role models in their own right.”
“They may not call themselves a ‘body activist,’ but they are standing up for what it takes to not only be hardworking, ethical and smart, but also courageous,” she says to PEOPLE.
“You have to know what you stand for, who you are. They’re not just walking around in their swimsuits and evening gowns. They’re being questioned about things this is such a great outlet for young girls to aspire to be, in a way, because these women, they’re using their beauty to change the world.”
Although she’s impacting the world in her own way, Graham says she wouldn’t mind being a contestant in the competition – “I would if they asked me.”
“I’ve never been a pageant girl,” she says. “I don’t think that [the contestants are] just walking up there in a pretty dress. So for me, I’m like, ‘oh my God, what would I have to do? What would I have to prepare.’ ”
She may not be competing on the big stage, but Graham says she’s busy preparing for her role in the pageant.
“I’m going over questions and kind of prepping myself a little bit and I’m getting acclimated with who’s who and the different girls,” Graham says.
“I had a whole day of fittings yesterday for just a few looks and I’m meeting with an acting coach to make sure that I’m doing things properly with the microphone I’m so excited to be a part of something like this.”
Above all, Graham says she’s hoping to tie in her message: there is beauty beyond size.
“Everything I do, I tie in my brand and who I am and that there’s beauty beyond size and beauty beyond any label or misconceived notions that anyone has put on you. You have to be confident within who you are,” Graham declares.
“I’m doing it for all of us and I really believe that you will see a change, as a whole, when we don’t have to have a conversation about what it’s like to be a curvy woman in the industry. I believe that’s when you’ll actually know that there has been a change.”
Miss USA will air live on June 5 at 7 p.m. EST on FOX