Model Ashley Graham talks about her body insecurities and how she's learned to love herself to succeed in the industry

Credit: Jason Hetherington

Even models have their insecurities.

Ashley Graham says that she didn’t feel confident in herself when she was growing up.

“I always felt second best,” the model tells SELF for their October cover story. “I was never the prettiest, never the skinniest, never the fastest in my sports. Never the smartest, because I have dyslexia. Then, all of a sudden, people were like, ‘You’re gorgeous.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ ”

But Graham, 28, quickly found that she wasn’t going to make it in the modeling industry with low self-confidence.

“I had to realize that if I didn’t really love who I was and if I couldn’t appreciate this – my body – as my moneymaker, then I wasn’t going to make any money,” she says.

Plus, Graham’s lack of appreciation for her body was affecting her personal relationships.

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“I dated all the wrong men. I thought I could feel appreciated in my body through guys,” she says. … “[My ex] never hit me, but he did throw me up against a wall. I didn’t know to get out then because I was so insecure.”

Now Graham is using what she’s learned about loving herself to help other women.

“I’m trying to change how women think about themselves,” she says. “Some people just don’t get it – I’ve been denied jobs because I was too big. I’ve also been denied jobs because I was too small.”

“At the end of the day, I’m never going to conform to what anybody wants. This is my body; I’m happy in it.”