“I want to be embraced for who I am not because of the number inside of my pants,” says the model

By Sharon Kanter
Updated May 04, 2016 01:59 PM

Ashley Graham had a breakout moment when she became the first size 16 model to pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue in February. This week, the self-proclaimed body activist is back in a bikini, returning as the face of swimsuitsforall to support the brand’s new #MySwimBody campaign, and PeopleStyle has the exclusive first look. The campaign features four women of all ages and sizes alongside Graham, including Olympic hammer thrower Amanda Bingson.

“The #MySwimBody idea means, to me, that anybody has a swim body no matter what age you are, race you are, gender, or size—you can have a swim body,” Graham told us when she dropped by the People offices to discuss the empowerment campaign featuring swimsuitsforall’s latest collection. The campaign includes the images here, as well as a video featuring the five-some, all of which was shot on location in Puerto Rico. “It was so hot and there was sand everywhere,” she said.

Courtesy Swimsuits for All

The campaign itself and its theme of self-confidence mean a lot to Graham. “It’s important to embrace every type of person,” she said. “There has only been one standard of beauty for so long within the fashion industry. There has always been a small lane that we as curvy women have had. Now fashion is finally caught up. Now, it’s getting wider and wider because a lot more women are asking for it.”

Courtesy Swimsuits for All

Credit: Courtesy Swimsuits for All

Courtesy Swimsuits for All

This campaign comes at a time when the word plus-size is buzzing—in both positive and negative ways. Graham is opposed to the term. “For the last 16 years, I’ve been called a plus-size model and I’ve never really embraced the term,” she said. “I’ve just taken it for face value because that’s exactly what people just called me. Personally, I am not a fan of the word for myself because I think it just puts me in a box and it keeps me there.”

Courtesy Swimsuits for All

“What I would like to do is not be labeled because I want to be in every single box and be embraced for who I am not because of the number inside of my pants,” she continued. “There is a group of women who love the term plus-size and because they love it, they should be called that. Everybody has a different take on it and I’m just happy to promote my body and different types of women.”

It’s not just the campaign that has Graham promoting healthy body image, she also so through her own Instagram account by using inspirational hashtags. One is #BeautyBeyondSize. “The idea of Beauty Beyond Size is something that’s really important to me because it created an element and a whole world for women who normally wouldn’t post photos of themselves in bikinis in lingerie and in dresses. I just wanted to create a tribe and a safe place for women to go and be themselves. So beauty beyond size is for anybody who wants to show themselves off. It doesn’t matter what size you are.”

Another is #ThickThighsSaveLives. “This one is exactly that my thighs are thick, they are luscious,” she said. “I got made fun of for them my whole life and now I’m being praised for my thick thighs and they have saved my life and I want to women to know that their thick thighs are saving their own lives.”

And it’s those thighs and the rest of her body that she loves to show off in swimwear, from triangle bikinis to caged decorative two-pieces—and the more, the better. “Girls who are insecure about their bodies, girls who feel fat, girls who have cellulite, girls who have stretch marks on their body — those are all the things that I had as a kid and I never had a woman like me growing up to look at,” Graham told PeopleStyle previously. “I had my mother and that’s one thing, but to have somebody who has cellulite, who has things that jiggle, who has back fat and talk about how you can be a overcomer and not let society take you down for all of that. That’s real.”

So we had to wonder, what’s the secret to feeling like a sexpot in a swimsuit? She said it’s so simple: “The secret to feeling sexy in a swimsuit is put a swimsuit on and tell yourself ‘I’m sexy’.” Ready to try it?

Do you like Ashley Graham’s new campaign? Tell us in the comments!

—Sharon Clott Kanter