ashley graham

Ashley Graham on Simple Makeup and Staying Inspired

We all have those celebrities we assume we'd be friends with—the ones we believe put their whole, real selves out into the world without the sugary coating of media training. For me, that's always been Ashley Graham. Her joy feels palpable and her laugh sounds genuine, even over the internet. Thankfully, as we spoke over Zoom, I was able to mark those things as true.

Ashley Graham grew up in Nebraska, a place she recently spent time during the pandemic. She was "discovered" in a mall in 2000 and signed in 2001. But her trajectory has been anything but ordinary. Graham has become one of the most famous faces of the body-positive movement, helping reshape size acceptance and, for many of us, the way we see ourselves. That said, her career isn't only about curves. She is a multi-dimensional person; a successful model, entrepreneur, host, executive producer, wife, and, as of a year ago, mother.

St. Tropez is the reason we're together today—virtually, of course—as Graham is the new face of the brand's ever-popular tanning products. She's wearing her hair in a high ponytail with minimal makeup, as the vibe she's going for is "simple, but there," she tells me. We talk about her experience during the pandemic, her son's first birthday, her podcast, and her uncomplicated beauty routine. More than anything, we talk about feeling hopeful, inspired by growth, and the way the past year has offered a shift in priorities. Keep scrolling to get to know Ashley Graham.

ashley graham

Ashley Graham/Design by Cristina Cianci

How are you doing?

I'm doing good. I just celebrated my son's first year of life, which is so weird to say. I have a one year-old! So I'm still taking all of that in.


Thank you so much. That's been a big focal point in our home right now. We're still eating the cake. It's so funny. We had a gluten-free, dairy-free cake made with maple syrup instead of refined sugar. We are those parents. And he went ham. It was everywhere.

I love that. I still feel that excited when I see cake. Because you had your son during the time the pandemic hit, how has your routine changed?

It was a big shift for me because I'm a new mommy. It a very interesting year as far as understanding what my new self-care looked like. Everything for me had to get simplified, and it had to be fast. In the beginning, when Isaac was so tiny, he had to eat every two-and-a-half hours and I was on his routine. So, if it took too long or it was too complicated, it was not for me. Now I've got everything down pat, a year later. And my beauty routine in the morning only takes me about 30 minutes.

What does your beauty routine look like now, and how have the products changed since you became a mom?

I had to cut out retinol because I'm still breastfeeding. For me, lately, it's been about "less is more" when it comes to makeup and my beauty routine. And that's why these [St. Tropez] products have been so amazing. St. Tropez [made it so] you can get that vacation glow at home. We all want what we can't have right now, right? I do the Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse. It takes about 30 minutes to put it all over my body. I prep my skin, shower with a non-abrasive soap, exfoliate, shave, and I make sure to moisturize my hands, heels, elbows, and my knees. I pop that on for three hours and take a shower. It's so easy. I do it one night a week to help keep a healthy glow. I love that it's not something you have to do every single day. And they have the best ingredients, which is something you don't think about. Self-tanner and skincare can really go hand in hand. St. Tropez has really figured it out, and they've got vitamin C, D, rose hip oil, and hyaluronic acid. It's phenomenal ingredients, and it's all about multitasking.

I'm such a fan of the products. I love the Purity Water Face Mist because you can just spritz it on and you're done. 

You know what else the Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist is good for? Your back when you can't reach certain spots. I do about 20 spritzes just to make sure it's as dark as everything else, and then my whole back is even.

That is a brilliant trick. Are there any other expert tips you've learned to help avoid self-tanner disasters?

Well, lotion is a big deal. It really is. Because you don't want the heel of the hand and your feet to look darker or have creases. So really, prep is key. Another [tip] a lot of people don't know is to take a lukewarm shower after you've done the Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse instead of a hot shower— you don't want the product to melt or move because it's still fresh on your body.

I'm writing those down. If you had to choose one or two products from the brand, which are your favorite?

I would have to say definitely the Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse because it goes on so quickly. It dries fast, so you want to manipulate it and move with it quickly. Use less on your mitt than you would think. Also, there's no transfer—I can put it on, and even though I'm letting it dry for the next three hours, I can still sit on my couch, I can play with my kid, you know, all of that stuff. I like that it develops overnight. Then, the Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist is phenomenal. As you said, I'll spray that every other night just to keep my face glowing, and then I use less makeup.

Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham/Design by Cristina Cianci

You've had a year marked by so much change. Now, what do you do to take care of yourself and to find joy?

I think 2020 really taught us about self-care and priorities. My priorities have always been the same, but they're amplified now. Family time, prayer time, workout time, and now being a mommy—I make sure I have my "me time" versus time with Isaac. And even in my marriage, [we make sure to have] date nights. Every Thursday night, we do date night. Since [indoor dining] is closed in New York, we pick up food and we eat in the car. 

That sounds so lovely.

I mean, it's different. Sometimes we'll leave the back door open, and we'll just sit [in the trunk].

My boyfriend and I have done the same thing. It makes meals feel like an adventure. We'll go near the water, open the doors, and eat in the trunk. He also doesn't allow food in front seat of the car. 

[We laugh]

That's our rule in the bed. No food in the bed.

You have such a positive presence on social media, both in the way you spread knowledge and joy. I think it's really palpable, even just from scrolling through your Instagram. I especially love your work on Thank Bod and Pretty Big Deal. What are the reasons you started those projects? And what are the key things that you've learned while doing them?

I started Thank Bod because I wanted men and women to know you can work out no matter where you are in your life—whether you're an expert or just getting into it. I [had] never worked out to a video where someone looked like me, or had a body like mine. I really wanted there to be accessibility for women and men who have curvier bodies. I move just as quickly as the girl or the guy next to me. It's just about inspiring yourself and knowing your body can move—it can do big, miraculous things. And they're quick workouts too. You can make it 10 minutes, or you can make it 30 minutes, depending on how many you do. We shot one in Nebraska when I was in quarantine. My husband shot it, and we did it in my mom's garage. 

With Pretty Big Deal, I've gained so much knowledge and inspiration from the people I've had on the show—A-list list celebrities, female entrepreneurs, comedians, journalists, and my friends. Just amazing men and women. I've always wanted to have an outlet, whether it's a talk show or a podcast, where I can actually have these normal conversations about entrepreneurship, beauty, and business. It's been really fun for me. Pretty Big Deal is like my other baby. In fact, it's my first baby. 

Ashley Graham with St Tropez Products

Ashley Graham/Design by Cristina Cianci

How do you feel like the experience has changed you?

I've always been very curious about people and their stories. And I've always wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible. There are so many topics I haven't even touched on, having only had three seasons, there's so much more to gain and understand. I think if you're not growing and learning, you're not evolving as a human. Another thing 2020 taught us is you don't know everything. And you should be excited to learn about things you don't understand, or things you didn't think you could or should talk about. It's really just about being inspired and staying inspired.

Do you have a dream guest? 

Oh my god, who isn't my dream guest? Amanda Gorman. She's been a friend for so long, and I'm so happy for her. 

That would be incredible. She moved me so much that day.  

She's been this incredible poet for so long. And for our President to ask her to come on. It was just so cool and so inspiring. And I think it is a testament to how much hope comes with this next era.

Agreed. To awkwardly change gears a bit [laughs], you serve so many incredible looks as part of your job. But what hair and makeup feels the most like you like? What glam would you wear forever?

Oh my god, a high pony with the bits in the front. That is my go-to and in fact, sometimes my hairstylist is like, "Oh, a high pony again." It makes me feel glam! I'm also a hair recycler. So I'll leave this [ponytail] in for a couple of days, depending on if I workout. And for me, the makeup is simple, but there. I love a brushed up brow. I love a filled-in brow. I do love a lip liner and a natural, pinky lip. A bit of a contour. I color in my mole with a brown pencil. Concealer is my friend on the days I haven't really slept because Isaac woke up at 4 a.m. to feed. But yeah, I always feel like less is more for sure. It's all about easy breezy.

Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham/Design by Cristina Cianci

I love the phrase "simple but there." That's definitely my makeup philosophy too. Do you have any beauty icons from the past or present?

Oh, totally. For me Tracee Ellis Ross' skin—it's tight and beautiful and just amazing. I watch everything she does when it comes to her skin. She's always glowing. Cindy Crawford's eyebrows have always been iconic. And my mom has been a huge inspiration for me. She's 56, and she's aging so gracefully. Just the other day she said, "Ashley, you see these lines all over my face? If I didn't have these lines, I wouldn't feel age-appropriate. I feel beautiful." In a generation of people plumping, pricking, and freezing, I am who I am today because of my mother. She's always instilled confidence in me, and still does today. I'm 33, and she tells me, "Your face should move, Ashley."

She sounds like the best. Do you have anything you wish you could tell your younger self?

Don't we all? If you have an idea for success, know the fast way is not the right way. Slow and steady wins the race. I'm glad I didn't get everything at once. I'm glad I worked really hard. I've been modeling for 21 years, and I've built my business slow and steady. That's been something I've had to learn along the way. And, have the confidence in yourself to make decisions for what you want. I've let a lot of people tell me what they think that I should have. I've learned with age and through my businesses that I get to dictate what's right for me.

Exactly. It's like how they tell you to cook an egg: low and slow. In 2021, what's your version of having it all?

Oh, wow. Big question. I think 2020 made us all realize our priorities and what we want. I'm so thankful for where I am and for what I have—my health, my husband, my son, my family, and even my friends. I call them my chosen family. These are the priorities and the reason a lot of people's lives have shifted. I'm hopeful and thankful walking into 2021. There's a lot of things we need to be excited for and start speaking life into. At the end of the year, there was a lot of negativity about 2020. There were a lot of bad things that happened. But I think now we need to shift our minds and our voices into positive talking.

Related Stories