Ashley Graham Opens Up About Her Family Initially Not Accepting Her Interracial Relationship
By Liz Calvario
Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
Ashley Graham is happily married to Justin Ervin, but before they tied the knot in 2010, they hit a few rocky moments, beginning with their first date and then later, meeting her family.
In an excerpt from her new book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty and Power Really Look Like (out May 9), released by Glamour, the 29-year-old model opened up about how she met her now-husband in church, how he wasn't "her type" and how her family didn't always accept their interracial relationship.
"I joined a church. I didn’t go there to find a boyfriend; I truly wasn’t looking for anyone other than the person I wanted to be," Graham noted. "One Sunday my volunteer position was to stand in the elevator welcoming people, passing out candy, and pushing the button to the eighth floor. When two tall men walked in, I didn’t bat an eye. One nudged the other and said, 'If you don’t talk to her, I will.' His friend left the elevator, but he stayed on. I shrugged. This guy wasn’t my type. With his short hair, ill-fitting, baggy Old Navy jeans, white Hanes T-shirt, and Converse sneakers, he exuded a major nerd factor. But there was something sweet about Justin, and I was at church, so I had to be polite. He rode up and down with me a few times, and he seemed to be looking into my soul when we talked. He was smart and funny and had traveled the world. So I agreed to go out for coffee.”
On their first date, Justin insisted they go Dutch because -- he later told her -- he assumed that she was "one of those beautiful women who uses guys for a fancy dinner" and he didn't play that game.
"And just like that, I had my first experience of what it meant to communicate with a man," she described in detail. "It was profound; all I wanted to do was keep talking to Justin. The consistency and openness was so new it felt weird. I told him this all the time: ‘You’re weird.’”
One of the most difficult moments between the two was when Graham finally decided to take Justin back home to meet her family.
"I never told my grandparents that the man I was bringing home was black," she explained. "I naively hoped everyone would be color-blind—which is not what happened. When my grandparents met Justin, my grandmother was cordial but cold. She greeted him and immediately walked away. When it came time for them to leave, my grandparents didn’t even acknowledge him. Instead my grandmother looked me in the eye, with Justin standing behind me, and said, 'Tell that guy I said goodbye.' I had never seen my loving, hardworking, and wonderful grandma be so hurtful and so racist. I was in shock."
While it was a difficult situation, Justin was a gentleman and continued to reach out to her family. "As if his understanding wasn’t generous enough, Justin called my grandmother on her sixtieth wedding anniversary," she wrote. "He's not a texter or an emailer; he's a pick-up-the-phone-and-call-you person, and anniversaries are a big deal to him. Afterward Grandma called my mom and said, 'You'll never guess who called me.' And from then on out, she loved him. Loved him'"