Ashley Graham has had a powerful impact on the fashion industry's preconceived notions about body shape and image positivity, and she's becoming an inspiring role model for many aspiring fashion models -- and Graham says it's all because of her mom.
Graham sat down with ET's Jennifer Peros at Barnes & Noble on Tuesday, where the 29-year-old model was promoting her new memoir, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty and Power Really Look Like, and she opened up about how she almost gave up on her dreams long before she found real success.
"Everything was about exterior, everything was about weight for me," Graham said, recalling the number of modeling jobs and romantic relationships that fell through because of her figure, which lead to her becoming obsessed with her weight.
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"I really had to step back and say, 'OK, am I looking for love through sex? Am I looking for love through food? Am I looking for love through the affirmation of fashion people who don't understand my body?'" she shared. "I had to really have, like, a come to Jesus moment."
For Graham, that moment came when she was 19 years old and called her mom to tell her that she didn't want to continue pursuing her passion.
"I said, 'I can't do it anymore, I'm coming home. This is it,' and she said, 'No, no, you're not coming home. Your body is going to change someone's life and New York needs you. The fashion industry needs you,' and I stayed," Graham recounted.
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Aside from convincing her to continue on her journey to becoming a world-class model, Graham also credits her mom for instilling in her a diligent work ethic and powerful tenacity.
"My mom is the product of two farmers, and she had to really work hard," said Graham, who was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. "So she grew up with work ethic and determination and drive, and [the idea that] when you start something, you finish it. So that's how she raised me and my sisters."
In her new book, Graham gets very candid about her relationship with her mom, as well as her distant relationship with her father, who she said was "a little more absent" in her life, which effectively shaped who she became when she got older.
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"It made me realize what I wanted in a man and what I wanted in a husband," Graham shared. "And also, who I am as a woman to men, because for so long I didn't know how to have a relationship with men because it was based on what I had growing up."
"I actually had to teach myself what it was like to have a relationship with a man and not base it on what I felt at home," she added.
Despite the ups and downs of her family life, Graham said she's learning to appreciate what her experiences revealed to her, and how they've made her who she is.
"When you're a product of something, you have to say, 'OK, I'm going to learn from their mistakes and I'm going to take also the good with me.'"
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As a successful fashion model and icon of body positivity in pop culture, Graham also shared some praise for Girls creator Lena Dunham, who took to Instagram on Monday to slam tabloid articles touting her recent weight loss as an "achievement."
Dunham explained how her weight loss has been a result of an "anxiety disorder," existential and direct fear related to the presidential election and its aftermath, and a multitude of other factors that had nothing to do with caring about how she looked in a dress.
"I don't think media's ever gonna change, but I think it's important that people like Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and me, and many more women, stand up and say, 'Guess what, this is what's really going on," Graham shared.
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"I'm so glad Lena wrote down all [the reasons] why she had looked the way she did because it's not that she was on a diet, it's that she really was not feeling her best and she explains it,"
Graham added. "I think that that's what's important, to really talk about what's happening."
Graham's new book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, is now available online and in bookstores nationwide.
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