Episode 32

Ashley Graham

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… ASHLEY GRAHAM

Show Notes (click to expand)

In the Fall of 2016, when I was working at Bare Necessities, I had the privilege of spending the day with Ashley Graham when she came to shoot a video for her new lingerie line. That day in one word for me: INSPIRING.

Now…if you don’t know who Ashley Graham is, then you will by the end of this episode.

Let me share a few things worth noting about this body-positivity activist. She has almost 12 million Instagram followers. I have 1,520. Clearly I have some work to do. She designs lingerie (for Addition Elle), swimwear (for Swimsuits For All) and clothing (for brands like Elle, Pretty Little Thing and Marina Rinaldi). However, while building her empire, the one thing she is most passionate about is fighting for size INCLUSIVITY on and off the runway… 

…And her voice  has now become a pretty big deal! For example, she posts unedited, unretouched photos of herself on Instagram, especially during her pregnancy and post-partum recovery. She refuses to be retouched in photo shoots and has been vocal about designers who fail to cater to a wide range of clothing sizes. She also rejects the phrase “plus-size,” arguing that it’s outdated and divisive to women…and we discussed this in great detail when I was with Ashley and the body-positive style bloggers who joined us for lunch…and I have to tell you, listening to all their perspectives really opened my eyes to the impact labels have on people’s emotional, psychological and social well-being…and since that day, I’ve learned the importance of stopping to think and listen more before I speak. We all need to do more of this. It’s really powerful.

Ashley’s 2015 TED Talk, “Plus-size? More like my size” received over 4 million views. She authored the 2017 memoir, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, and now hosts her own podcast called Pretty Big Deal, for which Ashley has interviewed the likes of Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, and Serena Williams, the kind of women she believes are a pretty big deal…and I definitely concur!

Now to understand why Ashley Graham is on this mission to achieve size INCLUSUVITY, I want to share a bit about her rise in the modeling world, so you can experience how this force-to-be- reckoned-with is making her mark. Her modelling career started out with fashion editorials, ad campaigns, and a few runway shows…

…and then in 2010, her Lane Bryant commercial sparked controversy because she was a bigger-busted woman modelling lingerie – and the ad was actually banned for being ‘too racy’, despite Victoria’s Secret and other brands still being able to run similar ads using ‘straight size’ women. 

Now this brought a few issues to light, like the fact that society naturally sexualizes larger breasts (and therefore puts more arbitrary rules on them) and that the average woman doesn’t get to see her size represented in the fashion industry across the globe.

Oh boy, this didn’t stop the AG…

She finally got to attend the Met Gala for the first time in 2017, in a custom gown made by H&M. Now normally this wouldn’t be a pretty big deal. However, Ashley was actually invited to the 2016 event, but no designer wanted to dress her because of her size.

Here’s a new flash…those days are now O-VERRR…

In 2019, while walking the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival for the very first time, Ashley Graham said the following:

“I feel like every time I walk the runway I’m just reminding people and showcasing that beauty comes in all different sizes! 

I could imagine her saying this and oh yes it does…

…and you know the world is taking notice when the Billion $$ Barbie franchise comes knocking on your door. Mattel approached Ashley with an offer she couldn’t refuse: they wanted to make a Barbie doll that looked just like her. Since 2015, Mattel has been producing an annual ‘Sheroes’ Barbie doll line to honor courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before. Past honorees included director Ava DuVernay, actress Zendaya Coleman, gymnast Gabby Douglas, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, aviator Amelia Earhart and ballerina Misty Copeland.

Ashley applauded the move towards diverse, body-positive dolls, especially since the Barbie brand has been accused of pushing impossible beauty standards on impressionable young girls for decades. 

Ashley did accept the offer, but she had a few non-negotiables: the doll couldn’t have a thigh gap (just like the real Ashley), and the doll should have cellulite. Mattel happily complied with the first request (no thigh gap), but designing plastic to look like cellulite was a tough task that didn’t work out.

In the end, Ashley was thrilled with the doll’s full figure, round stomach, and powerful thighs. Her doll was revealed at Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards in 2018, while she was being honored…

…and as a side note, I attended the Glamour Women of the Year Awards for many years and even sat two rows in front of Ashley and her husband Justin in 2017. You bet I said hello to her. However, I definitely was not a pretty big deal to her…I’m over it!

So there you have it! This supermodel has become one of the most important figures in the industry for her relentless body-positive messaging and activism around INCLUSIVITY. She now gives millions of women (and men – don’t forget us!) the license to embrace their bodies, drown out the haters and change the conversation by moving beyond size! 


After our video shoot ended and I walked Ashley out to her Uber, I remember thinking, as she was driving away:

“This sassy, authentic, disruptive force-to-be-reckoned-with deserves every bit of success coming her way.”

Little did I know that one week later, Ashley would make history, and change the face of the modeling industry, by becoming the first curvy woman to ever appear on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I call that a pretty big deal.

Brah-voooo to Ashley Graham for fueling a movement that promotes INCLUSIVITY by shattering accepted standards, so all body types are celebrated!

I’ll end by saying this…INCLUSIVITY is how Ashley Graham is able to Stand-out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words SCORE…

I’m Rich Keller, the CATALYST, and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect.

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