Ashley Graham Dishes on Self-Tanner, Positive Mantras, Post-Baby Changes and More

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Ashley Graham Dishes on Self-Tanner, Positive Mantras, Post-Baby Changes and More featured image
Erin Baiano
This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

The supermodel, mother, entrepreneur, and now beautifully bronzed face of St.Tropez is on a mission to empower women around the world through body positivity, words of affirmation, and of course, unfiltered humor.

What was life like growing up for you?

“I grew up in Texas, Atlanta, Arkansas, New Hampshire and Nebraska—we moved around a lot. I was really into sports. I didn’t even know what fashion was, or what Vogue was. I’m 12 years old and I’m in a mall with my dad and someone comes up to me and asks me if I want to be a model, and I had no idea what that meant. I just knew he was basically telling me I was pretty, and I didn’t even really understand what that meant. That’s kind of how it all began. Once I actually stepped foot on set and understood that modeling could be so fun, and I could dance and be free and be myself, that was when I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do this…and I can get paid to do this? I don’t have to go to school!’” (laughs).

Did you have any beauty icons during this time?

“It’s so funny because growing up, the only poster I had in my room was of Marilyn Monroe. And she truly was one of the only curvy icons at the time. There was Jennifer Lopez who was just kind of getting into the mix when I was young, but Marilyn was somebody I looked up to, but I didn’t understand the complexity of why she was famous. I just knew she had this curvaceous body and so did I.”

Now you are also one of those icons for so many women. What does that feel like?

“First of all, I am honored to be in this role. I have worked hard to get to where I am. Blood, sweat and tears, but also every time I meet a new fan, it’s just the same feeling over and over again like, ‘Wow, this is so awesome, you can tell your story also.’ I really didn’t feel like anybody would listen to me when I was younger, and I hated my hips and my cellulite, and I didn’t know why I had cellulite on my arms and nobody else was talking about that. I’m doing what I’m doing because of the younger me. I want the younger mes to know they’re not alone.”

Do you have any personal mantras you use on days when you’re feeling off?

“Absolutely. I’m a huge believer of affirmations. Your words have power and they can either bring you death, or they can bring you life. So you have to be careful with how you talk to yourself, let alone to the outside world. Around 18 years old, I had to figure out what that was because I was on a spiral downfall. At the time, I had made my mantra ‘I am bold. I am brilliant. I am beautiful.’ I chose ‘bold’ because I needed to walk into situations knowing who I was and not allowing the world to tell me so. ‘Brilliant’ because I was diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia when I was in fourth grade and it was hovering over me for so long, like, ‘You can’t read, you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough.’ I had to take control of all the hate I kept in my head. And ‘beautiful’ because I’m in an industry where they’ll pick you apart and manipulate you from the top of your head to the tip of your toe, so I had to remind myself who I was. Affirmations are awkward as heck to do at first, but once you get the hang of it, they become a daily routine.”

Speaking of daily routines, how did your beauty regimen change when you were pregnant with Isaac?

“When I was pregnant, I was trying to be really careful with what I was using. I cut all retinols out; I tried to be a little bit more natural. And it was hard because sometimes you feel like the natural stuff doesn’t really work, or you just don’t know what is working because your hormones are all crazy. Then I had Isaac, and I felt so beautiful after he came out. My skin was beautiful, my lips were full and my hair was luxurious. And then four months post-partum, my hair fell out, I started getting rosacea on my cheeks, I got back acne, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, motherhood is ruining me!’ (laughs). I had to really figure out what was going on, so I asked my community. I started doing more red LED light therapy on my skin for the rosacea, I implemented a lot more hydrating products and I added a retinol into my routine. I also started using different serums for my hairline—I knew the fallout was kind of inevitable because I had heard about it from other mommies— and Kérastase Initialiste was really great for helping it come back. I still have these little baby bangs, but at least it’s coming back.”

Are there any skin-care products you’re loving right now?

“My facialist [Mzia Shiman] told me about the brand Environ and I had never actually heard of it until then. I looked at their social media and I was like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look trendy; it looks sciencey.’ As I’ve gotten older—I’m 33—I’m at the phase of my life where I need to start conserving what I have. In my 20s—I mean, I don’t know what I did in my 20s, but I wasn’t doing all the right things. I was using iS Clinical Active Serum religiously though, and I think that really kept the acne away. I had a six-month bout of acne and then I started using that and it all went away, thank god. Now it’s Environ, and the science proves how it can really affect your skin for the better.”

Erin Baiano

As far as your favorite body products go, I have a feeling self-tanner is a big one for you right?

“Yes! Having a little extra glow gives me a little extra confidence. I am so honored to be the new global brand ambassador for St.Tropez because I’ve been a fan of the brand for a very long time. In high school I tanned in the bed a lot and then I realized, bad girl, and I went straight into self-tanning because it’s healthier for me. St.Tropez makes products that are so easy to use with the best skin-care ingredients. The Ultimate Glow Kit we created together comes with a mitt and a mousse, and dries so fast, I can get into bed right after applying it without using tanning sheets, which can be gross. It also smells amazing, like an expensive vacation in a bottle—not at all like that bad self-tanner smell. When my husband comes over and gives me a hug and says, ‘Oh you smell good,’ you know we’re winning.”

Self-tanner can be so intimidating though. Do you have any tips for how to apply it?

“If I can do it, you can do it. Maybe that sounds cliché, but it’s so true. I’m not a makeup artist, I’m not a hairdresser, I’m not a self-tan artist. I’m just a regular chick who has learned along the way. You have to figure out what’s best for your skills and how you’re applying it. The skin prep is so important. A lot of people say not to use soap, but I like to use some kind of soap—something all-natural and super clean that doesn’t leave a residue behind. And I use an exfoliator hardcore everywhere, right before I do my tan or the day before. I do it really hard in my armpits, on my elbows and on my knees to get any excess skin off. Sometimes I’ll shave, sometimes I won’t—it really depends. Then when I get out of the shower, I lotion my hands, my feet, my elbows, and my knees, and I use a really generous amount. Then I apply the self-tanner. I’m right-handed, so I start with my left hand. I like to do the awkward side first because then I feel like I can at least make my mistakes, and then go back and fix them after I do the perfect side.”

How do you reach your back?

“For that upper-middle part of my back—the part you can’t get to unless you’re a yoga instructor—I spray the St.Tropez Face Purity Mist there. I also use it on my hands and feet. It’s meant for your face—and I do use it there—but I put it in all of those other places too. You know when you wash your face so much and your tan comes off and it’s not even with your chest? This spray is what keeps it up. I really like the way it smells too.”

How do you ensure your tan lasts?

“Whenever I’m going to shower the next morning after applying, I take a lukewarm shower instead of a really hot one because I feel like the steam can kind of manipulate the tan if you hop in right away. Keeping your skin hydrated is essential, too. Also, I know that the area under my boobs gets super sweaty, so I’ll do that spot last and then I’ll put paper towels under my boobs so I don’t get streaks on my tummy. That’s a good pro tip for anyone with saggy boobs. I also put baby powder under them and it sets everything in place.”

Have you had any self-tan blunders on set?

“I have had clients pay for a spray tan to be sent to my house before a shoot, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked like a sweet potato on set and had to have full-body makeup done to fix it. The palms of my hands have also looked really crazy before, which I why I always say using the mitt is so important!”

Do you ever do your own tan for a shoot? “

When I shot Sports Illustrated, even if you have a spray tan or self-tanner on, the night before you shoot, they have somebody come to your room and spray-tan you. Sometimes when you’re shooting and you’re on a beach, the sun and the ocean will brighten your skin, even if you’re super tan or super dark, so they double-time it.”

I’m sure you’re looking forward to normal shoots again. What’s next for you?

“So many things! I’m really excited about Season 4 of my podcast Pretty Big Deal. It’s my first baby and Isaac is my second (laughs). I really think of it as a masterclass for everything I want to learn, and I’m so grateful for the followers. I’m hopeful to start doing some in-person interviews again soon too because I really miss that human interaction. I think it’s going to be a really good year.”

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