How Ashley Graham Tuned Out Her Dad's Awful Criticism & Loved Her Body Anyway


J. Webber / Splash News

If you're wondering how Ashley Graham grew up to exude the kind of body confidence that comes screaming out of her photos on the covers of magazines, her childhood has a lot to do with it. But the first plus-size model to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition has made no bones about how hard it was growing up with a dad who put her down.

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Graham has been making the media rounds promoting her new book, A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, and she's speaking out about the cruel things her father used to say when she was a kid. Among them? 

Duh. 

As in the mocking noise grade-school kids tend to use to make other kids feel bad about their intelligence ... and the nickname she says her dad had for her because "he didn't think [she] was very smart."

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"The worst I ever felt in my entire career was when, a few years into my career, my dad agreed with my new agent, who said I needed to 'tighten up,'" Graham writes in her book. "I was sobbing because my dad thought I should lose weight."

It's not easy to get past that kind of thing, specifically when it's a parent making the comments. Scientists have found that girls labeled fat by parents at a young age are more likely to be obese later in life than girls who get the label slapped on them by teachers or friends. Not surprisingly, the studies have shown emotional and psychological effects too. 

Parents are supposed to be kids' first cheerleaders, the people who make them feel like they can do and be anything. Even when they step in with criticism to help shape kids, parents are supposed to be constructive rather than reductive. 

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Graham father's treatment has apparently helped shape who she will be as a parent, because she tells Good Morning America that she wants to give better to her kids than she got. In a society that's finally starting to come to terms with the idea that some parents are simply toxic, and more people are coming out of the shadows to admit that they've cut off ties with bad parents or at least refuse to take their abuse anymore, Graham's comments are inspiring.

She's showing that there's no reason to sit back and take it. You can defy the people who try to make you feel like you are less or that your body is less because it doesn't fit their ideals. 

Fortunately, Graham did have at least one role model who gave her positive examples on how to talk to and about your kids, a model who helped her become the fierce woman she is today. 

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The model was her mom, who did the exact opposite of her dad -- focusing on body positivity not only for Graham but for herself as well. Graham's mom did what an increasing number of researchers have been advising moms do: She kept mum about her own body in front of her daughter. Today Graham calls her mom her best friend. 

It's a good reminder for every parent out there: What you say matters. Yes, what Graham's dad said hurt her. But what her mom said helped build her up and counteract the damages being done by one parent's cutting remarks. 

Every positive thing we say, be it to our kids or to other people in general, can make a difference. Sometimes we don't even realize just how much a difference we need to make. 

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