Flipping through popular magazines and gazing up at the sky-high billboards that line America’s highways, it’s evident that our favorite fashion brands are making strides to become more size-inclusive in not only their clothing but their ad campaigns. For many, these instances feel not quite like a breath of fresh air and not quite like a sigh of relief, but a middle ground of comfort and content now that the biggest designers are finally telling consumers that there isn’t one perfect size deserving of certain clothes or styles. Fashion is truly for anyone and everyone who wants to dress to impress. It’s been a long journey to get here and one that is far from over, but looking at how far we’ve come, it’s important to highlight those who have made size inclusivity possible. Ashley Alexiss is one of the women who has paved the way for the plus-sized community. Apart from working with Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and being easily found on websites like PrettyLittleThing and Fashion Nova, Alexiss runs her own swimsuit line that is authentically made for every woman. We got to sit down with her and unveil how the model feels about her impact, the world of body image now, and how to be successful in the modeling industry.
As we begin to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is heading back to in-person jobs. But being a model means shoots, hair, and makeup, as well as teams of people fretting over getting the perfect shots. Ashley Alexiss considers herself lucky, saying work never stopped for her thanks to the at-home studio she and her husband built. With a work ethic like hers, it’s no surprise the model is continuing to make an impact. Regardless of how many magazines she’s on the cover of, Alexiss remains humble about the representations she provides the plus-size community with, saying, “It’s weird to think I’m a part of that because I’m just a little human trying to live out a dream. I remember being a little girl and wondering why there was no one who looked like me. It’s more of a humbling thing, and it pushes me to work harder. I am constantly traveling, and I have started to get burnt out more easily. But it reminds me, ‘This is why you’ve got to keep going. People need this type of representation, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ It’s humbling and special; there’s not a word to describe it.”
The lifespan of size inclusivity is limited, meaning that in her career, Ashley has had to deal with pressures different from what a model considered “standard” in the industry would have to deal with. “You can’t win,” Ashley begins, “There are articles saying, ‘We need to stop showing women with flat stomachs!’ and they’ll use my photos. Or there will be times where I’m on a health kick, and I have people telling me, ‘I thought you loved your body; why do you want to change it?’ It’s a constant losing battle.”
Now that plus-sized options have finally become permanent fixtures in many brands, speculation on the actual term has come up. Many worry that adjectives such as “plus” or “curve” continue to marginalize a community based on their size. What better person to ask than a model who has been placed under that title her entire career? Ashley answers simply, “There are bigger problems in the world. People are so caught up in labels, and they’re grasping at straws. I don’t care. It is what it is. When you get an A+, it’s a good thing; plus is the opposite of negative!” Alexiss doesn’t sweat the small stuff and can separate bigger issues from less important matters, something we could all use a little more of in a world that continues to find a comfortable way of achieving political correctness.
Social media is a big part of Ashley Alexiss’ brand, but it isn’t how she started out. When she was 15, Ashley was given a choice by her mother to either enroll in the Miss Teen Massachusetts Pageant or have a Sweet 16 party. It’s safe to say that missing out on the coming of age party was worth it. She ended up winning Miss Congeniality, a win that required a mandatory photoshoot. Growing up, Alexiss had hated getting her picture taken. As the date for the photoshoot grew closer, Ashley’s mom began to worry about the possible outcome of her unenthusiastic daughter’s attitude toward posing for the camera. In an unexpected turn of events, Ashley Alexiss recalls feeling “totally liberated” by the experience. It wasn’t until 17-year-old Ashley moved out to California for college that she started to book more gigs. Entering a Playboy social media contest in 2011, she ended up winning a spot for the month of February, “That’s really when I started exploring the world of lingerie, and that led me to more shoots with lingerie wholesalers.” In fact, Ashley was one of the first curve models to ever shoot lingerie. Many companies ended up modeling their plus-sized collection based on Alexiss’ physique. If you thought it couldn’t get more impressive, she did all of that without a manager or agent. “Everything I’ve done has been because of myself and my consistent drive and passion for what I do,” Alexiss tells us. If there is one person who can confidently say they are self-made, it’s Ashley. While she admits that her path to where she is now could have been quicker with the help of a manager or agent, she’d gladly take her own creative freedom in exchange for more bookings. “I don’t look at the word ‘no’ as a negative anymore,” Ashley admits, “I look at it as an opportunity to do better and grow.”
Once she found her passion, the model understood how to use social media as a tool to grow. “I’ve been doing social media since I was about 15. I had little photoshoots in my bedroom with my fan and my little leopard digital camera,” she laughs, “But I just really love meeting new people from all over the world, and the fact that social media gave me that ability was like, ‘Okay, I’m getting into this.’” She describes her digital community as a “tight-knit family,” saying, “I promised myself that I was either going to be 100% professional or 100% open. I figured let's be 100% open. So no matter what I go through, whether it's good, bad, or ugly, it doesn't matter. I'm open about it on social media. And when I have my bad days, I cannot tell you how many times a follower has picked me up or vice versa. Some of my best friends come from social media. I just spent the weekend in North Carolina with a friend that I've been friends with for 11 years, and we met because of Facebook. There are so many great things about it. Yes, it's great for some money-making tools, but that always comes secondary to me because I think that there's so much positive that can come out of it. It's something that a lot of people don't focus on anymore because of all the toxicity in social media as well. But it has really been great for me. I tried to find the silver lining and just wrote anything. Social media has given me everything that I have.”
Dealing with online criticism is standard practice for all successful models, but adding the adjective “plus-size” in front of the word “model” created even more chaos in the comments. Ashley does try to let the positive feedback outweigh the hate she receives. Growing up being bullied helped prepare her for what she faces now, “I’ve been called just about everything. Being bullied builds thick skin. There’s nothing anyone can say to me anymore that surprises me.” While in the moment it can be hard to understand why someone may be attacking you, Ashley says, “They have more pain in them than they can give to you. You have to look at it as something to pity and wish them well. It’s difficult, but once you start to feel bad for them rather than feeling anger, you have a nice clear path. It’s never you; it’s always that person.” Although she has her methods to blocking out hate, no one is completely immune to the toxic effects words can have on a person.
“I struggle with anxiety and depression, and I’m open about it because that’s life. Sometimes people catch me on my bad days [on social media], and I just have to take a step back and then remember why I was doing this in the first place.”
Becoming a pioneer in the modeling world was not always a title Ashley had under her belt. Recalling her first modeling gig, Alexiss says she was paid $200 for an 8-hour shoot, which at the time she thought was “the best thing ever!” While some poked fun at Ashley for her career choice, the people closest to her supported her, “My friends would always tell me, ‘Do whatever makes you happy.’” We have the uplifting energy of Ashley’s loved ones to thank for the model who represents so many women today. While “successful” is the easiest and most fitting adjective to describe Ashley Alexiss, she struggles with feeling like she’s made it, “I’m still not there yet. When you get to that point, that’s when you start becoming comfortable, and that means you’re not gonna try as hard. I think I’m doing well, but I could be doing better.”
If repping some of the most popular brands of today wasn’t enough for you, check out Alexiss Swimwear. Owned and created by the model herself, the inclusive swimwear brand makes clothes for women, no matter what their size is. It is the most inclusive swimwear brand in the U.S., but its popularity does not get in the way of its connection with buyers. What sets apart Alexiss Swimwear from leading retailers, who have just recently added plus sizes, is the desire for representation over the attempt to make money. Ashley’s goal was to create a brand for women that made them feel confident and sexy in the same suit as a woman who is a completely different size. Despite her busy schedule, Ashley Alexiss is as hands-on as possible with her brand. She explains her design process saying, “I literally have my customers in a group on Facebook, I'm like, ‘What do you want? What don't you have? Tell me what you want.’ And that's kind of what has been our success. Our brand is the customer.” While many women keep coming back for more, describing Alexiss swimwear fans as just buyers doesn’t feel right, taking into account how much they are a part of the process. In a Facebook group of loyal customers, Ashley will fill them in on what’s going through her head and the designs that are being put together to make sure that she is still catering to what women want.
In a world where everyone is expected to share at least some part of their lives on social media, politics are often a common factor that many discuss through their personal accounts. Ashley Alexiss is no stranger to being outspoken on her beliefs, “I’m technically an influencer. And if you're not going to use your platform for your values and what you believe in, then what the hell are you influencing?” In June of 2020, Ashley lost close to 100,000 followers on her platforms for condemning racism in America. While this would send some into a frenzy, Alexiss shrugs it off, saying, “The trash takes itself out.”
Body inclusivity is becoming more widespread, but women everywhere still feel the need to cover their curves because of societal standards that seem to be set in stone. Ashley says that if you feel like covering up, “Ask yourself if anyone’s opinions pay your bills or not. Then wear that bikini, or wear that lingerie.” She proclaims, “There are women that message me and say, ‘I saw you do it, and I did it. I’ve never felt better, and I wish that I could get back the time that I didn’t do it.’ It’s like going on a roller coaster you’re really afraid of. Once you go on, you want to go again and again and again! I can’t give you the advice to make you feel better about yourself; that has to come from within. But what I can tell you is that if you just rip the bandaid off, then at least you’ll know how you really feel about yourself.”
When asked if she has any advice for aspiring models, Alexiss responds, “Research, research, research! There are so many people that are trying to take advantage of unknown models. I’ve luckily only had one or two instances in my career, but I’ve heard awful things about models being coerced by photographers or signing their life away. Protect yourself.” Having been a new model not too long ago, Ashley Alexiss admits she would have some words of advice for her younger self, “I wish I knew how to take care of myself the way I do now.” The model reflects on her starting years, admitting that navigating social media and industry rejection was heart-breaking, “You aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay because it just means that there’s something better.” Considering the Sports Illustrated Swim Week Fashion Show in 2019 to be a major career milestone, Ashley isn’t afraid to talk about the flip side of it all. “There are plenty of times where I’ve been told ‘no.’ Not only am I plus-sized, I am short as hell! I am very vertically challenged. I am only 5’4”. Well, I'm actually 5’3”, but I say I'm 5’4” because it helps. ‘You're short, and you're fat,’ that's basically what I've been told. Actually, I'm the average woman.” As companies start to cater more toward a larger audience of women, Ashley’s former setbacks launched her forward through career milestones that take others decades to accomplish. “All those ‘no’s are coming back as paychecks, so I’m not too mad about it.”
Clicking on her Instagram profile, Ashley Alexiss can be found strutting her stuff and grinning her gorgeous smile at the camera with often cheeky captions, but she isn’t afraid to admit that she feels the same insecurities, just like the rest of us,
“I’m human! Of course, there are photos that are out there that I absolutely loathe. There are photos I go and untag myself from, and any human who says they don’t feel like that has the nose of Pinnochio! Some clients just care about how the garment looks. I’ll have half an eye closed, but as long as the garment looks good, they go with it!”
She advocates that not liking a photo of yourself has nothing to do with confidence or personal worth, saying that it’s just part of who you are, “You can’t force someone to feel a certain way; we need to acknowledge their feelings.”
In a world where everyone has the option to tune up their looks before hitting the post button, there is a constant argument on whether or not the normalization of Photoshop is harmful. As someone who gets photographed and usually then altered for a living, Ashley Alexiss strongly feels that it’s up to the viewer’s discretion to realize that social media isn’t reality. “Facetune, Photoshop, guess what? I’ve done it! Guess what? Most photos of me have it! It’s not in control because they’re professional photos. I don’t have a say. But do I care? Not really because I understand that what you see online and what you see in the media is not reality. When people accept that, then they’re just going to realize it is what it is.” Lately, there has been a rise in celebrity Photoshop pages that work to expose hidden photo changes or plastic surgery through before and after shots of Instagram influencers. Alexiss calls it B.S., “Don’t get me wrong, I’ll share photos without any makeup, but these pages that think they’re doing people a favor. They’re saying it’s okay to bully these people who have work done or use Photoshop and pull apart their character and who they are. I understand the point of it is to show that Instagram is not reality, but there’s a better way to do it than allowing people to say whatever they want.” Getting the reminder that just because someone is in the public eye doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to basic respect is something that most people need to hear.
Hopefully, in a few years, billboards and magazine spreads featuring models of all sizes will be considered standard practice. As we wait for that day to come, it’s important that we appreciate and continue to give platforms to icons like Ashley Alexiss, whose confidence and work ethic show that being a certain size is not an obstacle but a beautiful reminder that we are uniquely crafted to be exactly who we are.
Just For Fun
What is your favorite modeling memory?
“Walking the Sports Illustrated Runway during Miami Swimweek in my own swimwear.”
What is your favorite brand?
“I don’t really have a favorite brand, but with shoes, I’m a Louboutin girl; that’s how I’ll reward myself. Usually, I’m in Amazon sweats.”
What is your favorite song?
“Bittersweet Symphony by The Verb.”
What is your favorite movie?
What is your favorite beauty product?
Where is your favorite place that you have traveled to?
“South Africa by far. There is just a total out-of-body experience when you are cruising around at 6 am and have breakfast with a pride of lions. I’m obsessed with penguins, and they have a whole beach called Penguin Beach!”
What is your average fitness routine?
“Basically running from gate to gate at the airport, that’s all my body can handle, going back and forth from jobs.”