NEW YORK, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Ashley Graham says it took years to build up her self-confidence.
The 28-year-old model and body-positive activist admitted in the October issue of Self magazine that she used to be "so insecure" as a teen and during her early career.
"I always felt second best. I was never the prettiest, never the skinniest, never the fastest in my sports. Never the smartest, because I have dyslexia. Then, all of a sudden, people were like, 'You're gorgeous.' And I was like, 'What?'" Graham recalled.
"It was a dark place [early on]," she confessed. "I [would look] at myself in the mirror and say, 'I hate you. You're so gross.' I'm looking at my cellulite and my back fat and thinking, 'I have to go shoot lingerie tomorrow and smile, and I am heinous.'"
Graham initially signed with Wilhelmina Models in 2001 before joining Ford Models in 2003. Her poor self-esteem permeated all aspects of her life, including relationships with "all the wrong men," before she was able to turn her thought process around.
"I was looking in the mirror, crying, and I just started saying 'I love you,'" the model said. "We've been taught to say negative things to ourselves -- to pinch our fat and be like, 'One day it'll leave.' To say 'Sorry' when someone bumps into us. So I decided to break that cycle.'"
"It didn't happen overnight," she admitted. "I had to realize that if I didn't really love who I was and if I couldn't appreciate this -- my body -- as my moneymaker, then I wasn't going to make any money."
Graham today is known for her modeling work with Sports Illustrated, Lane Bryant and swimsuitsforall. She recently sat front row at Christian Siriano's New York Fashion Week show, which featured five plus-size models.
"I think everything in his collection is absolutely fabulous, but the number one reason that I love him is he's incorporating size diversity," the model told The Hollywood Reporter prior to the event.
"I feel that he's doing it effortlessly and also consciously, because this is the future of fashion. There's no one standard of beauty anymore. So bravo," she lauded.