This story was written by Gabrielle Olya and originally appeared on People.com.
Before meeting her husband Justin Ervin, Ashley Graham did not have the healthiest relationships with men.
“My first boyfriend and I were together for three months, until he said, ‘I have to break up with you because you won’t have sex with me. And I’m afraid you’re going to be as fat as my mom,’” the model and body positive activist, 29, writes in her upcoming book A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, excerpted by Glamour. “Thus started a pattern of going out with anyone who thought I was hot; I lost my virginity to a guy I barely knew because he gave me compliments.”
Ashley met Justin while volunteering at her church in New York City. For the first time, she felt a real connection with someone that was not based on the physical.
“All I wanted to do was keep talking to Justin,” she writes. “The consistency and openness was so new it felt weird. […] My romance with Justin was innocent and sweet. We went rollerblading and biking; we did karaoke, went to the movies, took an improv class together. Because we weren’t sleeping together — for Justin, abstinence was a firm commitment to his faith — we never tempted ourselves by going over to each other’s apartments late at night.”
Eventually she brought Justin home to meet her family in Nebraska, and hoped they would be accepting of him. However, things didn’t go so smoothly.
“I never told my grandparents that the man I was bringing home was black,” writes Ashley. “I naively hoped everyone would be color-blind — which is not what happened. When my grandparents met Justin, my grandmother was cordial but cold. She greeted him and immediately walked away. When it came time for them to leave, my grandparents didn’t even acknowledge him. I had never seen my loving, hardworking and wonderful grandma be so hurtful and so racist. I was in shock.”
Fortunately, Justin took the interaction in stride, and eventually won Ashley's grandmother over by calling her to wish her a happy sixtieth wedding anniversary.
“He’s not a texter or an emailer; he’s a pick-up-the-phone-and-call-you person, and anniversaries are a big deal to him,” she writes. “Afterward Grandma called my mom and said, ‘You’ll never guess who called me.’ And from then on out, she loved him.”
Ashley credits her husband’s openness and willingness to communicate with the success of their marriage.
“Thanks to Justin’s constant communication, I envisioned a marriage that was more than just two people loving each other,” she writes. “And now we have that marriage: a partnership dedicated to building something bigger than ourselves.”
BONUS: See all of Ashley's stunning photos from SI Swimsuit 2017!