Ashley Graham and Naomi Campbell Both Got Rejected For This Coveted Magazine Cover; Campbell Said She Felt an ‘Inferiority’

Naomi Campbell and Ashley Graham are two of the world’s most influential supermodels. In the 1980s and ’90s, Campbell made waves as the first Black model to have her kind of status and became known for her signature runway walk. Graham has broken barriers as a plus-size model on the cover of seemingly every magazine. Both have built large empires extending from TV and entertainment to clothing.

Naomi Campbell on a runway, smiling
Naomi Campbell | Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell and Ashley Graham both have a few ‘firsts’

They’re from two different generations of models, and Campbell hails from the original era of the “supermodel.” But despite Graham starting her career almost two decades after Campbell, they both shattered glass ceilings in the industry and both became “firsts.”

Campbell made history in 1988 when she became the first Black model on the cover of French Vogue at just 18 years old. In 1991, she became the first Black model on the cover of Time magazine. For many years, she was the only Black model of her stature in the industry.

As a plus-size model, Graham has also busted down doors in the modeling industry. But Graham’s most historic achievement almost didn’t come to be.

Ashley Graham attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2019 | Theo Wargo/WireImage

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Naomi Campbell and Ashley Graham both got rejected for a highly coveted magazine

In April of 2020, three months after giving birth to her son Isaac, Graham spoke with Campbell on her web series No Filter with Naomi about her career and much more. Campbell asked Graham about being on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

“I didn’t even think of Sports Illustrated as being an option for someone like me, because I am a size 14/16. I have cellulite. I have back fat. My arms are round. I have a lower belly fat,” Graham said. “I don’t think I look bad. I think I look great. But there’s never been a girl that looks like me in that magazine.”

Graham decided to try out because of the changing tides in the industry and didn’t get in. Campbell said she’s not alone in that either: “Same for me!”

“I felt a slight pressure about the Sports Illustrated [swimsuit issue],” Campbell added. “I’ve never had big boobs… I felt like I really was not the Sports Illustrated type of model at all, so I really felt this inferiority towards it.”

Ashley Graham in front of a red velvet curtain
Ashley Graham | Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell and Ashley Graham eventually became ‘Sports Illustrated’ models

Graham tried out again and was accepted as a model for a Sports Illustrated. In 2016, she broke an important barrier: she was the first plus-size model to ever appear on the cover of the magazine’s swimsuit issue.

Campbell eventually appeared in the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in 1992 and 1997, but never got a cover herself. So the longtime model commended Graham for being the trailblazer that she is.