Their criticism didn't slow Graham's skyrocketing career. This week, she became the first plus-size model to be featured on the cover of Maxim, posed with only a white button-down shirt draped against her body. Tagline: "Natural beauty turned brand builder."
Again, there was an immediate backlash — but this time, much of the criticism came from Graham's fans and followers. They're complaining she looked too perfect, a little too airbrushed — and not enough like her real, size-16 self.
"Maxim obviously edited her photo to make her appear slimmer," said one commenter, viewing the new cover via Graham's Instagram account (1.5 million followers). "Her arm is usually bigger than that in her other photos."
"Natural beauty???? You mean photoshopped beauty," said another.
"She looks tiny on this cover," said one follower, adding a frowny emoji.
"That is unfortunate after everything you stand for Ashley," said another fan. "Your curves are gorgeous and Maxim should not have minimize (sic) who you are. . . shame on them!"
The fashion photographer who shot the cover art, Gilles Bensimon, soon jumped into the fray to defend his work. He told a fan on Graham's Instagram page that the magazine hadn't slimmed her down "at all." On his own page, he offered a slightly more ambiguous denial: "In fact (almost no photoshop) sorry to disappoint you," he told a commenter.
As the photo spread across social media, more voices joined the chorus of those who claimed the landmark cover wasn't such a landmark after all. Some noted that while Graham certainly weighs more than most of the other women featured in Maxim, that isn't exactly saying much.
Ashley Graham is the “safe” version of fat people, they won’t put anyone bigger than her on a magazine cover for a looooong time.— Jenna Talia (@MafiosoRo) March 29, 2016
In a statement Wednesday, Graham echoed Bensimon's assertion that her body had not been altered in the cover photo.
"I'm beyond proud to be the first curvy woman on the cover of Maxim," she said. "I was not slimmed down on the cover, and Gilles Bensimon did an amazing job capturing my true figure in all of the photos. This is another major advancement for curvy women, especially those who work in the fashion industry who are working hard to get the recognition they deserve."
Graham has previously said that she's okay with being Photoshopped — to a certain degree.
"I believe in a little bit, but when you're reconstructing my body, when you're reshaping my hips and my thighs and you're taking certain cellulite away. . . don't do that, because the customer realizes and the girl who follows me realizes it's just overdone," she told Entertainment Tonight. "There is a tasteful way to do it."
Graham has said she's well aware that her high profile makes her a role model to other young women.
"Girls who are insecure about their bodies, girls who feel fat, girls who have cellulite, girls who have stretch marks on their body — those are all the things that I had as a kid and I never had a woman like me growing up to look at," Graham told People magazine after her Sports Illustrated shoot. "I want to dedicate it to all of the women out there who never felt that they were beautiful enough, who never felt like they were skinny enough, and who never felt like they were going to be able to be represented in society like this. Because now we're being represented."
But in the wake of her recent Maxim spread, not everyone agrees.