Why Ashley Graham Loved Hosting HGTV’s ‘Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge’

'Somebody’s going to want to buy the house like this!' she exclaimed. Is that someone in the room with us now, Ashley?

1 September 2023

If Ashley Graham leading HGTV’s all-star roster of contestants through their creation of a life-size, fully-functional Barbie Dreamhouse reminds you of a gleeful girl hosting her friends (and sharing all her favorite toys) at a slumber party, there’s good reason for that — and we’re not just talking about her marabou-trimmed, electric-pink pajama set.

The supermodel and body activist has a unique connection to Barbie, and what went down behind the scenes of this once-in-a-lifetime makeover made it even more special.

Work at the Dreamhouse was a Lovefest

When the contestants arrived, they were as thrilled to see Ashley as she was to see them. “I love that she was chosen as the host because she represents today’s woman, and it’s super cool,” said Married to Real Estate’s Egypt Sherrod, who stepped up with her husband and partner Mike Jackson for the first round of competition.

Luxe for Less’s Anthony Elle had a pure style moment with Ashley: “I thought [you were] going to be pretty and beautiful and perfect, but damn, you’re gorgeous,” he told her. “Let me go put on a lash!”

Ashley was also thrilled to see guest judge and designer Christian Siriano, who has collaborated with her in the human-scale fashion world and created red-carpet looks for Barbie. “Christian’s never made me feel like I have to fit in to something,” she explained. “He’s always made me feel like I already am something, and I think that’s how he’s going to make each of the contestants feel, too.”

Ashley and Barbie Go Way, Way Back

Ashley remembers playing with her aunt’s old-school vintage Barbies when she herself was a child. “Would I have looked at my body differently if I were playing with Barbies that looked like me? Would I have accepted my thighs and my round arms and my round stomach a little bit more? Probably,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

In January of 2016, Mattel announced an expansion of its “Fashionistas” line to include Barbies with tall, curvy and petite body types for the very first time, and Ashley praised them for that progress. Mattel was listening, and the company promptly asked her to help create a special-edition Ashley Graham Barbie.

“I got to go to the Mattel headquarters and actually pick out her hair, the shape of her eyes and her lips, and her nose,” Ashley recalls. She even has wider hips than the OG Barbie, and she has a little lower belly fat.” One more key detail: “She had to have her thighs touch. No ands, ifs or buts about it, she recalls. “It was important that the Barbie resembled me as much as possible. The thighs touching was one way to show young girls that it’s OK for your thighs to touch, despite society saying that a ‘thigh gap’ is more beautiful.”

Ashley-the-Barbie wears a look inspired by an Ashley-the-woman red-carpet appearance, including a form-fitting Opening Ceremony dress, a Sonia Rykiel cropped denim jacket and Pierre Hardy boots. To say that the two are close is the understatement of the year.

Ashley Feels Right at Home at Barbie’s Place

Ashley tasked the HGTV Barbie Dreamhouse contestants with creating features that are “toyetic.” She told them, “Every Dreamhouse has those playful toy-like elements. They can be a surprise or dual-purpose. You need to create at least one of them in your spaces, so let your imaginations run wild.” Since Ashley inspired a Barbie — one with a doll-sized version of the Glamour Woman of the Year award she won in 2016, no less — she’s got a pretty solid understanding of the toyetic vibe.

Which is not to say she was prepared for what she saw in the finished house, mind you. “I didn’t know what I was going to walk into, but I’m glad I walked into this,” she said.

On the kitchen: “I’m obsessed with this color palette, too. This is above and beyond. This is … I was not prepared!”

On the primary bath: “You’re joking! This is freakin’ cool.”

On the primary closet: [Wordless screaming.]

On the primary closet, II: “This is exactly how I want my closet to look. This is exactly what a girl would want her closet to look like.”

Ashley Graham: Perfect Host, Not-so-Perfect Judge

“It’s a hard life being Barbie: All this hair and makeup, these high heels,” Ashley joked. (In fact, she had a three-person glam squad for the show, including her hair and makeup artists and a stylist who toted around multiple shades of pink thread 24/7, to be ready for any and all fashion situations.) “I’ve had so much fun hosting this show, because I love Barbie.” Her playful pointers for hosts-to-be: “Have fun, smile, fake it ‘til you make it, and make sure the mic’s on.”

She’s well aware that she’s not the woman for the job when it comes to rendering a verdict at the finale. “This is going to be really hard for all the judges,” she said. “I don’t know how they’re going to actually make a decision at the end of the day. Somebody’s going to want to buy the house like this!

The four-part Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge special premiered on HGTV July 16 and is available to stream on discovery+. Keep up with all things Barbie Dreamhouse at HGTV.co.uk/Barbie.

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