I've always been vaguely aware of the fact that Sports Illustrated released a swim issue every year. Until about two years ago, I couldn't have told you what month this happened in — nor, to be honest, could I have told you exactly what the magazine did content-wise during the rest of the year. Then, in 2015, SI included plus size model Robyn Lawley in their "rookie class" of models for the issue. Even though Lawley is traditionally stunning by any definition, I (and other women) was kinda excited to see her spread.
In 2016, SI, which previously filled its pages primarily with models who conformed to a thin, white, long-haired standard of beauty, continued its slow addition of more diversity: Curve model Ashley Graham and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey got spreads in the mag, plus an ad for Swimsuits For All that featured Graham, 56-year-old model Nicola Griffin, and curve model Philomena Kwao ran alongside all the traditional, bikini photos. It almost felt like the publication was shifting its focus away from the male gaze and onto the female one, even if Swimsuits For All was a paid advertisement rather than an editorial choice.
And then this year, SI hit us with what, in my opinion, is their most exciting swim spread yet. Yes, we still got the traditionally pretty, blonde, straight-sized Kate Upton on the cover. But we also got a cast of models that includes Graham, Lawley (again — get it, girl), tennis players Serena Williams and Genie Bouchard, 63-year-old Christie Brinkley (alongside her daughters Alexa Rae Joel and Sailor Brinkley Cook), plus size models Myla Dalbesio and Hunter Grady (who, BTW, at approximately a size 22 is the largest woman ever featured in the issue... and she's wearing nothing but body paint), and gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. OK, Sports Illustrated. You have my GD attention, and I'm freaking hyped.
The editor of the issue, MJ Day, has been working for SI since 1998, but in her current position since 2014, according to Business Insider. In an interview with Motto, Day made it clear that diversity has been a casting priority for her team. “We’ve got moms, we’ve got 18-year-olds and we’ve got 63-year-olds. We’ve got curvy, we’ve got athletic, we’ve got short in stature and we’ve got six-foot-three,” Day told Motto. “We evolve like the rest of the world — and shame on us if we don’t.”
And that's what's got me so stoked about this issue. No, there still aren't women over size 22 in the spread. We've yet to see a woman with a disability make the cut, nor has the publication featured a transgender individual. It's not perfect, but in an age when other big media companies appear to be phoning this whole diversity thing in, it gets me a little giddy to see a magazine that's been previously criticized for objectifying women actually make an effort to listen to what women want to to see — to, as Day said, evolve and adapt as reader's minds become more open to diversity.
Seeing fashion brands co-opt diversity to sell ads and products isn't so surprising — it's just a different type of jumping on "trends" than we're used to. But for a magazine issue that has typically set the standard for what is considered "sexy" to recognize that there is more than one way to be hot AF feels more revolutionary. While outsiders can never truly determine your self worth, studies have shown that seeing someone who looks like you represented positively in media can create huge boosts in self esteem.
So well done, SI. I might even consider buying a print copy this year.