Why The 'SI' Swimsuit Issue Editor Welcomes Criticism About Kate Upton's Covers — EXCLUSIVE

Sports Illustrated

The inside of this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue features the most diverse group of models for the magazine ever. The images  highlight varied and powerful bodies like that of Serena Williams, Hunter McGrady, Robyn Lawley, and Simone Biles. All three covers, however, belong to supermodel Kate Upton who, yes, is stunning... but still a thin, blonde white woman. In an interview about the issue, SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day tells me that she's aware of the criticism Upton's covers are getting and, actually — she's happy about it.

"Kate [Upton], when she was on her first cover [in 2012] — people straight up called her fat. With this issue, people are coming after SI saying, 'Oh you're all about body diversity, but why is Kate Upton on the cover again?'" Day says. "I love that, because you know what that means? It means we have come so far in just five years."

Day, who has been the Senior Editor of the SI swim issue for five years (and working at the magazine for almost 20), also thinks that Upton is very deserving of those three covers. In fact, Day tells me she's endlessly impressed with the impact the three-time SI cover star has made on the overall industry.

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Day mentions that a handful of curve models like Robyn Lawley have praised Upton as someone "who sort of turned the tides for them in the industry." Day says, "It was like 'People clearly don't like one body type.' It's obvious and evident, it's now confirmed."

As Upton told Glamour in October 2016, when she first started modeling (in 2008), she was constantly told to lose weight. "At first I tried to diet to become their image, but eventually I realized that it wasn't realistic—that this is just the shape of my body," Upton told the magazine. While her SI covers in 2012 and 2013 were met with some criticism, they also ultimately catapulted her popularity in the industry, and paved the way for even more body diversity, according to Day.

All that is to say: There was a time when Upton's body type was diverse in modeling. And that now, for many, it's simply not diverse enough.

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"Someone who was once fat shamed for being curvy is now widely accepted as the norm [in modeling] and that, to me, signifies progress. I'm so happy. I'm like 'Come after me about that,' because that means we've changed things," Day says. "And that's exciting for me as a woman, and as an editor."

Day says her goal as editor has always been to showcase different body types — something that has been more obvious since 2016 when three different models with three different body types (Ashley Graham, Ronda Rousey, and Hailey Clauson) each had a Swimsuit Issue cover. Despite Upton's three covers, the inside of the 2017 edition is reflective of what Day says is her ultimate goal.

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When Day took over as Senior Editor in 2011, the Swimsuit Issue was featuring a variety of models, but no one that really broke the mold of what's been traditionally considered sexy. "To evolve, we would need to be inclusive. I didn't think it was representative of what the public wanted or was interested in just to have one very specific body type in the issue. But it was also how I very much felt as a woman," Day says of her initiatives at the magazine. "It's silly to say that, 'OK, you have to look this way and if you look this way, then that will be what everyone wants.' That's just not the case."

Day knows that there is no one "good" or "right" type of body, and she wants the pages of SI to reflect that — as both a woman, and an editor.

"There are many, many, many different body types that exist out there that are equally deserving of celebration and of respect and of the public embracing it — and people personally embracing it," Day says. "So we [SI] should be there. We should encourage that. We should support that."