That saying “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” has taken on a whole new meaning with the news that Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Swimsuit Edition will feature models that have never before been seen in its iconic pages. Supermodel Ashley Graham, who has become one of the most outspoken body advocates in the industry has officially become the largest model, at size 16, to be featured on an SI Swimsuit Edition cover.
This year’s issue actually featured 3 different covers, one with Ashley, another with UFC champ Ronda Rousey, and another model Hailey Clauson. While we wish Ashley had the one and only cover, as it would REALLY make a statement that all bodies are good bodies, we can clearly see the old status quo on women’s bodies slowly being chipped away.
In a Facebook post sharing her badass cover, Ashley said she was speechless at her major fashion industry accomplishment, not for herself, but for all women.
“This cover is for every woman who felt like she wasn’t beautiful enough because of her size. You can do and achieve anything you put your mind to,” she expressed to her fans.
In another interview with the New York Daily News about her historic cover, Ashley expands on the sentiment, saying she takes her role model status seriously.
“It doesn’t matter what size you are or how old you are. Ads tell you that you have to be thin. The word ‘perfect’ goes around. It’s draining…I call myself a body activist for a reason…Girls are told ‘watch what you do, watch what you say’. My body isn’t what is called ‘perfect’. I say embrace your curves.” said Ashley.
This edition of a major publication is yet another marker in the road to change within fashion and beauty. Yes, the status quo is still very much around, but it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the movement that is pushing the need for diversity and inclusion for all bodies.
This isn’t the first time Ashley has appeared in the magazine. In 2015, she was featured in an advertisement for Swimsuits For All swimwear brand. 2015 was also the year when model Robyn Lawley was on the cover, and although she has had a successful career modeling for plus size ranges, Ashley’s curvy body on the cover is a signal that Sports Illustrated are starting to take notice of the billion-dollar plus size clothing market.
While Robyn is a size 12 (it is frustrating that a size 12 woman would be considered when in real life the average size of an American woman in between size 12-14), Ashley is a size 16 which leaves no doubt who the magazine was targeting as well as including in their body message.
A Swimsuits For All advertisement was once again featured in SI, and this is where they made history a second time. One of the models featured was 56 year old Nicola Griffin who is reportedly the oldest woman to grace the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
Nicole told Mic.com in an interview that she is proud to show her body on behalf of all the other older women and mothers out there who are continually left out of the mainstream beauty messages and campaigns.
“I hope that my presence in #SwimSexy will make the public think about how society has determined what makes someone beautiful and sexy. Rarely do you see older women in fashion campaigns, and I am pleased that #SwimSexy shows people that women of all shapes, ages and walks of life are gorgeous,” she said.
Another win for the Swimsuits For All advertisement was the inclusion of black plus size British-Ghanaian model Philomena Kwao who only recently moved to New York for her career and expressed that never in a million years did she think she would see herself in such a magazine.
“In Ghana, most of the women I know do not identify as sexy, and the reason may be cultural. With imported beauty standards from the West, it seems that many African women feel they need to be fair and slim to be beautiful. I hope this campaign in Sports Illustrated will change that,” she told Mic.com.
“I want young girls to look at the campaign and see confidence. We are bigger girls than the standard swimsuit models, but here we are wearing bikinis. We aren’t covered up and we’re happy. I’m especially excited for young black girls who are also curvier to see the campaign, as the fashion industry has been slow to showcase curvy models of color,” she continued.
All three women agree that change is coming and they are more than happy to be part of it. Ashley expressed how she wished she could see the amazing diverse bodies that are finally being featured in major fashion campaigns and publications. She was part of the controversial Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign, and is also part of their latest ‘This Body’ campaign, featuring some familiar faces like Tara Lynna and Denise Bidot, who made history in 2014 by becoming the first plus size Latina woman to open and close a straight-sized runway show at New York Fashion Week.
Fittingly, in an interview with Refinery29 about the campaign, Ashley said she believes her body was made the way it is to “start a revolution”.
“I realized I could use my career as a model to create change and disrupt the fashion industry, so I started calling myself a ‘body activist’ to help redefine society’s definitions of beauty,” she said.
The body revolution has well and truly begun and we aren’t ashamed to say we get incredibly happy whenever we see a woman taking ownership of her own image (as opposed to society directing her as to how she should be) and disrupting the norms in order to make all women’s bodies feel like they belong.
Watch Ashley, Nicole, and Philomena give advice to their younger selves as well as all the young women out there who are struggling with body images issues today: