The media was in a tizzy when Sports Illustrated featured its oldest model in the 2016 Swimsuit Issue. Model Nicola Griffin, 56, made her debut appearance in Swimsuitsforall’s ad campaign and looked absolutely fierce in a sexy gold bikini. According to Refinery29, the model said before the day of the shoot, she had actually never worn a bikini, as she was too self-conscious of her soft stomach that differs from the washboard abs used in typical swimwear ads.
When I heard of Sports Illustrated’s push to diversify its models, I thought it was wonderful. However, I was wary of the fact that these unique models are almost never the cover stars and are always in the ad campaigns, keeping their involvement in the modeling industry rare. And although I truly endorse Griffin and think variation in the magazine is a wonderful improvement, I could not help think that it would be more wonderful if a model like Griffin got to be on the cover. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a woman at any age and with any shape could be on the cover without holding herself to the standards of such an industry? Wouldn’t that be all the more progressive?
The bikini gods must have heard me, because it was announced Sunday that the plus-size model Ashley Graham would grace one of the coveted cover slots on the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Graham, a famous Lane Bryant lingerie model, is known for her beyond perfect face and curvy body. She looks like a mix of Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, ramped up to 100.
In the past few years, there has been a powerful push for women to love their natural shapes, whatever they may be. During my time at The Daily Free Now, I have covered a handful of such pieces. But this is different. This is something new. A plus-size women not only graces the cover of the sexiest magazine issue of the year, but then a few pages into the magazine, there is another plus-sized, older model. When covering body positivity pieces in the past, I always speculated why loving yourself and owning your body was such an outlier, why we were so shocked every time a photo was not retouched or a plus-size women declared her beauty or an older woman proved herself sexy, why being yourself was a newsworthy event.
I used to think these ads were trying to force the natural sexy look, because in the fashion and model industry, there had been only one “look” for so long that to even consider another “look” made the headlines. Now, I am truly starting to believe that all these varied looks are what people want to see. We are paying for diversity. The ad campaigns are not forcing their way onto the scene, they are being invited. We, as readers and the viewership, are expecting more than the one blond, thin, young, 20-something that we have been ingesting for decades. We understand the many faces and bodies of sexy. And we have Ashley Graham and Nicola Griffin to thank for it.