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When the words ‘Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition’ are uttered, many women have the immediate response to suck in their stomachs and begin listing all the reasons why they could never pose in a bikini. Just us? Probably not. While this year’s annual special edition features no shortage of beautiful women with mainstream media-friendly body proportions and barely-there swimsuits, the magazine is also changing things up. Some models are posing naked in SI’s most empowering spread yet.

For the first time in SI history, an all-female crew photographed 10 models sans bathing suits. The women, made up of plus sized models, athletes, returning cover models (including women over 50), and models new to the SI world posed naked with words of empowerment chosen by them painted on their body for the In Her Own Words shoot. Even better? SI featured black and white, in-studio, untouched photos. Hashtag no filter.

Many of the women submitted essays to accompany the In Her Own Words photo shoot. Plus-sized model Hunter McGrady writes about finding common ground with the other women participating. “All different sizes, all different walks of life, all different ages, all different experiences, and all talking about the one thing we had in common – The pressure we felt by society to change and fit the norm,” writes McGrady. “The first word I wrote on my body was ‘worthy,’ which means ‘having or showing the qualities or abilities that merit recognition in a specified way.’ I genuinely believe that we are ALL worthy of feeling this way regardless of the way we look.”

Paulina Porizkova was 18 when she was selected for the cover of the 1984 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Now at 52, Porizkova said she often has nightmares about being on the cover and no longer looking young, a fear that she’s now overcome thanks to the photoshoot. “Women of all different sizes and ages, naked, their skin shouting words they wanted the world to see. Fierce. Human. Lover. Real. Mother. Optimist. Genuine. Strong,” writes Porizkova. “None of it was sexy or coy, just vulnerable and honest. The beauty lay not in the perfection of the bodies, quite the contrary, it was in the confidence and bravery it took to reveal their imperfections.”

US Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who has become as well known for her double back handspring as she has for speaking out against disgraced US Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser, shared her photo along with a powerful message on Instagram.


Of course, this doesn’t mean the swimsuit issue is totally swimsuit free. The magazine is making history in another way with their latest issue featuring Danielle Herrington as this year’s cover model for the highly coveted swimsuit issue. Herrington is only the third black woman to appear on the famous swimsuit issue, following in the sandy footsteps of Tyra Banks in 1997 and Beyoncé in 2005.

With Herrington as only the third black woman to grace the swimsuit issue, the magazine obviously still has a long way to go in representation, but this year’s inclusion of athletes, plus-sized models and models over age 50 is a start.