Martha Stewart and Megan Fox are two of Sports Illustrated's cover models for the swimsuit edition.
Screenshot from YouTube (left), Screenshot from YouTube (right)

There Are 'No Limitations' For an SI Swimsuit Model—As Long As They're Sexy

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has overtaken the headlines by announcing its latest swimsuit cover models. The time-honored tradition of Sports Illustrated unveiling its cover models was met with widespread applause for its attempt at inclusion. It's official: Martha Stewart, Megan Fox, Kim Petras and Brooks Nader will be gracing the covers of the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

"There is no theme [to this year's issue] — rather, there is a vision, a sentiment, a hope that women can live in a world where they feel no limitations, internally or externally. But the absence of a theme is not to say that [these women] don't share certain common traits. They're constantly evolving," SI Swimsuit Editor-in-Chief MJ Day said.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has continued to lean more toward diversity and inclusion in recent years. And this year, the magazine's swimsuit cover models make swimwear sexy at any age.

Martha Stewart will be the oldest model in history to grace the cover. She's truly an 81-year-old icon.

Megan Fox may look as if she was born to grace the Sports Illustrated cover, but the star is also a proudly outspoken bi icon, actress and mother.

In an American climate hell-bent on ostracizing the trans community, Kim Petras — the groundbreaking artist and the first transgender woman to win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance — sparkles for Sports Illustrated's coveted cover.

And then there's repeat Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Brooks Nader, a sultry reminder of the power that the swimsuit issue holds. Nader has used the notoriety of the swim issue to build her own brand and achieve success.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is being widely praised for putting the  81-year-old Snoop Dogg bestie on the cover. It's undeniable that Martha Stewart is a true national treasure and a shining example of perseverance, strength, talent, unrelenting work ethic and joy. She radiates beautifully in her photos for the Sports Illustrated cover; and as odd as it may be to say Stewart is a swimsuit cover model, she slays the task.

However, as you scroll through the images of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, one thought does creep in: These women are all incredibly beautiful in the traditional societal ways we were taught since childhood.

Listen, I get it: People have been drooling over the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue since its inception in 1964. And there have been many things we can credit to the renowned swimsuit issue other than getting its readers excited, such as validating the bikini as a legitimate piece of clothing.

But we can also criticize the magazine for many things, and not just for making women feel like crap about their bodies. It took Sports Illustrated 32 years to put a black woman on the cover; Tyra Banks broke that glass ceiling in 1996. It took the publication even longer, a whopping 52 years, to put a "curve model," Ashley Graham — aka a woman whose dress size reflects that of the majority of women in America — on the cover.

Do the women gracing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue this year represent a wide range of ages, lifestyles and accomplishments? Yes. But, most notably to the team behind the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, do these 2023 swimsuit cover models this year look sexy? Yes, obviously.

Would Stewart be put on the cover if she wasn't a stunning blond white woman who doesn't look a day close to 81? Would Fox be on the cover if she wasn't dripping with a worldwide sex appeal that captivates both men and women? Would Petras be on the cover if she looked less womanly?

It's an issue meant to sell sex, not empowerment — let's call it what it is. As young women scroll through the full list of the 28 women lining the pages of the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the message is blatantly clear: To be sexy and desirable, there are certain assets you should have, and none of them is of the brainy variety.

Sure, sexy women in swimwear are appealing to look at. You don't have to be a teenage boy to see that. I'm simply suggesting we stop putting stock in the archaic, patriarchal obsession with women's bodies. It's 2023. Do we really need to continue subliminally telling young girls where their value lies? I'd hoped we were past force-feeding girls and women the idea that they should obsess about how they look in a bikini. If we want true representation, let's see some C-section scars, cellulite, flat chests, flat butts, and curves, not just where Sir Mix-A-Lot likes them. Give me Lizzo on the cover or any woman whose breasts don't give her back pain.

I think it's beautiful to celebrate Stewart. She's an absolute inspiration. And it's true: She's incandescent in her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model shots. All four women light up their photos, and I find no fault in their achievements or beauty. Get it, girls. However, I do wonder if maybe we shouldn't be patting Sports Illustrated on the back for putting a gorgeous and wildly successful 81-year-old woman on the cover as if they're doing her some sort of favor.

People such as Holly Thomas, a clinical researcher and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, understand the weight the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has on a woman's view of beauty.

"It's different than if she was appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress. ... The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue holds a special place in the American psyche with regards to beauty ideals," she told Yahoo News.

Therein lies the problem: What message are we sending to women and men about beauty ideals?

There are 81-year-old women across the globe who are worthy enough to be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. There are curvy women, curveless women, able-bodied women, disabled women, and women of every race, religion, nationality and likeness who are worthy to rock a swimsuit on the cover of a magazine. Do you know how I know? Because every woman alive is worthy to feel sexy in their swimsuit. Are you alive? Do you have a swimsuit on? If you answered yes to those two questions, then you, too, are worthy.

Let's celebrate the incredible lives of this year's 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover models, but let's also remember not to hold ourselves or the women in our lives to these airbrushed standards. We can't all be Megan Fox or Martha Stewart. You're beautiful, sexy and worthy, no matter how much you look like the women spread across the swimsuit issue pages of Sports Illustrated — and don't you forget it.

MORE: Angel Reese Makes Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Debut: 'I Embrace My Body'