How Ashley Graham and Christie Brinkley Are Changing What a “Bikini Body” Looks Like

Is Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue on its way to becoming a feminist publication?

Ashley Graham has become a beacon of body positivity throughout her career, but a new ad for her capsule collection with Swimsuits For All is pushing the boundaries of diversity and redefining sexiness in all its forms. Shot on the cobblestone streets and sandy beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the ad appears smack in the center of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue—a publication that for all intensive purposes subjected scantily clad women to a primarily male gaze for the past 53 years. But things seems to be shifting at the glossy and companies like Swimsuits For All are finally redefining what a bikini body really looks like in a landscape laser-focused on thinness and youth. 

Last year, Graham became the first plus-size model to ever cover SI’s coveted swimsuit issue, and in 2017 she’s breaking new ground by appearing alongside real women of all ages, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes—a new move for the pioneering swimwear brand. “We wanted real women,” said Sara Mitzner, creative director of Swimsuits For All. “We wanted it to be real and authentic, to show that these women really look great in a swimsuit.” And that includes casting 80-year-old abuelas who have no reservations about sporting a leopard-print maillot or bikini alongside a supermodel. “Using “real”  people to sell goods and send a strong message is a strategy many fashion designers—like Demna Gvasalia, Rick Owens, and even Dolce & Gabbana—have wised up to recently. It’s a tactic that allows shoppers to easily identify with the women featured and imagine themselves in the clothes, ultimately leading to more sales.

But commerce aside, promoting body positivity and female power in unexpected places (like a bikini ad or Sports Illustrated) is undoubtedly refreshing—especially under a political administration that threatens women’s rights, views pussy grabbing as locker room banter, and places a woman’s value on her appearance (“Believe me, she would not be my first choice, said Trump of 74-year-old Jessica Leeds, one of many women who came forward accusing the President of sexual assault). “For a long time, sexiness was about exclusivity. We are saying the opposite of that,” explained Mitzner. “It’s about inclusivity and changing that conversation.”

And changing the conversation is exactly what SI seems to be doing as well, so much so that we’re wondering if this publication that once objectified women is now treading into feminist territory. This year, the iconic 63-year-old Christie Brinkley posed proudly in a bikini alongside her two daughters, Alexa Ray Joel (31) and Sailor Brinkley Cook (18). “In a country that’s very ageist, people love to put you in little boxes,” Brinkley told People. “Women feel very limited by their numbers. On a personal level, I thought, if I can pull this off, I think it will help redefine those numbers and remove some of the fear of aging.” Graham echoed Brinkley’s sentiments in a recent interview with Fashion Unfiltered: “I want to inspire women to be confident in their own skin. If I can walk the runway in lingerie with my cellulite showing, I want you to feel as though you can do the same!” she told us. Even Playboy has pushed for a more positive portrayal of women’s bodies by eliminating nudes and airbrushing from its pages (Dree Hemingway, the magazine’s first non-nude Playmate, referred to her appearance as “empowering.”)

While there’s still a long way to go in terms of abolishing female stereotypes and proving to the world that women, as Brinkley notes, “do not come with an expiration date” or a weight limit, perhaps the courage to shatter that proverbial glass ceiling is found, as J.R.R. Tolkiens writes in The Return of the King, “in unlikely places.” Perhaps the granddaughter of one of the models in Graham’s Swimsuits For All campaigns summed it up best on Instagram: “My new motto in life: If my eighty-year-old grandmother can model with Ashley Graham, I can do anything I dream of!!!! #myabuelitaisbetterthanyours #fierceasfuck.” 

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