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We Posed Like “Sports Illustrated” Swimsuit Cover Models And It Was Empowering

After years of admiring the models on the cover of Sports Illustrated, we decided to make ourselves into cover models.

Macey J. Foronda / Alice Mongkongllite

Every year, we admire the supermodels on the covers of Sports Illustrated. We grew up seeing these women on the cover, and sometimes wondered if these were the only types of bodies society would ever consider beautiful.

But this year, we decided to take things into our own hands and make ourselves into models. We think it’s very important for women of all different shapes, sizes, and colors to be represented and give an accurate depiction of what a beach body really is. Which, by the way, is just a body on a beach.

Check out the video of our experience here:

View this video on YouTube

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Sports Illustrated / Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

Growing up, I always thought Sports Illustrated models were beautiful and I kind of idolized them.* And when Ashley Graham was on one of this year's covers, I really came to terms with what it meant for women over a size 8. For once, someone around my size was not the funny, sassy sidekick to the leading woman. We were the star of the show — and we were sexy.

*This is usually the part where you say, "Well don't idolize them and stop being a baby!" and this is when I say, "Fuck you. You try not being influenced by beauty standards at an impressionable age."

Going into this I had really low expectations. Beach photo shoots are hard — there, I said it. There's a shit ton of sun, sand is everywhere, the poses are no bueno. Bikini models: mad respect, yo. This might be shocking but I know I'm not Kate Upton. So when I saw my photo I think I was pleasantly surprised. I usually wear one-pieces or high-waisted bottoms because of my stretch mark, but there it was, gleaming in the sun and I. Did. Not. Care. Plus, my boobs looked like they were defying gravity when usually they destroy string bikini tops as if they were Meryl with Oscar nominations.

Sports Illustrated/ Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

As a kid, I never saw myself represented in magazines, let alone on the covers of them. The first ~notable~ Asian-American model I’d ever seen in a magazine was Jarah Mariano. (She modeled for Victoria’s Secret and, coincidentally, also Sports Illustrated.) I can still remember that moment vividly: nerdy, no-boobs-havin’, teenaged Susan being like “FUCK YES, WE EXIST. THANK YOU FOR RECOGNIZING THAT ASIANS CAN BE HOT." Because up until that point, no one had ever told me that Asians could be hot.

During the shoot, I was surprised when it turned out to be a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated. I had to position my legs toward the ocean (which was freezing) while still facing the camera. I was told NOT to smile, which is pretty easy for me to do any other day. 🔪🔪 It was a lot of people giving me directions and looking at me, which I’m not used to! But I did feel pretty good about myself, not gonna lie. When I saw my final picture for the first time, my first thought was, Let me send this to my ex real quick. I dunno. It felt nice. I look good. 💅

Sports Illustrated / Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions have always been my vice. I would see them on the shelves in stores and sneak looks while my mom was getting groceries. I've always wanted to look like the models I see on the covers of magazines. It's not just their physiques — which are amazing — but their confidence. I wanted to wear a bikini and smile the way they smiled. I've always been self-conscious — who hasn't? — but more so recently due to some chronic health issues.

I wasn't thrilled about this shoot because I'd lost a lot of weight recently due to illness, and when I looked in a mirror the day of a shoot all I saw was a stick figure with no curves. I think sometimes people assume that certain body types are immune to self-esteem issues and that's just simply untrue. No one is immune to self-esteem issues. After seeing my picture, I was pleasantly surprised. I don't often see pictures of myself in a bikini, and I want to celebrate instead of criticize. But all I want to do with this picture is celebrate it...because I look damn good. I might frame it and put it in my house. 🔥

Sports Illustrated/ Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

If you put a bunch of Sports Illustrated models who have the same hair color in a lineup, I don't think I'd be able to tell them apart. It's like there's this bizarre unspoken belief that all people who are attracted to women are attracted to the same type of woman. And because this type of beautiful woman is SO ubiquitous in media, I think it's really easy to become desensitized to it. Which is so weird! These women represent such a tiny fraction of how all women appear, how could it ever be run-of-the-mill?

When I saw my final photo, my brain was screaming that I looked like a troll doll left to melt in a hot car. My body shape makes this a very unflattering pose for me, and FAR more nakedly sexual than I felt comfortable with. I was honestly shocked at how difficult it was not to be consumed with guilt and fear, which made me wonder how many other women have felt this way over a picture.

Sports Illustrated / Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

Going into this, I'd always thought of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers as an annual publication with gorgeous women with athletic and sexy bodies looking great on a tropical beach. Just how we'd all like to think we look on a summer vacation — but without the obligatory stylists, designers, and camera crew to make us look awesome! As a paraplegic woman I definitely don't see my myself represented on an Sports Illustrated cover, but then I don't see myself represented on any covers.

During the shoot, I had great fun with all the other girls — seriously, everyone should do this. The day was a lot of laughter interspersed with pouting and trying to cover our tits and ass up! And because I have no strength in my stomach muscles, the pose was actually very hard. When I saw my picture for the first time, I felt empowered. It's a strong image, my disability is front and center.

Sports Illustrated / Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

I don't think I've ever really seen myself fully represented on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers. There's only been a handful of women of color on these covers, and all the women tend to have a very similar body type: big boobs and flat stomachs. It usually makes me feel like I gotta work out more since clearly this is the only ideal body type, since it's the only one that's ever featured.

Going into the shoot, I felt very insecure about people seeing me in a skimpy bikini and was very worried about a nip slip. But despite how many seasons of America's Next Top Model I've binge-watched, I don't think I perfected the smize. When I saw my photo at first, I was a little disappointed. I can't say I truly love it, because in the back of my head all I see is Tyra Banks and her flat tummy and perfect curves. All I see in my photo is my lady lumps, which are less than lovely. I think if I saw this picture on its own, with no Tyra for context, I'd be able to believe I'm sexy. I know I shouldn't feel that way — but I do.

SHERIDAN: The other day I was in a spin class (yes, plus-size women exercise too, crazy I know!) and I saw another plus-size woman take off her shirt for the class. I saw this amazingly confident woman riding in the front row like a badass, and it inspired me to take off my shirt for the first time. Representation means a lot to women everywhere. When we see an image that somewhat reflects ourselves, it gives us the confidence and determination to live a life in which we don't hate our bodies. When we're proud of ourselves, great things can happen so all I hope is that Sports Illustrated continues to put diverse women — of all colors, shapes, and sizes — on the cover to show that beauty isn't one ideal. We're all coverworthy.

SUSAN: The experience was super feel-good and fun, but it's also been a thought-provoking experience. I hadn't realized this until after the photo shoot, but when you don't see yourself represented in magazines, what they're actually saying is, "You don't exist" or "You don't matter." And that can be damaging AF to young girls. Every woman deserves recognition and knowledge that she matters. The lack of representation, on top of the pressure to be "beautiful" and thin but also curvy in all the right places? Blehhhh. It's a miracle I survived those angst-y teenage years.

LARA: This experience overall was honestly amazing. Being surrounded by beautiful, strong women and showing off a body that it's taken years to be proud of was a religious experience. I'm sure there will be a time in my life again when I'm not so happy with how my body looks — but ultimately I've learned it's not how you look, it's how you feel. And I feel freaking great.

KRISTIN: This experience was eye-opening. I think we forget how high the stakes are for ANY woman photographed in a sexually suggestive pose — even if they have perfect bodies. A photo that could be on the cover of magazine might be grounds for another woman to be fired from her job. And when the sun eventually explodes and devours the earth, I don't think we want to go out as a species who made each other feel bad about bikini photos — so let's not be that way to each other.

SHANNON: I've been paralyzed since an accident 25 years ago and I had to learn to accept my new body. I had to accept that no amount of diet or exercise or plastic surgery can restore muscle tone that has faded away. On a good day, I celebrate my body for all the amazing things it does for me, mainly that it enables me to be independent. Since breaking my leg last year and being very dependent on others for six months, I value that even more. No, I'll never have a toned six-pack, or sexy calves, but fuck it. It's my body and it's served me damn well under some seriously challenging circumstances!

NINA: All in all, this experience was pretty eye-opening in just how bad I felt for showing off my body, for virtually no reason. Ultimately, Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers aren't selling sports, or health, or even athletes most of the time. They're selling sex and sexy ladies. But why does their idea of sexiness cover only a very specific body and skin type? I wish we could live in a world where institutions like Sports Illustrated could consider ALL of us to be sexy, because we ARE! All you really need to be hot is a bikini, a little body oil, and some fucking confidence.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed