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.