Margaret Eby
June 02, 2014 11:57 am

Like it or not, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover is one of the places of honor in the modeling industry. Kate Upton, Bar Refaeli, Heidi Klum, and even Beyonce have graced the issue’s cover. But to date, there has never been a plus-sized model in the coveted spot.

Enter bathing suit company Swimsuits for All, which called up Ralph Lauren plus-size representative Robyn Lawley, blogger Gabi Gregg, runway model Jada Sezer, and British model Shareefa J to show what this year’s cover would look like with plus-size women.

In the image, shot on a beach in Turks & Caicos, the curvy beauties line up to recreate the pose that Lily Aldridge, Nina Agdal, and Chrissy Teigen struck on the 2014 cover, each with their bare backs towards the camera, looking over their shoulders.

The result is striking. The women, who differ dramatically in size, all radiate confidence in their suits, and they look gorgeous. These are real women occupying the role usually reserved for an elite class of hyper-thin models, and they are killing it. It is a heartening sight. They are appropriating an image used to shame women of a larger size and occupying it fearlessly.

The company released an entire digital calendar of their shoot, free and accessible at their website, which celebrates curvier fashion models.

Whatever your feelings on the actual content of Sports Illustrated, it’s hard to deny that they’re one of the major contributors to what a beauty ideal of a woman in a swimsuit should look like.

Having women of different shapes on the cover of the magazine would be a real triumph. The models usually featured on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover are so uniformly tiny that Kate Upton, an incredibly trim lady, is sometimes thrown out as an example of size diversity because she is a little shapelier than the average featured model. (People, she has boobs. That does not make her plus-sized.)

Size diversity in modeling may seem like a small piece of the pie when it comes to larger issues of body acceptance, but it reflects a way of thinking that’s narrow-minded, and unfortunately, influential for many young women.

“I think it’s sad that representative of women in mainstream culture are usually so small because we have such a diversity of sizes in the real world,” Gregg, a size 18, said in a behind-the-scenes video for Swimsuits for All.

“What I think that happens is that so many women see those girls and they think they have to look to them,” she continued. “I know that plus-size models and bloggers like myself are really helping change that.”

(Photos via Swimsuits for All, Sports Illustrated)

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