Exclusive: This Boundary-Breaking Brand is Bringing Diversity to SI’s Swimsuit Issue (Finally!)
You can always count on Sport Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue to get lots of attention thanks to its scantily-clad (and often body-painted) models. Last year, there was even more buzz due to SI’s inclusion of Robyn Lawley, the first plus-size model to appear in its pages. But when flipping through the issue, many people passed right over Lawley’s lithe figure, and assumed that the plus-size model garnering the attention was Ashley Graham, featured in Swimsuitforall’s #CurvesInBikinis advertisement. That one advertisement whipped up so much excitement, it’s not surprising that Swimsuitsforall has another curvy campaign in the 2016 edition. But this time, they’re not content with just pushing body boundaries, as evident in their inclusion of mature model Nicola Griffin, who at 56 is the oldest woman to appear on the pages of the Swimsuit Issue.
This groundbreaking three-page campaign also stars plus-size models Philomena Kwao and Graham. All three unique women are decked out in glittering gold bikinis, proving that beauty has no age or size limits. We talked with the silver-haired Nicola Griffin and President & CEO of Swimsuitsforall Moshe Laniado about the boundary-breaking campaign, how every body is a bikini body, and what this advertisement might signify for the future of diversity and body acceptance.
Yahoo Style: I’m sure you’re excited about the campaign coming out — it’s a tremendous moment for all women, because it’s probably one of the most diverse spreads that’s ever been in Sports Illustrated.
Nicola Griffin: Oh I can’t wait! It’s beyond exciting, I can’t believe it, it’s amazing!
YS: Why did you decide to get into modeling?
NG: I was approached in the bank by this lady who asked me to model my hair for this local shampoo company. So I went to do it, and that led onto another job, and that led to going with an agent, and it was the perfect time because my twins were leaving home to go to Uni and this whole new career just arrived at exactly the same time. It was a wonderful coincidence.
YS: Why did you decide to embrace your gray hair?
NG: I had an early menopause, and my dark hair started to go gray, and when I colored it, it looked so awful. I couldn’t face another episode in the hairdresser’s chair, pay lots of money to sit there for three or four hours, to end up looking dreadful! And I thought, I can’t do it anymore, so I won’t be a slave to my hair anymore. I’ll let it do whatever it wants.
YS: I think that’s a wonderful lesson too, the fact that you decided to embrace yourself and that led to you having this new career.
NG: That’s right, amazing! I never expected that to happen, it just did.
YS: Do you view yourself as a boundary-breaker?
NG: Yes, I do now. My mother, when she was my age, she was like a little old lady…I think differently now, and I feel younger, I don’t see being 56 as old. I don’t feel old. I do feel like an activist really, for women in their fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, they can look wonderful, feel wonderful, and it’s not like a stigma, being old.
YS: And I always wonder why there’s so much emphasis focused on women’s age, even over men’s. Why do you think there’s so much weight put on age for women?
NG: Because, I think men, sometimes they get better-looking as they get older, which is very fortunate for them. Women always get crucified, because your body changes and you haven’t got the body of a twenty-year-old anymore. But what I want is for women of my age group is to embrace what they’ve got and be happy with what they have got…you are the way you are. I haven’t got a flat stomach because I had a cesarian and because I’m 56! I’m not aspiring to have a flat stomach. I am happy with my stomach, I am happy with my scars, it’s absolutely fine.
YS: It’s so wonderful that you have this confidence. Unfortunately, not everyone feels so good about themselves; what advice would you give to women who feel they can’t wear a bikini?
NG: I think anyone, any age woman can wear a bikini. I’ve got good bits, I’ve got bad bits. It doesn’t matter if you are small and round or tall and curvy. Just put it on and be the best you can. Some people have these weight issues and they want to be smaller but they should just try to embrace what they already have. I think too many people try to be totally different.
YS: What do you think it will take for Sports Illustrated to have women like you, Ashley, and Philomena in their magazine and not just in an ad?
NG: I think it all starts with the advertising agencies that want to promote these young, skinny girls and they put them in these magazines. So I suppose it is down to the editor to say something like, actually we are going to do a spread on older women. I think this is the first time they had a woman of 56 in there. Maybe this is the beginning. Sometimes change takes a long time, but I think we have made wonderful progress with the advertising people.
YS: What made you decide to have all three of these models involved in this campaign instead of just focusing on Ashley again?
Moshe Laniado, President & CEO of Swimsuitsforall: I take it you saw all of the uproar that happened last year with our ad. When we thought about it, what really caused all that attention to go on, it really wasn’t just the fact that it was a curvy girl in that issue, it was that we were redefining what sexy in a swimsuit means. Sports Illustrated had established an archtype about what sexy in a swimsuit means for decades and we came out and challenged that. We thought about how we could continue to do that, and we feel that this year’s campaign is very much doing that. We’re talking about different girls of different shapes, but also different ages. That is another thing that isn’t talked about and is also very much true to who we are as a company and the customers we serve.
YS: Who do you hope to impact with this campaign?
ML: I would say it is probably two-fold. First off, we want to impact women. Women all over the world and throughout our country, about what it means to feel beautiful and sexy in general, and more specifically in a swimsuit. The other part of it is mainstream culture in general which is why we chose Sports Illustrated magazine to do it in. It really is a pop culture moment in mainstream culture where people are looking all the time. If we can not just affect women and how they think about themselves, if we can affect mainstream culture in general, I think the two will work off each other even better, and we’d be looking at a much happier, healthier, and sexier feeling woman.
YS: Did you encounter any challenges when you were creating this ad?
ML: Getting three beautiful, but very different and unique women, at the same time to exude the same level of sexiness in one campaign was definitely part of the challenge. I would say that Nicola, who is our silver haired bikini model, actually turned out to be a really photogenic and professional model. That really helped out a lot, but getting them to all feel the same mood to get cohesiveness in the ad was part of the challenge.
YS: When you reached out to Sports Illustrated, did they have any pushback based on last year, or were they excited about working with you again?
ML: They were quite supportive. I think that they’re understanding that we are talking about a turning point in culture and in women’s body confidence and take on themselves. I think that they realized that we hit a nerve with last year’s campaign and they didn’t want to hold that back.
YS: I can only hope that they will take a note from your book and actually have more body diversity in their magazine in the future.
ML: That is part of the goal too. It isn’t just about our women or our customers. It is about the world in general, mainstream media and mainstream culture. If they catch on to this and they start including curvier, different shapes, sizes, and ages of models I think we will all be better off.