Martha Stewart is the oldest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model at 81. She's encouraging older women to 'look good, feel good.'

Martha Stewart is the oldest model to cover Sports Illustrated Swimsuit at 81 years old. (Photo: Ruven Afanador)
Martha Stewart is the oldest model to cover Sports Illustrated Swimsuit at 81 years old. (Photo: Ruven Afanador)

Martha Stewart is a woman of many talents. Now, she can add Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model to the list.

The 81-year-old is one of the latest cover stars on the iconic magazine's 2023 issue, stealing the title of the oldest to pose for the publication from Maye Musk, who appeared on the 2022 cover at age 74.

"Usually I'm motivated by pay. But this time I was motivated by showing people that a woman my age could still look good, feel good, be good," Stewart said in conversation with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. "I thought that this is kind of historic and that I better look really good."

Stewart makes history on the coveted cover spot. (Photo: Ruven Afanador / Sports Illustrated)
Stewart makes history on the coveted cover spot. (Photo: Ruven Afanador / Sports Illustrated)

While showing up as her best self might not seem like the biggest deal to Stewart — who previously told Yahoo Life that posing in nothing but an apron for a 2022 campaign didn't faze her "one iota" — her inclusion in the publication certainly is momentous.

"For midlife and older women, it will be empowering to see someone in their age group represented on the magazine stands, in the grocery store, you know, somewhere that everyone's coming to look," Holly Thomas, clinical researcher and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Yahoo Life. "It's different than if she was appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress. ... The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue holds a special place in the American psyche with regards to beauty ideals."

The power that the magazine yields is evident, according to Thomas, who reflected on different "milestone" moments that have challenged exclusionary ideals within the fashion and beauty industry. "It was a big deal when there was the first Black woman on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. I remember it was a big deal when they started having curvier women," she says.

That inclusion is an indication of evolving beauty standards.

"The covers of magazines are traditionally where we think we put our ideal woman, our ideal of what a beautiful woman should be," Thomas explains. "Over the past 5, 10 years people's standards of beauty are becoming more expansive. Hopefully, on the tails of that, we'll continue to see more age diversity in media and in portrayals of what we think of as beautiful women or women that should be admired."

MJ Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's editor in chief, says that's a goal for the magazine.

"While the industry wavers on its arbitrary notion of beauty, our issue has stayed the course, showcasing the women of today, the women shaping the future," she explains in a statement provided to Yahoo Life. "Martha Stewart is a legend. The definition of a great female entrepreneur who built a dynasty against insurmountable odds."

Now, with her appearance in a bathing suit at 81, Stewart will also serve as a recalibration to the assumptions that people have about women and their sexuality as they age.

"In our society, there's a popular conception of older adults, especially women, as asexual, as not interested in sex anymore. Or that older people's sexuality should be seen as a joke or gross or things like that," Thomas explains. "Then there's this tie between swimming attire and sexuality, the two just go together. Even a bathing suit where somebody's not showing that much skin, you know, can still be 'Oh, wow, you know, this is sexy.'"

Stewart herself hasn't been shy when it comes to expressing her desire to have a bit of sex appeal. "I think people like looking at pretty things, and if you feel pretty and can bare it all, do it," she shared for Yahoo Life's Unapologetically series.

Thomas explains Stewart isn't alone in feeling that way.

"Sex is a really important part of life for a lot of older adults. So, hopefully something like this may help sort of normalize that — that many older women still do feel sexy, want to feel sexy and are interested in presenting themselves that way," Thomas says.

And despite the belief that women experience "dissatisfaction with their bodies" as they age, Thomas's research proves that that isn't necessarily true.

"There are a lot of women who, as they get older, feel more comfortable in their body, more self-assured," she says. "There's also this phenomenon that their physical appearance becomes a less important component of their self perception and who they are. I can be judged on things besides just my physical appearance. I can be judged on the intelligence I've gained, the wisdom I've gained, things I've done in my career, roles I've played as being a mother or a grandmother, these types of things."

Embracing that evolution is top of mind for Stewart.

"My motto is, when you're through changing, you're through," she told the magazine.

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