The Story Behind the Famous SI Swimsuit Photo of Ronda Rousey in Tiger Body Paint
The UFC fighter was featured on the cover of the 2016 Swimsuit Issue.
The body painting feature was a beloved staple of the SI Swimsuit edition for over a decade, first introduced in the 1999 issue. Behind the stunning artistry was none other than New Zealand-born makeup artist Joanne Gair, a legend in the field of body painting.
Gair’s illustrious career in body painting goes back years prior to her work with SI Swimsuit. She started her career primarily as a makeup artist, working with celebrities such as Cindy Crawford and Christina Aguilera, and even serving as Madonna’s personal makeup artist during her Blonde Ambition Tour in 1990. However, Gair became even more popular for her body painting work. Her famous Vanity Fair cover featuring Demi Moore in 1992 put her on the map as one of the world’s top body painters.
SI Swimsuit commissioned her work in 1999, and Gair quickly became a fixture of the magazine, dazzling readers with her incredible art through the 2016 issue. When asked about how women prepare for the body painting process, Gair offered some insights: “I need all the hair follicles removed as best they can; otherwise, it gets done on the day. Hair follicles only show when you start airbrushing. Even if you think you have none, as soon as you blow air on the skin, the follicles stand up, and you can see them because they get coated with color. So you need to make sure that’s not there because, with high definition, you’re going to see everything — and I mean everything.”
One of Gair’s favorite works was the tiger she painted on Ronda Rousey for the 2016 issue. Rousey made her SI Swimsuit debut in 2015 and returned the following year to land a spot on the coveted cover. In 2016, Frederic Pinet photographed Rousey in Petit St. Vincent. Rousey gained fame for her success in UFC, following her bronze medal win in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“I had never painted a tiger before,” Gair said of the design inspired by We Are Handsome. “I had never painted an animal before — and it was so appropriate for her personality. The cover one was a great success; it was lovely to do as well, but the tiger one was very Ronda. She wore it so well, she loved it. It was called ‘The Fighter.’”