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Model Ashley Graham and Sports Illustrated have had a couple firsts together. Last year, she was part of the first plus-sized ad campaign in the magazine ever. This year, Graham is the first true plus-sized model the magazine has ever anointed a "Sports Illustrated Rookie." (Last year, SI considered Robin Lawley plus-size, a category she and much of the internet took issue with.) And now, Graham is the first plus-sized model to cover SI, as one of three covers.
Explaining SI's choice, assistant managing editor MJ Day praised Graham's confidence, a typical kudos bestowed on plus-sized women. As told to Day's own magazine, "Ashley commands your attention in her photographs, fully confident — as every woman should be — of her sexiness."
Day also hinted that SI is aware of public tone toward women and beauty standards, explaining how the magazine is pivoting to meet new expectations. "So how do you choose one?," she said. "The logical answer would be, Pick the most beautiful one. But what defines beauty today? The truth is, times have changed and one size does not fit all."
Graham expressed her excitement for the unprecedented cover on Instagram, saying, "This cover is for every woman who felt like she wasn't beautiful enough because of her size. You can do and achieve anything you put your mind to."
Three covers is also an SI first. The other two women honored include mixed martial artist champ Ronda Rousey and model Hailey Clauson, the one with a traditional bikini body in the magazine. Day described Clauson in a manner fit for rom-com, saying, "Hailey is the cool girl who doesn't even know how cool she really is. She's not only every man's dream but also every woman's ‘girl crush.'"
But wait, there's more: "She's goofy. She's smart. And she's completely humble. What's crazy is you don't even feel like she knows that when you're around her." Sign this one up to play opposite of one of the Ryans STAT.
Ronda got the body paint treatment, appearing in a tasteful acrylic one-piece, which was modeled after an actual bathing suit from Camilla. Day admitted to being so afraid of the fighter at first, but realizing she's actually really nice and didn't punch everyone in the face!
The editor explained, "This was my first time working with Ronda and I truly did not know what to expect. I was honesty really nervous going into it. Her public persona is that she's a fighter. She's tough and brutal in the ring."
Instead, she found a human woman, capable of human activity. "The reality is that once you get to know her, she's fascinating," Day said. "She's mesmerizing. And she's also equally feminine, warm, and relatable."
SI announced the three covers on-air during a one-hour live special hosted by Nick Cannon and Rebecca Romijn. It followed TNT's NBA All-Star Saturday Night. Watch it here.