Sports Illustrated brought inclusivity and diversity together Sunday night in a phenomenal finale catwalk show at W South Beach hotel during Paraiso‘s Miami Swim Week. Body positivity was a key theme for the show, bringing together women of all body types — including Paralympian snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, Sports Illustrated cover star Danielle Herrington, and even a model breastfeeding her baby while strutting the catwalk in a gold, glittery bikini.
The breastfeeding model, Mara Martin, was cast through Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s first-ever open casting call held in Miami over the weekend. Hundreds of aspiring models of all shapes and sizes and different ethnic backgrounds were encouraged to attend and were then selected by a team of expert panelists including Christie Brinkley, Kate Upton, Hunter McGrady, and Olivia Culpo.
Hundreds of guests gathered Sunday evening around the W South Beach pool to watch as Huckaby opened the show, baring her prosthetic leg, followed by models who proudly showed off their stretch marks, tattoos, cellulite, and curves. One improvement that could be made in the show’s casting would be the inclusion of models from a greater number of ethnic groups, such as Asians, who were notably absent from the cast.
Even so, the runway show marked a considerable step forward in emphasizing body positivity in the swimsuit market, which has trailed behind other areas in fashion. Over the past few years, Sports Illustrated has made strides toward inclusion, which culminated in the evening’s diverse runway representation.
“This year’s representation of models in the PARAISO fashion show was a continuation of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit messaging that diversity in beauty is very real and very important to represent. It’s something that we believe in passionately, and where better to celebrate that then on the runway in swimwear where it makes so much sense to our brand! We wanted the women watching this show or looking at the Cabana brands being worn on the runway to see themselves represented and hopefully make women out there feel a little more confident about who they are and feeling good in the skin they are in!,” says MJ Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor-in-chief to Yahoo Lifestyle.
In 2015, plus-size model Ashley Graham was the first curvy model to be featured in the magazine. Graham made SI history for a second time in 2016 when she was chosen to be on one of three covers for the magazine’s annual swimsuit issue.
In 2017, SI held its first-ever runway show during Miami Swim Week to launch its size-inclusive swim line. In 2018, Herrington made history as the third black model to be on an SI swimsuit cover, though this was met with some backlash from critics who felt the magazine was still sexualizing women even in the wake of the #MeToo movement. According to the Associated Press, “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day says that even though the issue was conceived and shot before the #MeToo movement heated up last fall, it’s about more than just women in swimsuits. Day says the magazine is ‘creating and giving platforms to these women’ and presenting them as multidimensional people.” The same issue featured a body-positive editorial spread with model McGrady, Olympian Aly Raisman, Robyn Lawley, and Sailor Brinkley Cook posing nude with words of affirmation such as “confidence” and “worthy” covering their bodies.
Sports Illustrated‘s pivot toward body positivity has been well received, as evidenced by the loud applause and cheers from the hundreds of guests in attendance as the models strutted the runway Sunday evening. The support continued on social media, with one Instagram user writing, “What you guys have done is so powerful. I applaud you in every way. I have to add this amazing company into my life,” and another person wrote, “Loving the diversity!!!! Thank youuuuu.”
As for the swimsuits themselves, the show featured an exhaustive list of more than 40 brands, including Stella McCartney and Jonathan Simkhai, that highlighted key fashion trends. Bikinis were styled with the fashionable Matrix-style tiny sunglasses, clear visors à la Dior, and Jacquemus’s revival of the oversize sun hat.
It was a remarkable moment to see women of all backgrounds come together to showcase how there’s no single body type that’s considered sexy or beautiful.
Ahead, see highlights from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit show.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• Ashley Graham and Gabi Fresh celebrated body positivity in bikinis this weekend
• Danielle Brooks is ‘PHAT,’ and that’s why she refuses to retouch her swim photos
• Model Iskra Lawrence was shamed by the fashion industry: ‘I would always hold my fat back and measure myself’