If you can recall Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions of the past that featured professional surfers Anastasia Ashley and Alana Blanchard, then you'll easily recognize the changes six years has brought to the annual publication.
What have we been waiting for? Not just more professional female surfers in the lineup, but also a new outlook on what beauty means in the modern era. And it may have finally arrived.
Courtney Conlogue, one of three professional surfers featured in this year's issue along with Caroline Marks and Malia Manuel, shared some behind-the-scenes moments with me detailing the philosophy of the iconic swim issue's publishers. Her fitting session went on for three hours where she tried on over 200 bikinis, and in the end, the choice of what to wear was hers.
"You get to choose what you want to showcase, how you want to be seen, what you feel makes you beautiful. It was definitely, at least this issue, was about being strong, being beautiful and being you," she said.
As we've seen with former issues, this hasn't always been the focus. James Macari has been the annual publication's photographer since 2012, yet, he said that it wasn't until plus-size model Ashley Graham landed the cover in 2016 that representations and beliefs of what beauty is, and should be, started to shift.
So how is this newfound beauty represented in 2020? By greater inclusivity of all types of models, but also by the photos themselves? I'm going with yes.
When talking about photographing Courtney and this year's two other surfers, Malia Manuel and Caroline Marks, James said, "I think a photo or portfolio should be representative of what or who the subject is. I didn't think it was fair just to photograph the three of them on land. They come alive in the water, so I went into the water. I think it was the first time SI has shot underwater and it seemed only right to start with them."
This two-fold depiction of the three models aligns with the direction of women's surfing as well. "Women's surfing has been on this path of empowering young women to just be themselves and just go for it. Times are changing and the way we are crafting our bodies is to be the best in the water," Courtney told me.
The over-sexualized stereotype of female surfers all being blond, tan and lean is on the way out. Strong, natural and confident is in thanks to publications like SI Swim finally showcasing more diverse content.
"I not only wanted to show the viewer that they are beautiful models posing on a beach, but also wanted to showcase their strong powerful bodies," said James. "I'm in awe of how hard athletes work and what they do to their bodies to get them in the best shape for their respective sport."
Courtney agreed that the definitions of beauty are shifting - not just for women's surfing, but for all females. "I think people are embracing the beauty of being athletic and the beauty of embracing whatever your features are, and it's something I noticed in this issue - just the variety of women," said Courtney. "I love seeing that variety. I love seeing all the different curves, the lines, and just everything in the bikinis that showcase their features beautifully. You can clearly tell SI Swim is going in an incredible direction."