Every year, one Swimsuit decision trumps all others. What is our cover? What is the first thing people will see when they pick up the issue, the singular image that projects beauty and fantasy, that healthy bit of escapism from the dreary days of winter? We sift through tens of thousands of images, looking for the perfect pose. The perfect light. The perfect moment. The perfect story. 

It sometimes feels like the debate is never ending—and it might be if we didn’t have a deadline and an issue to put out. So we make a final decision, choose a cover. The process hasn’t changed in 52 years. 

Until this year, when—with three covers, evenly distributed across the land—everything changed.

• Rookie Ashley Graham lands the cover of SI Swimsuit 2016!

How did we get here? I suppose it started when I realized how frequently I was thinking, often aloud, “What a strong group of women we have this year.” Not only are they stunning, but they are also accomplished authors, advocates and actors. They are world champions and Olympians. They are on the pages of the most prestigious fashion magazines, and they represent some of the most powerful brands (including themselves) in the world. With five returning cover models—including Irina Shayk, who is celebrating a decade shooting with SI—this magazine has never been so rich with sexy, powerful women. 

On every single shoot, with every single model, we think about a potential cover, because all of the women we book are cover-worthy. My bosses must have grown sick of me bombarding them with texts of images with messages like “Hot enough for you?” and “Can you say, ‘Cover’?” I was particularly thrilled this year because every shoot was on a beach. The freedom we felt at our secluded island destinations was amazing, and we were rewarded with incredible images. But the thing that I was most excited about was simple: the models. It always comes back to the models. 

• A body-painted Ronda Rousey lands the cover of SI Swimsuit 2016! 

So how do you choose one? 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. Our position on beauty is well known—healthy, curvy, vivacious and bold. It’s not a size. 

The three cover models—Hailey Clauson, Ronda Rousey and Ashley Graham— demonstrate that. 

Hailey is a modern take on the traditional bombshell. Learn a little about her and you appreciate her even more. Her journey hasn’t been idyllic . . . a meteoric rise to the top catwalks in her teens came crashing down thanks to—gasp!— puberty. Yes, Mother Nature played a cruel trick on her by giving her the gift of curves. Curves for days. I’m not complaining. I doubt many of you are, either. 

• Model Hailey Clauson lands the cover of SI Swimsuit 2016! 

Ronda is a cultural phenomenon, a combination of beauty, brains, brawn and humility. She’s beautiful inside and out. Genuine, generous, human. She possesses a spirit bigger than the space around her— infectious, inspiring and fiery. 

Ashley is a sultry feminine masterpiece. I dare you not to stare at her. We met at a casting several years ago, and what is usually a 20-minute chat lasted an hour and a half. She was captivating, and I couldn’t get enough. Ashley commands your attention in her photographs, fully confident—as every woman should be— of her sexiness. 

So we don’t have just one cover, because beauty doesn’t take just one form. If there is one thing I realized poring over those thousands of images, it’s that beauty is all around us. 

Meet your 2016 SI Swimsuit cover models!


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