Sports Illustrated Swimsuit reveals it will now ONLY feature ads from brands that are focused on 'advancing gender equality and women's empowerment' - as its editor vows to prove magazine is 'more than just swimsuit models'

  • The Pay With Change initiative requires companies to show they have 'programs to advance gender equality and drive progress for women's empowerment'
  • If they can prove their efforts, Si Swim will allow them to create ads to showcase what they're doing
  • Editor-in-chief MJ Day said 'women’s bodies are under attack' and 'we knew we needed to act in a bold, more responsible way' 
  • She also took aim at 'critics and naysayers' who say the magazine is just focused on showcasing sexy swimwear models, insisting that is not the case 
  • SI Swim is also paying it forward by creating the Sports Illustrated Gender Equity Fund, which will be kickstarted with a portion of every ad dollar generated
  • The fund will support a nonprofit 'dedicated to creating an equitable future for all women'

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The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue announced today that going forward, it will only feature ads from brands that show a commitment to supporting gender equality and women's empowerment, as it continues to try and cast off its decades-old reputation as a sexy swimwear magazine.  

The publication debuted its new Pay With Change initiative on Thursday, stating that companies must have 'demonstrated programs to advance gender equality and drive progress for women’s empowerment' to buy ads in both the print issue and online outlets.

'SI Swimsuit has always been a launchpad for the women it features. Now it’s a launchpad for progress for all women,' the brand said.  

The change will go into effect starting with the 2022 issue, which comes out in May.  

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue announced today that going forward, it will only be running ads from brands that show a commitment to supporting gender equality

Its Pay With Change initiative states brands must have 'demonstrated programs to advance gender equality and drive progress for women’s empowerment' to buy ads in the magazine

The change will go into effect starting with the 2022 issue, which comes out in May

The magazine has certainly been embracing and promoting similar themes over the past few years and had made concerted efforts to include a diverse cast of models of different body types, races, ages, and even gender identities.

The new initiative means a major change for how it accepts advertisements, too.

First, prospective advertisers will have to demonstrate that they are creating change for women and supporting gender equality. 

If they can do so successfully, the brands will be certified as Changemakers — and can then create ads specifically for the Swimsuit Issue and and its website which showcase those efforts. 

SI Swim is also paying it forward by creating the Sports Illustrated Gender Equity Fund, which will be kickstarted with a portion of every ad dollar generated. The fund will support a nonprofit 'dedicated to creating an equitable future for all women.'  

'Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has been leading the charge in creating change in women’s lives for years, despite what some critics and naysayers would like you to believe,' said editor-in-chief MJ Day said in a statement. 

Editor-in-chief MJ Day said 'women’s bodies are under attack' and 'we knew we needed to act in a bold, more responsible way'

'We are MORE THAN JUST A SWIMSUIT MAGAZINE. This will be the hill I am willing to die on,' she wrote

'However, in a world where women’s bodies are under attack and their value is continuously underestimated, we knew we needed to act in a bold, more responsible way. Pay With Change is not just a platform to us, it is our commitment to creating greater progress for women.' 

On Instagram, she made clear that the change is being embraced by all areas of the brand - while shutting down 'critics and naysayers' who believe that the publication is simply focused on showcasing sexy swimwear models. 

'We are MORE THAN JUST A SWIMSUIT MAGAZINE. This will be the hill I am willing to die on,' she wrote.

'You know why? The women that make up this brand are MORE THAN JUST SWIMSUIT MODELS. The women that power this brand are more than just employees. 

'The devotees of this brand are more than just fans.....We are mothers and daughters, sisters, friends and partners. We are entrepreneurs, wellness enthusiasts, explorers, students, dreamers, role models and changemakers. We have and have always had unlimited potential.

Pay With Change is already being heavily promoted on social media

The magazine has previously included ads from plus-size brands like Lane Bryant

'Individually and as a whole, we are ALL more than that one defining characteristic that so often hastily assigned to us,' she continued. 

'Think about it. When you meet someone for the first time, in person or otherwise, you have for good or for bad made a half dozen assumptions about that person within seconds.  

'And where we are different starts there. We are not going to let you make that assumption casually, about us or about other women. We know the world is made up of infinite beauty, we also know those same layers apply to women. 

'Women have forever been burdened with society's narrowly defined expectations. We have been held back by these expectations and assumptions and we realize that we don't have to hear that noise. 

'We don't have to stay in that lane that someone put us in long ago. We can evolve and grow and be a better version of what we were a day, a month, a year or a decade ago and we can EVOLVE and THRIVE. 

'We have given ourselves that permission to be MORE and we are proud and excited beyond measure to take you on this journey with us! Not all that long ago I heard someone say "what business does SI Swimsuit have thinking they can empower women?", and to that comment I have and will always say "What business do you have telling us we can't?"' she concluded.

The magazine has been promoting similar themes over the past few years and had made concerted efforts to include a diverse cast of models (pictured: US Soccer star Alex Mogan)

Several pro athletes, including Simone Biles, have posed rot he magazine

They've been casting women different body types, races, ages, and even gender identities (pictured: Kate Upton)

While the initiative is debuting in this issue, SI Swim is committing to it long-term (pictured: Jasmine Sanders)

Pay With Change is already being heavily promoted on social media.

'This isn’t just about being the change,' reads one post. 'It’s about seeing the change. We see a future. A future where a magazine doesn’t only celebrate beauty of every shape, size and color, but also works toward women’s equity.  

'A world where we can actually see the change we’ve been waiting, working, fighting for. The kind of change you can hold in your hands and flip through on a newsstand.'

Another post reads: 'We’re changing our business model for the better. And from now on, the only currency we care about is doing good for women. Like supporting women-led brands and asking our partners to help make the world more equitable for all of us.' 

While the initiative is debuting in this issue, SI Swim is committing to it long-term. 

'Pay With Change will be our new standard of business moving forward,' Hillary Drezner, general manager of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, said.

In 2020, Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender model to pose for the magazine, and she returned again in 2021. She was also joined by fellow trans model Lenya Bloom (pictured)

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue veteran Tyra Banks returned to the magazine in 2019 at age 45

There have been several other firsts, including a bald model with alopecia 

'It’s our proof of progress, proof of passion and proof of our belief that we must be the change we want to see. Starting now, we’ll turn our advertising and activation space into a place to create change for women. 

'We are committing to this initiative throughout all aspects of our business and are inviting all brands who are demonstrating progress to join us.'  

In relation to the initiative, the brand is also launching something called The Swimfluence Network, which it describes as 'an inclusive digital community for people looking to connect, learn, and champion change for the next generation.'

It will include an app with health, wellness, lifestyle, fashion, travel, and food content, as well as live events.

In recent years, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has focused on spotlighting models with a wider range of body types than it had previously.

It has included several plus-size models, as well as athletes and women over 50. 

In 2020, Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender model to pose for the magazine, and she returned again in 2021. That year, she was also joined by fellow trans model Lenya Bloom.

Last year was a year of firsts, and also included the first Filipino model in the magazine, the first Asian curve model, and a 57-year-old woman who was the oldest Rookie ever.

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