By Dave Quinn / People
February 23, 2017

Four of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s latest stars came together on Saturday for an inspiring conversation about body confidence.

Kate Upton, Hailey Clauson, Sailor Brinkley Cook, and Aly Raisman sat down for a revealing Facebook Live conversation — each opening up about her own journey to body positivity.

The three-time cover star, Upton, led the chat, and said it was actually her critics who inspired her confidence. “I got my first cover when I was 19,” Upton, 24, said. “After my first cover, [critics] were discussing whether I was fat or not. I had this huge moment in my career and they were tearing it apart.”

“I have to thank the people who did that because it really made me sit back and find out who I was and what meant something to me and how I thought about my body,” she continued. “At 19, I wasn’t thinking about that. I sat there answering all these questions I had about my body because I really didn’t know.”

Upton joked, “if you don’t have haters, then you’re probably not successful.” But more importantly, she sees the pain behind the comments critics made. “They lashed out on me because they felt insecure about themselves,” Upton said.

“I realize that my confidence that I had in my body was actually meant to inspire women to love themselves for all their different flaws,” she added.

Upton’s confidence inspired some of the other Sports Illustrated Swimsuit stars on the panel — like Brinkley Cook. Growing up, the daughter of Christy Brinkley said being the daughter of a supermodel put her in the spotlight at an early age, with critics calling her “too fat and too chubby” and “too skinny and too muscular” as she grew up.

“For some reason in my brain would tell myself, ‘If someone is saying out there that I don’t look like I’m supposed to look, then I need to change that,’ ” she said. “And in just the past year and a half — growing up, turning 18, finishing high school, living by myself, and becoming a real adult in these ways — you realize how much your body does for you. You realize how much you’re worth.”

Now, Brinkley Cook finds confidence in not comparing herself to anyone — even her own mother and sister, Alexis Ray Joel. “I found that no matter what I looked like — and I’ve pretty much looked like everything — everyone has something to criticize,” she said. “Everyone wants what they don’t have. No matter what, someone is going to want your body and someone is going to hate your body … If you’re happy and healthy and comfortable, then that’s what matters.”

Clauson, who started runway modeling when she was 14, started feeling insecure as she hit puberty and her body started changing. “I wasn’t as skinny anymore, I got these boobs and my agency didn’t know what to do with me,” the 21-year-old remembered. “I just felt so lost and sad. And it was really hard for me because I love fashion so much and I love modeling. So to be told you can’t do it anymore is just devastating.”

She said being in an industry dominated by a singular ideal of beauty really affected her. “It messes with your head so much,” she said. “It took me a long time to really start love my body.”

Raisman also had problems comparing herself to fellow women in her industry.

“For gymnastics, you’re judged by your performance but it’s also your body type,” the Olympic gold-winning gymnast said. “Bars was my worst event. I’d always score the lowest on it. Because you have to have a stick-straight body when you do handstands. And I have boobs for a gymnast and I have a butt. … I used to get so upset,” she said.

Her body also affected her off the mat. “I used to be so insecure — I used to hate my muscles, hate my arms,” she said. “The boys would make fun of me in my class. I just never felt feminine and girly.”

“It took me until the 2012 Olympics to be like, ‘there’s no reason to be insecure.’ Because my body’s made me into a great gymnast,” she said. “You can wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and pick yourself apart and be nervous the whole day. Or, you can look at yourself and be like, ‘There’s nothing I can do to change my body but I love the way I look because I’m a nice person which is more important than looking good. People remember you for being kind than anything else.”

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